Review: Ubuntu 9.04
Long time no see; I've been away from the Linux community for a year focusing on other avenues. Yesterday I closed distro-review.com down and ported the Linux reviews over to this blog again. Having been away from the scene for a long while it seems fitting to review Ubuntu 9.04 and see how the situation has changed.
My decision to review Ubuntu 9.04 first is obvious; it has long been the poster-child for the usable Linux movement and those familiar with my previous work will know that I only care about usability. I don't care how advanced the architecture is, or that distro-x supports up to 32 cores. I care about ease of use and how painless it is to get a fresh ready for everyday use.
Has Linux stagnated? Is Ubuntu no longer the poster child? Has it stopped pioneering usability? Or have we literally reached a plateau where things are as good as they can get for usability and it's just a case of tidying up the graphics driver support etc?
The last Ubuntu I reviewed was 8.04 Alpha and while I didn't dabble with it for long, I found it to be a reasonable step in the right direction. So with 9.04 what has changed?
The installation process is still fairly good, although the step where you choose which drive to install to seems to have gone backwards. I remember in 8.04 it was more intuitive than this... Either way, the whole process is easy and certainly within the ability of someone who can install Windows.
While the OS itself looks the same (and has done since Breezy Badger as far as I can tell), the login screen looks fantastic this time around. Very sleek and professional.
Networking and Media Handling
Because I insist on evaluating operating systems based on their initial functionality and ease of use, I weight decent media support and networking very heavily. Networking in Ubuntu has always been good and 9.04 is no exception. The media playback however seems to be less intuitive than in previous releases.
Having toyed with every major release since Breezy Badger, I've seen the last few download codecs on demand and it's always worked perfectly. This time it does correctly identify the missing codecs but fails to install them. In order to view the video files I have saved on a network enabled machine, I needed to download and install VLC. I day say this isn't something the "normal", absent minded user would be able to manage. I only knew to install VLC because of prior knowledge, you'd expect the platform default player to be as durable as possible.
A nice (seemingly new) feature that I like is the automatic mapping of viewed network folders to your desktop; so browsing my media-server machine it automatically mapped my "TV Shows" folder to my desktop. This may be the first time an operating system has done something of it's own accord and I've been appreciative.
Once I'd got VLC installed everything worked fine.
I expect "usable" releases to either provide a full suite of software to the user post-install or make the interface for obtaining new applications so simple it's within the realm of any 'average' user. I'm in a quandry as to where Ubuntu falls... The applications provided post install are sufficient for very basic use but it's not exactly a full studio - meaning even the most average of user will long for more. The Add-Remove applications menu is acceptable if not a little overwhelming for the uncertain. In something I refer to as the "agony of choice", usability suffers when people are given free reign.
If you dare select "all available applications" you'd better be well provisioned, because you could die from starvation before you could read the description of every application available.
Sure they're categorised but if Joe Blogs isn't quite sure what category his desired application lives in, he could end up reading every single description across 2-3 categories. Unless you know the name of the application you require (VLC in my case) it may be problematic. Although, I guess this is true of any release that doesn't offer a full software studio by default.
The only thing I think of when using Ubuntu 9.04 is how little things have progressed in the past year. I've avoided any Linux related news for over 9 months and step into my first review in a long while and everything has stayed the same. I know the next Ubuntu is out in 2 months (and this one is a few months old) but I really expected more.
Has Linux stagnated? Is Ubuntu no longer the poster child? Has it stopped pioneering usability? Or have we literally reached a plateau where things are as good as they can get for usability and it's just a case of tidying up the graphics driver support etc? I'll muse this subject in a separate blog post. In conclusion, this Ubuntu release is perfectly capable but seems to personify the lack of enthusiasm the community is enduring.
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