Ubuntu 11.04

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!

Desktop

The Ubuntu 11.04 Unity Desktop

What’s New In This Release
Here’s a sample of the new features in this release:

Unity interface
Launcher
Dash
Workspaces
Banshee replaces Rhythmbox
LibreOffice replaces OpenOffice
Ubuntu Software Centers contains user ratings & reviews
Kernel 2.6.38
Firefox 4.0

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.

Launcher

Launcher

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.

Dash

Dash

Workspaces is reminiscent of Mac OSX’s “Spaces” feature and lets you easily access multiple desktops.

Workspaces

Workspaces

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.

LibreOffice

LibreOffice Writer

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.

Software Center Reviews

Software Center Reviews

Hardware Requirements & Installation

Hardware Requirements
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

Installation
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.

Install 1

Install 1

Install 2

Install 2

Install 3

Install 3

Install 4

Install 4

Install 5

Install 5

Install 6

Install 6

Install 7

Install 7

Install 8

Install 8

Install 9

Install 9

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.

Guest Additions Install

VirtualBox Guest Additions Install

Login
Here’s what the login screen looks like:

Login

Login

The Desktop
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.

Desktop

Desktop

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.

Browse Applications

Browse Applications

Application Icon

Application Icon

Themes

Ambiance is the default theme in Ubuntu 11.04 but you can choose from seven other themes or get more online.

Themes

Themes

Wallpaper

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.

Backgrounds

Backgrounds

Bundled Software

Here’s a sample of the software included in this release.

Games
AisleRiot Solitaire
gbrainy
Mahjongg
Mines
Sudoku

Graphics
Shotwell Photo Manager
LibreOffice Draw
Simple Scan

Internet
Empathy IM
Firefox
Gwibber
Remote Desktop Viewer

Multimedia
Banshee Media Player
Brasero
Movie Player
Pitivi

Office
LibreOffice
Evolution Mail and Calendar

Software Management
The Ubuntu Software Center contains more than 33,000 applications split into categories. You can also search for applications or browse the Featured and What’s New sections.

Software Center

Software Center

 

Adding & Removing Software
It’s very easy to add or remove software. Just find the application in the Ubuntu Software Center and click the Install or Remove button. You can also click the More Info button to get more information about an application before installing it. This includes helpful ratings & comments by other users so if you aren’t sure if an application is worth bothering with, read what others have to say about it.

Add Software 1

Add Software 1

Add Software 2

Add Software 2

Sound and Multimedia

YouTube & Flash
Flash is not installed by default unless you choose to have third party software added during the 2nd install step (see the Install 2 image on the install page or the image gallery page). I opted not to since I wanted to see the default selection of software without anything being added to it. If you are going to be viewing flash videos then it makes sense to just have the third party stuff added when you install Ubuntu 11.04.

YouTube

YouTube

Multimedia Applications

Ubuntu 11.04 comes with a very modest selection of multimedia software including Banshee, Brasero Disc Burner, Movie Player and the Pitivi Video Editor. However, there are about 315 multimedia applications available in the Ubuntu Software Center. So chances are you will be able to find what you are looking for there even if the default selection is rather sparse.

Multimedia Category

Multimedia Category

Banshee

Banshee

Problems & Headaches
One of the annoying things about the launcher is that it’s not very configurable right now. Beginners might not notice or even care about that, but more advanced users could find it very annoying. I hope that Canonical builds in some customization options for the launcher in the next release of Ubuntu.

My experience with Ubuntu 11.04 was quite good in terms of performance and problems. I didn’t run into any noticeable instability, slowdown or other burps while using it.

The only thing that slowed me down briefly was adding the Guest Additions to get Unity to run in VirtualBox. Beyond that, my experience was very positive. This isn’t surprising though, Ubuntu has usually run well for me so I didn’t expect to run into much in the way of headaches with this release. Your mileage may vary, however, so please take a moment to share any problems (and fixes) you might have encountered so that others can benefit from your experience.

Where To Get Help
Please take a moment to register for the DLR forum; everybody is welcome. Feel free to post a message in the forum and we’ll do our best to point you in the right direction. The forum contains discussions about Linux, as well as other topics. Please stop by and say hello when you have a chance.

Drop by the forum to get help, talk about Linux or just hang out.

You might also want to check out the Ubuntu support page for documentation, answers, training courses and free community support.

Final Thoughts & Who Should Use It
Ubuntu 11.04 is probably best described as a “love it or leave it” type of distro. If you like Unity then chances are you will really love Ubuntu 11.04. However, if you are one of those who dislikes Unity then it might be time to leave Ubuntu and find another distribution for your desktop use.

I’m in the latter category as I find Unity to be suffocating and unnecessary. For me it adds little value and seems to be in the way most of the time; so I would definitely not use Ubuntu 11.04 as one of my regular distros. I tried to like it but I just couldn’t warm up to it. Some have called it very “Mac-like” but, oddly, Mac OS X’s interface doesn’t seem to annoy me as much as Unity’s. Say what you will about Apple (and there’s plenty to say, pro and con) but they don’t seem to have made Mac OS X into an annoying experience the way that Unity feels to me.

Perhaps I’m just a dinosaur? Maybe netbook type interfaces will be the wave of the future in all desktop operating systems. If so then I suspect I’ll be one of the luddites booting into “classic” interfaces or simply opting to use a distro with a slimmed down desktop environment instead. Eye candy and “coolness” can sometimes be more trouble than they are worth so if feeling that way makes me a fossil then so be it. If I wanted a netbook interface, I’d buy a netbook instead of using a desktop computer.

Your mileage may vary, however, so I urge you to keep an open mind and give Ubuntu 11.04 a shot and see if you like it. I did not penalize Ubuntu 11.04 for Unity in the scoring below. Despite my own dislike of it, I know that there are some folks out there who might really like it and more power to them if they do. It’s just not my cup of tea.

If you need an alternative then I’d consider Linux Mint, Bodhi or one of the many other Ubuntu derivatives that don’t use Unity as their desktop environment. Of course you could also stick with Ubuntu 11.04 and simply use the classic GNOME interface instead. You can choose that on the login screen if you like.

Ubuntu 11.04 is suitable for beginner, intermediate and advanced Linux users. Beginners should be aware that Unity is significantly different than previous Ubuntu desktops and should bear that in mind accordingly if they decide to try out Ubuntu 11.04.

What’s your take on this distro? Tell me in the comments below. Visit Eye On Linux for Linux opinion columns and distro quick looks; visit JimLynch.com for other technology coverage.

Summary Table:

Product: Ubuntu 11.04
Web Site: http://www.ubuntu.com/
Price: Free
Pros: New Unity interface; user ratings and reviews in the Software Center; easy install routine that includes the ability to upgrade from the Live CD.
Cons: Unity interface is a “love it or hate it” affair that will either bring people to Ubuntu or drive them away, the jury is still out on that and we won’t know for a while which way things will go.
Suitable For: Beginner, intermediate and advanced Linux users.
Rating: 4/5