Review Ubuntu 10.04, officially available as of Thursday, is an important update for this popular Linux distro. It's a Long-Term Support (LTS) release - the first since 8.04 two years ago - and it wraps social network with media capabilities and a brace of online services in a brand new look.
As an LTS edition, Lucid Lynx will be supported for the next three years on the desktop and five years on the server instead of the usual 18 months of free security updates.
Therefore, it will set the scene for Ubuntu for a decent chunk of time and provide a launch pad for the distro's move down a more refined and user-friendly path that subsequent releases should build upon.
Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth wants Ubuntu to beat Apple's OS X on features and interface polish. While Lucid Lynx still has some rough edges, this release is a huge leap for UI design in Linux and puts Ubuntu well on its way to Shuttleworth's goal.
There are, however, some changes that will no doubt raise the ire of die-hard Linux fans. For example, the close, minimize and maximize window buttons are now on the left (ala OS X) by default. It's a small change, but an endlessly frustrating one if you're used to the old style. Fortunately, a quick trip to the gconf-editor will realign the buttons with your muscle memory.
Ubuntu One music: no iTunes beater - yet
Other, less annoying changes give Ubuntu a nice, more polished look. Most of the GNOME panel widgets look much nicer in this theme, and the icon set is considerably better than what we saw in the beta.
But the changes in Ubuntu 10.04 aren't just skin deep. There are quite a few new applications, features, and services that make Ubuntu seem more like a consumer-friendly operating system like OS X than the Linux of the command line loving past.
Between Canonical's web-based syncing service Ubuntu One, the coming U1 music store and the new Me Menu, Lucid Lynx is looking less like the stoic Linux desktops of yesteryear and more like like, well, what everyday consumers want in an operating system. It's even got quite a few features Apple can't match. Oh, and it's free.
The installation process for Ubuntu hasn't changed much over the last few releases, though the installer 10.04 does give you a glimpse of the new default theme, called Ambiance. A nice mixture of muted purples, oranges, and browns, Ambiance has a somewhat darker and more professional look than the old human theme.
Aside from the slick new looks, the default GNOME desktop has been considerably changed in Ubuntu 10.04, with redesigned widgets and the new Me Menu. The Me Menu is a gateway to quickly access chat clients and "broadcast accounts" - which include Twitter, Facebook, and the like - through the very slick social networking tool, Gwibber. Ubuntu One adds online backup and file sharing.
Storage FAIL: don't rely on Ubuntu One's web-based backup
The Ubuntu One storage is designed to give you a simple way to backup, sync and share files over the web. Ubuntu One offers 2GB of storage for free, with a 50GB option for $10 per month. Ubuntu One also offers public shared folders, which other Ubuntu users can access from their desktop. Anyone not using Ubuntu can still access the files through their browser.
Sadly, Ubuntu One continued to be somewhat buggy in my test. While actually syncing files, contacts through Evolution and notes through Tomboy worked just fine, the web interface continually timed out or failed to load for one reason or another.
Still, so long as you don't rely on the web-based access, Ubuntu One make a great file syncing service, and now that it's included in the Me Menu, it's even easier to access and share your files.
Bite out of Apple media
The other elements of the Me Menu are decidedly more fun, offering quick access to Gwibber, which makes a great social networking clients, and Empathy for connecting to various chat networks.
The Ubuntu One Music Store is also making its prime-time debut in this release. It offers a way to purchase DRM-free music directly through Rhythmbox, Ubuntu's default music player.
Unfortunately, while the music store itself is fine - I especially like that when you buy music it's automatically synced to the cloud via Ubuntu One - the selection that comes from 7Digital leaves much to be desired. The Ubuntu One Music store is nice addition for Ubuntu and I look forward to seeing it expand. But it's definitely not the iTunes Store just yet.
Movies make their debut with a timeline editor and tools
Of course, the lackluster selection has far more to do with music industry politics and licensing issues than any shortcoming of Ubuntu's, but it does nevertheless reflect on the store.
At least Ubuntu's music store delivers MP3 files rather than Ogg, which - while popular with Linux fans - isn't supported by the iPod (technically, some models can be hacked to run the Rockbox firmware, which does support Ogg).
The fact that Ubuntu One is tightly integrated with Rhythmbox is nice for GNOME fans, but this means other music players are left out of the fun. Canonical says the music store will eventually be available also as a plug-in for Banshee, Amarok, and "a few other" Linux music applications. But for now, it's Rhythmbox or the high road.
There's also a brand new movie editor making its debut in this release of Ubuntu. The Pitivi video editor offers an iMovie-like timeline editor with all the basic video editing tools. Pitivi can handle anything GStreamer supports, so make sure you install all the additional GStreamer plugins available.
I imported movies from three different cameras - both AVI files and AVCHD. The AVIs worked without issue. The newer camera's .mts AVCHD files seemed to import successfully, but I wasn't able to play or edit them. Curiously, the files played just fine in Movie Player, which means the problem was most likely not in GStreamer, but with Pitivi itself. If you've got a camera shooting AVCHD, you may need to look elsewhere, but Piviti will do the job otherwise.
The new Ubuntu Software Center features a completely redesigned interface for finding and installing software. The new look maker Ubuntu Software Center a bit more user friendly and almost App-Store-like in its design and layout.
The redesigned Software Center offers and app-store-like design and layout
The basic GNOME apps all see updates in this release as well. Firefox, OpenOffice, and Evolution have all been updated to latest version.
Those that consider GUIs bloat and think a good user experience involves green monospaced fonts on a pure black terminal window will not be pleased with the new Ubuntu. Unfortunately, from the looks of things, you are Ubuntu's past. The real world of everyday, dare I say ordinary, computer users are Ubuntu's future.
The default human theme may be gone, but the emphasis on "Linux for everyone" remains well intact at the Ubuntu camp. Overall, Ubuntu 10.04 is certainly one of the most polished looking Linux distros on the market. With built-in cloud syncing, a new music store and quick access to social networks, Ubuntu is clearly aiming at the mainstream audience and you can expect that trend to continue. ®