Ubuntu’s latest release (code named Natty Narwhal) is finally out and I grabbed a copy of it to check it out. Canonical has gotten some flack for this release since it uses Unity as the default desktop instead of the usual GNOME interface. Some users seem to love it and others have vowed to switch away from Ubuntu and find some other distribution as their main desktop Linux.
Only time will tell if Unity brings in more Ubuntu users than it drives away. The jury is still out on that one and will be for quite some time, but I shared some of my thoughts a while back in a column on EOL called “Unity: Ubuntu’s Descent Into Madness!”
What’s New In This Release
Here’s a sample of the new features in this release:
Banshee replaces Rhythmbox
LibreOffice replaces OpenOffice
Ubuntu Software Centers contains user ratings & reviews
The Unity interface is Canonical’s attempt to bring a more netbook-like look and feel to Ubuntu. The classic GNOME interface is still available via the login screen though, so you can opt out of Unity any time you like.
The launcher lets you access such things as your home folder, Firefox, LibreOffice, the Ubuntu Software Center, Ubuntu One, updates, workspaces and applications.
Click the Ubuntu logo in the top-left to access the dash. The dash lets you access applications, search, email and other frequently used features.
Workspaces is reminiscent of Mac OSX’s “Spaces” feature and lets you easily access multiple desktops.
I’m quite happy to see that LibreOffice has replaced OpenOffice. I’ve been waiting for this and kudos for Canonical for finally getting it done. It’s the best thing that they could do for those who need an office suite. I’m rather neutral on Banshee replacing Rythymbox though, but I’m sure there are some who will appreciate it.
I’m also very happy indeed that the Software Center now contains user reviews and ratings. It’s always helpful to see what other users think of an application before I bother downloading and installing it. Sometimes it can help you avoid stinker applications that aren’t worth installing on your system.
Hardware Requirements & Installation
Here’s what you’ll need to run this distro:
A Pentium 4, 1GHz system is the minimum recommended for a desktop system.
Table 3.2. Recommended Minimum System Requirements
|Install Type||RAM (minimal)||RAM (recommended)||Hard Drive|
|No desktop||64 megabytes||256 megabytes||1 gigabyte|
|With Desktop||64 megabytes||512 megabytes||5 gigabytes|
The installation routine is as easy as ever with Ubuntu 11.04. You shouldn’t have a problem even if you’ve never installed Ubuntu before. Ubuntu 11.04 is a Live CD distro so you can check it out without having to actually install it and you can even upgrade your earlier version of Ubuntu to 11.04 from the Live CD.
The screenshots below walk you through the install, from beginning to end.
One thing to bear in mind is that Unity requires a certain level of hardware access to run. If try to install it in VirtualBox it will default to the classic GNOME desktop instead. You’ll need to install the Guest Additions in order for Unity to run properly. This is very easy and just takes a couple of minutes.
Here’s what the login screen looks like:
As noted at the beginning of the review, this release comes with the new Unity desktop interface. Unity is significantly different than the GNOME interface and it takes some getting used to if you haven’t used it before. I share my thoughts about the Unity interface in the Final Thoughts section of the review so I’ll hold off on that now. Suffice to say that it’s probably best described as a “love it or hate it” kind of thing. If you aren’t familiar with it, you might want to browse Ubuntu’s Unity guide to learn more about how it works.
If you prefer you can opt to use the “classic” GNOME interface by choosing it while on the login screen.
As I mentioned earlier (I’ll reiterate for those of you who skipped right to this section of the review) when you first boot into Unity you’ll notice that there’s a dock-like bar called the launcher to the left of the screen. From here, you can access your home folder, Firefox, LibreOffice applications, the Ubuntu Software Center, Ubuntu One, Update Manager, the Workspace Switcher, Applications, files and folders, and the trash. The desktop itself is totally uncluttered and free of annoying icons.
To browse applications, click the Applications icon and you’ll see a menu pop up with the Most Frequently Used, Installed and Apps Available for Download. Clicking the All Applications drop down menu will let you browse applications via category. This is quite different than the GNOME interface and some users might find it somewhat annoying to have an extra step to access a list of applications. Beauty though is, as they say, in the eye of the beholder.
And don’t forget that you can also just right-click the applications icon on the launcher to pull up a complete list of application categories.
Ambiance is the default theme in Ubuntu 11.04 but you can choose from seven other themes or get more online.
There are 21 different backgrounds available, and some of them are quite cool. More are available online if nothing floats your boat in the default selection.