Related link: http://www.ubuntulinux.org
This morning, a strange package made its way into my mailbox from Zurich. I opened it up to discover the distribution discs for Ubuntu Linux. I’d read about Ubuntu on K5 a little while back and had signed up to receive some free discs. Since then, I’d pretty much forgotten about it entirely. But, they didn’t forget about me and with the discs in hand, I went off to give it a try.
My first impression of Ubuntu came from its packaging. The two disc distribution comes in a sleek cardboard booklet. On the cover are three individuals of mixed heritage in a group hug, perhaps reinforcing the project’s philosophy: the back of the package tells us that “Ubuntu is an ancient African word that means ‘humanity toward others’.” Inside are the two CDs. One is an installation disc. The other, a live CD, allowed me to easily boot up a spare machine and see what all the fuss is about.
After a few minutes of hardware detection and loading softwar, I was presented with an X environment. Ubuntu uses GNOME for its desktop environment and several other best of breed apps are along for the ride. OpenOffice, FireFox, The GIMP, and Evolution all make an appearance. I found them easily enough in the Applications menu. Overall, the menus are very concise; a nice contrast from the clutter I feel plagues Fedora. An interesting thing to note about the live CD: it also includes Windows builds of those same popular OSS applications.
Impressed with the live CD, I shut the box down and booted the install disc. While the desktop environment and live CD have a very polished feel, the Ubuntu install process leaves much to be desired. The ncurses installer offers little in the way of progress toward a “user-friendly Linux”. For example, while I admit that the option to wipe out my entire drive and create a simple root/swap scheme is certainly viable, end users would be greatly benefited if there were more detailed descriptions involved. Unfortunately, my mother doesn’t know what a partition is, nor much care how much swap her system has.
After working my way through the installation, the system started up and, upon entering my login credentials, Ubuntu offered me the same sleek environment found on the live CD. Overall, the experience was pretty painless and, for the most part, user-friendly. I don’t know if I’d be comfortable sending a less savvy computer user out with any Linux distribution just yet, but Ubuntu is certainly taking steps in the right direction with its no-nonsense live CD environment, its inclusion of Windows builds of OSS apps, and its predictable six month release cycle. While some of its ideas and technologies may not be new, I feel Ubuntu offers a degree of refinment that’s just not present in similar projects.
What’s your take on Ubuntu? Recommend a different user-friendly distribution?