Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ubuntu 9.10

Okie dokie... I've been poking around fairly seriously in Canonical's latest release of Ubuntu; 9.10, also known as Karmic Koala.

I'm impressed.

The number of obvious and marked improvements over previous releases is notable, most notable of these are the improvements in look and feel, boot speed and hardware support.

Starting things off with the "look and feel" aspect, or as I have started to call it, the "shock and awe" factor.

I'm glad to report massive improvements across the board when it comes to the texture and unity of the GUI. Most notable of this to me was the fact that screen only changes appearance twice in the boot process (after the BIOS and GRUB loader screen of course).

Yes, I know it's minor, but seeing loading screen after loading screen during the boot process is something that has bugged me about EVERY non-Apple OS since DOS stopped being popular.

Apple has long had a minimum of screen changes in the boot process, namely, one. Two at most.

Of course until Windows 7, Microsoft's OS's were the most flagrant violators of this with windows 2000 winning the "Fail" title by showing a staggering 5 different loading screens.

Past releases of Ubuntu weren't much better, usually showing 3-4, even if they were fairly brief.

However, now with the change in the boot up process introduced in 9.10 Linux joins in the rest of the OS world with a truly elegant boot appearance. A sincere bravo for tackling something that, while unimportant in functionality, adds to the appearance of refinement that open source software has rarely had in the past.

Add in that some playing around with Compiz settings will allow even an "ancient" laptop like mine produce UI visual effects that put Windows 7 to shame with 1/4 of the hardware requirements.

I'm not going to compare to Apple's Quartz because, unlike Windows, Apple's window manager CAN technologically provide all the effects that Compiz does, they simply are not offered... Compiz DOES have lighter hardware requirements though.

Adding on to the list of visual refinements is the new default Gnome theme which is still called "Human". It offers the smoothest and most modern style look that Ubuntu has had yet and I'm proud to say that this finally allows the default appearance of Ubuntu to easily contend with the polished look and, dare I say it, FEEL of Mac OS X and Windows 7.

Another important appearance note is that the new theme FINALLY loses the "Windows 95" era look for most of it's elements to gain a smooth, graduated and natural visual "feel" to it's user interface that is almost as pleasant as OS X. Now it's Microsoft's turn to do the same for Windows ;)

There was obviously a lot of attention and effort put into filing off the rougher edges of the Gnome UI in this release and it not only shows, but will likely pay off in terms of user acceptance.

The look and feel of the latest release of Ubuntu gets two enthusiastic thumbs up from me.

Second in my top three favorite changes is the radical decrease in boot time!

First numbers on the time required to boot fully on my T42 Thinkpad***:
- An install of Ubuntu 9.04 with a few modifications took just 1 minute 13 seconds
- A default install with drivers (and then fully patched to SP3) of Windows XP took 1 minute 43 seconds
- A highly tuned install (with drivers) of a completely up-to-date version of Windows XP takes 48 seconds.
**All these numbers are from the GRUB bootloader. Booting to the grub bootloader takes 12 seconds.
***IBM Thinkpad T42 Model: WMK2373 Specs: 1.5Ghz Pentium M, 2GB DDR 333 RAM, Western Digital 160GB Scorpio 5400RPM IDE Hard Drive, Radeon 7500 32MB Video.

Yes. That last number is correct, it takes 48 SECONDS to boot my Thinkpad into Windows XP. Granted, that is with a LOT of tweaking and tuning and trimming on my part, but still. 48 seconds. One minute from the press of the power button on a system going on 5 years old.

Ok, now for Ubuntu 9.10's out-of-the-box boot time:

43 seconds.


If they were looking to improve startup time they succeeded brilliantly! A 50% improvement in boot time over the previous release is a good reason to upgrade by itself!

The final item in my "top three favorite changes" list is 9.10 FINALLY functional out of the box with all of the hardware of my esoteric IBM T42 Thinkpad. All of the previous releases of Ubuntu had severe hardware issues that broke some functionality or another, especially after placing the system into standby or hibernate. These problems required manual workarounds or modifications, and a few I simply had to work around because there were no fixes.

There remains the higher power draw in standby problem (~4 watts instead of 1) but according to many reports, this might be an issue with my specific and fairly rare model of Thinkpad as most T42 Thinkpad users have reported this issue as resolved.

Aside from that one minor standby issue, I've had no other problems.

Near flawless hardware support top to bottom, it even worked when hot docking/undocking with the docking station (finally) with install defaults. Wireless network performance was increased by nearly 75%, massively improved EXA rendering support and performance for my old Radeon 7500, even the annoying inconsistency of the LCD backlight dimming on battery power is fixed!

Yes, some custom tweaks were still made, namely with Laptop-Mode but that's me being fussy ;)

All in all, Ubuntu 9.10 is a marked improvement over previous versions in not only technical ways and in hardware support, but in usability and appearance as well.

With improved performance, increased hardware support, an easier to use layout, painless install, refined UI and better isolation from the "scariness" of Linux, this is by FAR the most consumer friendly version of Linux ever.

If Ubuntu wasn't a major contender in the consumer OS field before, it is now.

I know Mark Shuttleworth stated that he wanted 9.10 to go head to head Windows 7, but I think he was aiming a little low. Even for "Joe Average", Ubuntu is now beyond Microsoft's offering in stability, speed, performance and, possibly most importantly, price.

I've been converting users over to Ubuntu where it was prudent and possible. I have not had one problem or complaint yet and I can't see the excellent quality of Karmic Koala doing anything less than making my life even easier and making users safer and happier.

Pardon this play on a saying, but If you haven't looked at Ubuntu lately, look again.

Great job to all those working on and who use Ubuntu, it truly is Linux for Human Beings...

If you haven't already, go get yourself a copy now and try it.

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