Ubuntu First Impressions

I just downloaded and played with the Ubuntu Linux 4.10 preview LiveCD. (A LiveCD is one that you can boot into a working Linux, without touching the hard drive. A sort of try-before-you-buy.)

I occasionally find myself in the position of helping new users of Linux and try to keep up to date on distributions. The most important question to be able to answer is, Which distribution do I use?

My thoughts on new users is that new-user-friendly defaults, GNOME, and a decent package manager for future tinkering are all musts.

I have not known any distribution that fit all these requirements. Debian had decent GNOME support and a great package manager. But it also had the worst defaults of almost any distribution and requires significant work to get a workable installation. Of the RPM distros, SUSE and Mandrake were OK, but they both had an aura of KDE that I didn’t like. Red Hat was the best I knew, having good defaults and excellent GNOME support. Not only did it use GNOME by default, but it has adopted the GNOME aesthetic of simplicity. However, it also happens to have a terrible package manager. Dependency hell is not something a new user wants to deal with while trying to install a third-party package. It also has a couple annoyances like no MP3 support.

Most often I would have users do a hand-held install of Debian and would remain in constant communication while they discovered all its quirks.

Hence my interest in Ubuntu. I booted it up and was pleased with what I saw. It had the Debian core and thus its amazing package manager, but managed to avoid its most egregious faults. It is pretty and functional by default, has quick release schedules, hides details from the user, has a polished install program (although Iwould have liked to see a graphical one), and has excellent GNOME support.

The default GNOME install was a tweaked version of 2.8.0, which is nice. It allowed all the great system configuration stuff that Windows users have come to expect in graphical form, due to gnome-system-tools and synaptic. I liked the inclusion of synaptic; allowing users to avoid command lines is a top priority.

It also had a few other niceties for migrating users. The default browser was not Epiphany but Firefox, which will be immediately recognizable to many Windows users. It installed OpenOffice by default, which is a great Microsoft Office clone. The regular mix of top-notch programs was there: Gimp, Gaim, Rhythmbox, Totem, and friends.

I noticed the inclusion of HAL due to GNOME 2.8, which I haven’t seen in action before. If it behaves like it promises, that’s a great addition. I’m interested to see if Windows shares will show up without prodding. GNOME 2.8 also has VNC support by default, making my job as tech support guy easier.

I’m not yet convinced enough that I want to switch to it myself from Gentoo, but I definitely want to play with it more. If I do end up installing it, I hope to write more here.

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