After my less-than-thrilling experience with Windows Vista I decided to take the plunge and download the latest release of Ubuntu with the intent to see just how far Linux has come in the last year or so. Last time I used Linux was for a server setup which worked very well but I was not all that impressed with the desktop implementation back then, which was about a year ago. Since then Ubuntu has emerged as a major force on the Linux desktop front with several solid releases that have much of the internet buzzing about how Linux might be finally ready to give the folks in Redmond a run for their money. So what does a die hard Mac fanboy have to say about the latest release of Ubuntu (Ubuntu 7.04) Feisty Fawn? Quite a bit actually…Right from the start I decided not to install Ubuntu onto my Macbook Pro since it seemed to be a waste since both Ubuntu and Mac OSX are unix operating systems and I did not want to just duplicate functionality I already had with OSX. What I really wanted to gain by conducting this test was to establish just how viable a linux distro such as Ubuntu would be as a complete OS replacement for a typical Windows system. So I grabbed a older (not too old…) Sony Vaio notebook thinking this would provide a decent challenge for this review, and allow me to take Ubuntu on the road for some real world testing at the office. Since most folks are moving away from desktop systems and looking towards notebook PCs as their primary machine I also figured this would provide a more real-world setup compared to the typical Dell box. Thankfully the Sony notebook had all the typical modern features such as a 1.7ghz Pentium M processor with 1gb ram, a 13.3″ widescreen display, ATI Radeon 9700 mobility 3d graphics, and a typical audio subsystem making it a good general testbed as well as providing some installation challenges as well.
Installation was very simple, with the live-cd boot process making it easy to give Ubuntu a try before taking the plunge and installing the OS to the local hard drive. I was very impressed with how easy and simple this process worked, with just about all of the hardware on the Sony being detected during the live-cd boot giving me a chance to see just what I was in for. Thankfully, all of the major features on the Sony were detected without incident including the memory card reader and the display which was a far cry from my previous experiences with Fedora and Suse. That’s not to say those distros are bad, just that they took a bit more work to get them correctly setup on that particular notebook. Ubuntu got it right on the first try which left me very impressed. Taking the next step and installing to the hard drive was uneventful and took about 20 minutes from start to finish.
As many Mac users will attest to, OSX is a very hard act to follow. Daily use of OSX quickly spoils the user with the simplicity and smoothness it offers so I was less than optimistic about my prospects with Ubuntu. I am very happy to report that after making some minimal tweaks in the visuals (changed the color scheme and wallpaper) I found myself able to navigate around with little to no major hiccups. I did note that a welcome change from my previous experiences with earlier distros was how consistent Ubuntu was, especially when compared to Suse or Fedora.
Although the user interface (Gnome) used by Ubuntu won’t win any design contests it definitely gets the job done. Unlike many other distros the interface is clean, consistent, and simple enough that most users won’t spend too much time hunting around for common features. Another nice touch is the very professional feel to both the boot process and the initial login screen.
Performance & Features
Overall I really enjoyed the performance I got while running typical applications such as Firefox and OpenOffice. Not only did applications start up faster than on Windows but not once did I get anything even remotely resembling the headache Office 2007 caused on my Windows XP system. Its great to see these open source applications so polished, I was very surprised at not only the functionality offered, but also the level of stability I observed during my tests. Not once did anything I ran crash, and over the course of two weeks I found myself completely satisfied with the level of features provided by OpenOffice, Evolution, Firefox, and several other smaller applications I used daily. I even found that several of the utilities pre-installed were faster and more compatible than the Mac versions I had installed on my Mac. A good example of this would be the Remote Desktop connection utility, which totally rocked compared to rdesktop running through X on my Macbook Pro. Bottom line: I can say with confidence that I would have no problems using this setup as my daily main machine for both network administration and typical administrative tasks.
Ubuntu as a Windows Replacement?
One of the questions I really set out to answer was the viability of Ubuntu as a daily use Windows XP or Windows Vista replacement. The bottom line was for 99% of the users out there today, Ubuntu makes a great alternative to Windows Vista. Against Windows XP the rationalization for Ubuntu becomes a close draw since both perform similarly on the same hardware. One huge advantage for Ubuntu is the ability to enable Vista-like eye-candy without having to radically upgrade you system. Even on this basic test system I was able to turn on the eye-candy with very stable and pleasing results. When versions of Windows OSs are compared side-by side with Ubuntu from a cost perspective it’s a no-contest situation. Ubuntu is by far the better option, especially when you factor in the cost of Office 2003/2007 on the Windows platform.
Ubuntu as a Mac OSX Replacement????
One result that I never expected from my testing was just how smooth and very Mac-like Ubuntu has become. I have to admit that for those who simply don’t want to spend the cash on a shiny new Apple system Ubuntu offers the next best thing for very little cost (if any). Sure, the user interface is not quite a polished, and you don’t get iLife, but what you do get is damn close and only getting better. If Ubuntu keeps improving at the pace they have been over the last year then Apple might find out the hard way that threats don’t all come from Microsoft!
The real bottom line depends on what type of user you are. If all you want to do is check email, surf the internet and occasionally do some typical work-from-home type activities then you will find that Ubuntu is a capable and very compelling option over Windows Vista. If you are a hard-core gamer or you have an already significant investment in Windows software then you won’t get what you need from Ubuntu, Windows XP is a much better choice. I think the real upset over the next year will be for business users since Ubuntu offers a complete OS AND application package at ultra-low cost that gives typical desktop users all the resources of a modern OS without the headaches associated with the move to Windows Vista or the added expense of new hardware for something like Macintosh OSX.
Wanna try Ubuntu 7.04 for yourself? Get it here.