Posted on Tuesday 30th of October 2007 at 10:13 in Linux

Review of Ubuntu 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon final release

Open source software amazes me. There was a time when free applications were either completely twattish or pirated; yet as the months roll by more and more amazing things are happening - making a world without paid software increasingly viable. Here we go again, another new Ubuntu release to prove my point.

True, if you've used Feisty Fawn (7.04) then an awful lot of Gutsy Gibbon (7.10) will be familiar to you. I'm not saying that nothing has changed because they have introduced an awful lot of VERY important things, but at face value things are largely familiar.

"Show me one Vista user who isn't in awe of Gutsy Gibbon and I'll show you a liar"

Changes where they count the most
Regular people will count a pretty face as being a good product; so dress your software up nicely and people will love you for it. Us "techie" users won't and will always critise massive usability problems. This time around they've clearly aimed to appease both parties. They've satisfied my biggest frustration with Ubuntu and for that I'm awarding them major bonus points. They've also brought in some seriously weighty eye-candy - but we'll get to that later.

Graphical configuration - finally
A graphical configuration utilty is the single most welcome addition in Gutsy. Anyone who has used Ubuntu before with a slightly "advanced" technical setup will have spent many a minute faffing around in gedit, modifying the Xorg.conf file in an effort to get dual screens working properly.

gutsy gibbon graphical configuration

However, Gutsy has introduced a sexy graphical configuration area that removes this usability hurdle that has plagued Ubuntu since birth. It's one of the major factors that was stopping me ever recommending Ubuntu to "normal" people. Normal people don't want to command-line around the place trying to define manual resolutions for their high-street bought TFT. Ubuntu has corrected this to the delight of every single user (at a guess, I've not asked them all).

Equally importantly, the X-server configs have been made rather durable, so should the worst happen and it crashes (and burns in glory), should it be unable to restore previous settings it will default to a the stable VESA drivers/settings to ensure you get a GUI (albeit an ugly, low res one). This means that you should never be confronted by the command line telling you that Xorg failed to start. Which is nice.

Something boring but crucial - the new Kernel
This may seem monumentally boring but there's a very good point to my mentioning this; Ubuntu has stepped forward to Kernel 2.6.22 which uses a new "tickless" idle loop which results in improved power usage. Again, this sounds dull but laptop battery life could be extended by as much as 25% because of this - so while it's not the most exciting of breakthroughts, the practical application is excellent.

With this new Kernel comes improvements to compatability to things like Wi-Fi and other devices - and I know these are two normal stumbling blocks for a lot of people.

More boring stuff - printing
It's nothing dreams are made of but crucial none-the-less. Ubuntu 7.10 comes with a radically updated printing service which is an important factor for a lot of users. However, forgive me for not discussing this much as I don't actually own a printer (any printing I need to do gets done at work) so this isn't something that interests me personally.

Google Desktop Search
This is a very useful little feature that I've recently become a big fan of - after developing a mild dependence on the Google Desktop search that comes bundled with Google Desktop on Windows. It allows you to search through all the files, folders, documents (etc) on your computer as if you were searching the Internet. This funky little application named "Tracker" is able to read the meta-tags associated to media files too.

tracker search tool

This is useful because it's all too easy to lose files on your hard drive (even more so if you don't abide to a strict regime of file formatting). Tracker is installed and enabled by default and is a worthwhile thing to arm yourself with - you'd be amazed what it does for your productivity when you get all those sporadic minutes back that were previously lost searching for documents.

Finally, the aesthetic glory of Compiz Fusion
Ubuntu 7.10 comes with Compiz Fusion enabled by default (on all supporting platforms) which is a feature that an awful lot of users will enjoy. Any number of beautiful things can be achieved with this powerful window manager addition. It's pointless trying to explain the merits when I can show you in video:

The above video shows how visually pleasing Compiz Fusion can make an Ubuntu install. If you can show me one Vista user who isn't in awe of Gutsy Gibbon and I'll show you a liar.

The downsides
On a personal note I prefer KDE to Gnome so that's not really a shortfall of Ubuntu. The only annoyance I have with it are the slightly dull wallpapers (as many other users have highlighted). Therefore I highly recommend this updated set of Animal wallpapers which are very clever and attractive in equal measures.

This latest release of Ubuntu has lots of good features, but ultimately I'm more impressed with the graphical configuration utility for X than I am any level of aesthetic wizardry. It shows that the project is moving in one solid direction - mainstream acceptance. That's an excellent thing for Ubuntu to do and if they keep pushing the boundaries like Gutsy does, then they will remain the poster child of usable Linux for the foreseeable future.


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