Review: Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron Alpha 5
It's getting to the point where I should just rename "April" and "October" on my calandar "Ubuntu!" because that's what it just boils down to. If you have any interest in the state of open source software then you'll know that Ubuntu tends to be the benchmark; the high standard that other releases are measured against (whether it's suitable or not).
However I always expect the next Ubuntu release to disappoint me in some way. Not because I've ever been disappointed by one before; quite the opposite. Ubuntu always brings something new to the table and raises the bar, I just figure one day they'll have to do something wrong, won't they?
It doesn't look like that's going to happen this time, as Hardy Heron seems to be bringing more than it's fair share to the table.
I place a lot of importance on Ubuntu (maybe unfairly) because I consider it to be the poster child of "usable linux" and it inherits the pressures associated with that role. So, with that in mind let's see what this alpha 5 release is showing.
I hate starting on something so petty but it's what struck me first when the installer loaded: the background is a heron! That's a nice touch and while the Ubuntu artists seem to split opinion slightly with their artwork, I really like this new edition. Although I'd be tempted to move towards the familiar territory of the Ubuntu animal wallpapers. Otherwise it looks the same as Gutsy did and that's no bad thing; the colour schemes and layout now iconic with this release.
Masses of new features, packages and delights
While this is a test release it still gives indication of what new features are coming with the final version and I'm amazed at what the devs have managed to cram in. Xorg 7.3 is included which should offer improved auto-configuration, keeping you away from xorg.conf. Kernel 2.6.24 is bundled in this release too with the most notable new feature being the power saving functionality for 64bit based machines. There's a load of new software installed by default too but I'm going to gloss over those...
Finally, the filesystem manager (for want of a better name) associated with Nautilus has been updated. GVFS is set to replace GnomeVFS and make the world a brighter place for us all. It should be quicker and offer a wider range of operations (restoring items from the trash, pause/undo file operations etc). This is a welcome addition for obvious reasons.
Windows based installation set to take over the world
I was surprised when I read about how this is going to work (although I've not experienced it first hand as yet). Umenu is a "simple launcher that lets the user install Ubuntu from Windows using Wubi, install Ubuntu to a partition without having to make their CD-ROM the first boot device". This allows you to chuck the CD in the drive while running XP and install Ubuntu from there...
I approached it in the above paragraph but felt it needed more. Wubi allows users to install and uninstall Ubuntu like any other Windows application; it does not require a dedicated partition nor does it affect the existing bootloader, yet users can experience a dual-boot setup almost identical to a full installation. This is a great way to allow users to try Ubuntu in a more meaningful environment than the LiveCD without actually committing to installing it properly. Such a good idea in my humble opinion.
Usage, installation etc
As with previous releases installation is a doddle; especially for those of us who remember installing without graphical partition managers (or a GUI at all). Using this early release of Heron is just like using Gutsy, and Edgy, and Feisty... The interface is largely the same and if there are changes (beyond default applications) I don't see them. It's intuitive enough I guess (although I personally prefer a KDE environment to Gnome).
Inexplicable change to the location map
This I really can't understand. When you're installing Ubuntu (as with any other OS) it asks you to select where you're from. On previous editions of Ubuntu you get a simple world map with major cities highlighted; you click on the map to zoom in and select your city. This has changed and it's really counter-intuitive. The map is zoomed out by default, but when your mouse enters the area it zooms in and suddenly your mouse is controlling how the region pans. It has become more difficult than necessary to select your location - although I suspect this will be highlighted and fixed by the time the full release comes about. It just feels like someone has "overcooked" this region by spending too much time on it when in reality I felt it was finished in Gutsy.
What more can I say? If I went over all the excellent features of Ubuntu I'd be repeating myself. I appreciate that this is only the alpha 5 release but the new functionality looks to be very promising indeed; of course I won't commit to anything until the final release is out in April but I think (yet again) it'll be good.
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