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Software Review: Ubuntu 7.10 “Gutsy Gibbon”

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It may have taken a while, but Linux is finally starting to inch its way out of the dark corners of hobbyist computing and onto the battlefield between Microsoft and Apple.

Sure, Linux has dominated the server market for a while now, but for the most part, its desktop and home computer offerings have, until recently, depended heavily on hacking and command-line skills. That's something the average computer user doesn't want to bother with at all, and can be a daunting task for even the brightest computer whiz kids.

Then came along Ubuntu, a Linux distribution promising to be "Linux for human beings," something even grandma can understand and use. Previous Ubuntu versions have tried to be as grandma-centric as possible, but have always lacked one or two features that would hold back the less technically-minded amongst us.

Finally, Ubuntu sponsor Canonical has released a version of Ubuntu that is elegant, fast, and easy to use straight out of the box. Ubuntu 7.10, also known as "Gutsy Gibbon," shows us that Linux can finally play with the giants and conquer some territory along the way.

Ubuntu 7.10 blends the best elements of elegant design and simplicity, and it's highly customizable. The most noticeable feature of 7.10 is that it now comes with Compiz as the default window manager. Compiz brings in 3D effects and customization that is similar to Windows Vista's Aero Glass setup, and if your computer is capable of running Windows Vista Home Premium, Compiz will start up by default, giving you a full arsenal of customizable effects. If you have older hardware, Ubuntu will recognize this and fall back to its original, simpler window manager.

Some of these Compiz effects include wobbly and sticky windows, four desktops navigable on a cube, genie window minimizing and more. If you add the Emerald theme manager, you can have transparent windows, and a program called Avant Window Navigator gives a Mac OS X-like dock. The effects list goes on, and everything is customizable and easy to use.

The Default Ubuntu 7.10 setup

The best way to try out Ubuntu 7.10 is by downloading and burning the Live CD. Running the Live CD allows you to see how Ubuntu works with your computer without installing it. But since it runs directly from your CD-ROM drive, expect it to run much slower than it will fully installed. Go ahead and use the Live CD session to customize the system however you like and try out some of the programs, it's all on the Live CD. When you are ready, click the install button and choose how you would like Ubuntu to run on your computer, including a dual-boot setup that will work well if you still need Microsoft Windows.

Once logged in, the default is the classic "human" theme of brown and tan with a brown OS X-like abstract background image. Yeah, brown is a little ugly, but this isn't Zune brown, it's more like Galaxy Chocolate brown. If you don't like brown, a few clicks will have the system customized however you want. There are two panels: the top panel gives access to your applications, system preferences, and logout options, the bottom panel has a recycle bin, desktop button, and window switcher. Plus, it has a panel showing your virtual desktops, freeing up desktop clutter. One difference in the new version, however, is the session switcher, allowing you to switch between users without logging off first. Additionally, Ubuntu has added a deskbar applet by default, allowing you to search your system easily.

In previous versions of Ubuntu, there were small annoyances that affected the average users chances of using Linux full-time. One of these annoyances was getting a correct screen resolution. Ubuntu 7.10 makes this process much easier, offering a "screens and graphics" program that allows you to test drivers, change the screen quality, and test it all out before you do damage to your system. Ubuntu 7.10 also improves plug and play functionality, and should detect everything from printers to your iPod without having to edit the dark caverns of you computer file system.

A highly customized system showing off the Desktop Cube effect.

Equally, Ubuntu 7.10 makes it easy to download programs. The "Add/Remove Programs" section is much more complex than its Windows equivalent, offering you alternative programs that are easy to download instead of merely monitoring your currently installed programs. Ubuntu offers the Synaptic Package Manager that will help you find thousands of open source programs over the internet. This saves time, and you won't have to click around Web sites to get the programs you want.

But Ubuntu is not for everyone. If you spend a lot of time using programs such as Adobe Creative Suite or Microsoft Office, you may want to stick with Windows (although alternatives do exist on Linux). Also, if you are a high-end gamer, you won't get most games on Linux since game developers don't generally develop Linux versions. However, Ubuntu makes it easy to set up a dual boot system, allowing you to choose between Ubuntu and Windows on startup. Both systems can work separately from each other, with some interoperability available. After all, Ubuntu developers know they aren't going to take over Windows systems entirely (at least, not without a fight).

Cover Flow-esque window switching is another Compiz feature available on Ubuntu

With Windows Vista getting bad press lately for it's resource-hogging setup and Apple's delays with its latest release, Leopard, Ubuntu 7.10 suddenly seems worthwhile. Its Compiz effects are comparable to Windows Vista, yet on my testing (Using a Compaq Presario with 2 GB RAM and Nvidia accelerated graphics) it took up less resources, leaving more memory for the programs I like to use. Also, having more than one desktop helps control dektop clutter when I'm working.

Overall, Ubuntu 7.10 is worth looking into, and with a dual boot setup, it's not too crazy to switch. With its highly customizable setup, a quick click around the Ubuntu Forums will boost the "wow" factor above anything Windows Vista has offered yet, and the straightforward usability puts it up there with Mac OS X.

If you want to try out Ubuntu 7.10, head over to Ubuntu's website and download (or mail order) a copy of this free operating system. Even if you are just curious, it's worth trying out.

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About Kevin Eagan

  • New 2 Linux

    Great review, but can you talk about Wireless support in Ubuntu? Does it support WPA2? How long did he take you to set it up?

    What about setting up a Network Printer? Is the Firewall enable by default?

    Every Linux review is all about the “eye candy” rather than functionality.

    Thanks!

  • Jaro Cooke

    Nice review, I’m using Ubuntu 7.10 exclusively at the moment.

    I think I can say that it is the best operating system currently available…, provided your hardware is supported! :)
    (Which mine is.)
    It seems to be the fastest, best looking, most flexible, etc…

    The only problem is third party support, both hardware and software. Unfortunately this is something that only user numbers can change. Still I believe that everybody with compatible computers would find Ubuntu useful, even if only as a backup OS. Plus the live CD means anyone can try it in a risk free way to see if their machines will work well with it. Now where is this useful function if you buy Vista?

    BTW I’ve also got my wife, brother, mother-in-law, a friend and my parents using Ubuntu exclusively (though my mother-in-law has a virtual WinXP install to run Publisher).

  • bliffle

    Ubuntu 7.10 (yclept “gutsy” gibbon, in traditional alliterative ubuntu fashion) came out thursday and I’ve got it running on 3 machines. At the moment I’m using the “liveCD” on this laptop which enables me to use it from the CD player without disturbing anything on this XP machine.

    Wireless works very well, but it may not recognize some old WiFi adapters. It worked fine with builtin WiFis in two IBM thinkpads, but wouldn’t work with a couple ancient PCMCIA wifis in an old TP570, so I bought a new Airlink101 for $30 at the computer store.

    Dialup modems of the “WinModem” type are an ongoing problem, so don’t figure on getting that working quickly. Figure on solving that problem over the next couple weeks before traveling with your laptop unless you are sure of getting Wifi whereever you go.

    Better yet, for traveling you can put the ubuntu system and your stuff on a 2gb USB stick and carry it with you anywhere. Then, at your friends house or an internet cafe or whatever, you just plug it into the USB, re-boot and run just like you were at home. When you pull it out and re-boot the borrowed system is as before.

    Do THAT with Vista!

  • Anders Lindberg

    About that last “Do THAT with Vista”, you can’t do that with vista. Why? Because vista will prevent it. It’s coded to refresh the usb ports or something on startup, so you can’t boot it from an usb drive. Which is an pitty (asked on an forum about this, and it seemed this an an problem with vista).

    Anyway, I’ve used Vista once or twice, and wasn´t impressed at all. It was not bad, just not that… revolutionary. But the first time I used Ubuntu, I liked it. It’s more custumizable then any windows version I’ve come across, and beats mac osx on that to. Hell, you can even combine different themes at the same time, so you get the icons from one, and the windows from another, and without any real hacking or command-lineing. The core is very stable, you don’t need as many restarts as with windows, and the programs you can find to it, with the package manager, is vastly superior to anything windows or osx has to come with. And the problems with viruses, spyware and things like that is much smaller then with windows.

    I have an nice dual boot on my machine (xp home + ubuntu gutsy gibbon), and I’m very happy with what I got.

  • http://timesarestrange.wordpress.com Abhishek

    Apple and MS are really facing stiff competition from a free software already!!…I have seen many people switching from Vista to Xp and then to Ubuntu…My case is a little different i started with xp then switched to fedora end result=happy!

  • gwillgi

    being a newbie all excited about trying out ubuntu and chucking grotty vista aside, i happily installed 7.10 onto my laptop and had it as a trial alongside vista (begrudingly). all went swimmingly well until i tried to connect to the internet via wireless. armed with a patchy documentation i tried as much as i can to link in to no avail. then there were the lengthy searches online for the solution which introduced me really quick to the reality of a linux based o.s. – it still needs to be hand-coded from scratch. while this may prove charming beyond measure for those who are linux-native believe you me it is frustrating beyond recognition to have an o.s. with a gui with miles-long codes that still had to be keyed in from advice displayed in forums. so ubuntu is cold turkey to me, much as i wanted it to be something so much more, seeing it is open sourced.

  • Phi

    gwillgi

    I don’t know if it would change your mind or not but many of the “miles” of “code” in the forums are written in a cut and paste manner so that you don’t have to retype them. Also alot of those solutions are capable through GUI’s as well but *nix community comes from a history of command line usage and wants to keep the command line active because of its power. Most tasks are quicker by command line.

    I think people have to realize not everything is going to be for everybody. While you want the GUI to do it all there are some that rejoice in everything being command line based.

  • Lars

    gwillgi seems to be an average user. His gripes are definitely valid, this OS is not for the average consumer. This is the reason why we don’t see scads of posts saying “I dumped that crap Vista OS for Solaris 10″ Microsoft doesn’t need to worry about anything, take a look at their record revenues in 2007. MS bashers believe they are a vast majority, when in actual fact, the majority of the world uses Windows and buys the product (see revenue) Linux in general just requires too much user intervention for avg joe to bother with it.

  • bliffle

    Ubuntu 8.04 “Hardy Heron” has been out for a month.

  • http://www.theretherekid.com Kevin Eagan

    Biffle,

    Read the article date. This was written back in October, when Gutsy Gibbon came out! I don’t think I was able to fast forward in time to review Hardy Heron ;)

    Hardy Heron’s pretty good too, but I haven’t yet updated it fully on my system.