Ubuntu 11.10

Yet another Ubuntu release is upon us. This time around it’s Oneiric Ocelot (Ubuntu 11.10). Canonical, as you may already know, tends to name its release after various kinds of animals. The ocelot is a dwarf leopard that dwells in South and Central America and Mexico. The other part of the name is the word “oneiric” which essentially means “relating to dreams” according to the Merrian-Webster dictionary.

Here’s a little background about the ocelot for those who are wondering about the name of this Ubuntu release:

The ocelot is mostly nocturnal and very territorial. It will fight fiercely, sometimes to the death, in territorial disputes. In addition, the cat marks its territory with urine. Like most felines, it is solitary, usually meeting only to mate. However, during the day it rests in trees or other dense foliage, and will occasionally share its spot with another ocelot of the same sex. Males occupy territories of 3.5 to 46 square kilometers (1.4 to 18 sq mi), while females occupy smaller, non-overlapping territories of 0.8 to 15 square kilometers (0.31 to 5.8 sq mi). Territories are marked by urine spraying and by leaving feces in prominent locations, sometimes favoring particular latrine sites.[9]

So apparently Canonical decided to name this release after a cat that dreams and pees a lot. Were they trying to send some sort of message? Interesting, I wonder if this decision was made by a particular individual or some sort of committee? Some have said that Canonical is copying Apple too much (Lion anybody?) and perhaps they have a point or two in that regard. Aaah well, it is what it is.

Ocelot

Ocelot

The cute name and the ocelot’s territorial pissings aside, there are many people who have been waiting for the release of Oneiric Ocelot. The last release of Ubuntu was quite controversial in some respects because of the Unity desktop. This time around Canonical has made some tweaks to Unity that might provide a potentially better experience. We’ll find out in this review if that’s true or not.

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

New releases of compiz and Unity
New Alt+Tab switcher
Places are now called Lenses
Dash has a music lens that uses Banshee to search your music
Launchers and Panel promise better performance
Ubuntu Mono and Ubuntu Condensed have been added to the Ubuntu Font Family
Unity 2D shares more code with Unity and contains nearly completed accessibility support features
Ubuntu Software Center 5.0
OneConf lets you keep installed applications in sync across multiple computers
DVD size has been shrunk to 1.5 GB
Thunderbird is the default email client
Deja Dup is the default backup tool
Gwibber has been updated
LightDM is the login manager
Synaptic and Pitivi are not installed by default (but they are available in Software Center)
Linux kernel 3.0.0-12.20
Ubuntu One music collections can now stream to iOS and Android devices
Multiarch support for installing 32-bit application and library packages on 64-bit systems
Firefox 7 included as default browser
LibreOffice 3.4

Let’s jump into some of these new features in no particular order.

The multiarch support means that those running 64-bit systems will have access to a wider range of 32-bit applications and libraries. Not every application has to be 64-bit to be useful and so this release of Ubuntu should be particularly pleasing to those running 64-bit systems.

I’ll talk about the Ubuntu Software Center 5.0 in the software section of the review. Suffice to say that it’s had a significant overhaul that should make it a much better experience than it has been in the past.

The new improvements to Unity are welcome and appreciated. Unity 2D is nearly on par with the 3D accelerated version. The entire Unity experience has gotten significantly better in this release. And please note that I have not exactly been a fan of Unity in the past. I found it to be significantly more usable than in the past though I still am not sure I’d want to use it on a day-to-day basis. This time around though Unity feels much more…livable. I suspect that if I used it long enough I *might* actually come to like it.

Current users of Unity will note that it feels faster than the last release and it seems much more consistent than it did previously. I suspect that some of those who have been hesitating about Unity might now be swayed by the quality improvements in this release. I make no promises but if you’ve been skeptical of Unity you might want to give it another look.

The performance of the Panel and Launchers has been improved and is definitely noticeable. I never complain when the performance of something increases so I’m certainly not going to do that now. Kudos to Canonical for speeding them up.

Gwibber

Gwibber

LightDM is a very attractive login manager (see the screenshot in the Login/Desktop section of the review). While a new login manager isn’t earth-shattering news, it goes along with the rest of the improvements of this release in terms of polish. Little things like this help provide an overall better user experience when you add them all up.

The change to Thunderbird being the default email client matters very little to me. I stopped using local email clients and have mostly gone with web-based mail for a long time now. So I won’t be using Thunderbird or any other local email client any time soon. But your mileage may vary and some users might enjoy Thunderbird.

Deja Dup adds some real value by letting you back up locally or online via Ubuntu One. You get 5GB free with Ubuntu One and that’s a good start for most people to use for backups. True, it will cost you some money if you want more space but sometimes additional storage is worth paying for if you want to use online backups.

Deja Dup

Deja Dup

Oneconf is an excellent addition that should make it quite comfortable for anyone who wants to keep their apps in sync across multiple computers. I like anything that saves me the time and headache of having to manage things like that manually.

The absence of Pitivi and Synaptic are not particularly bothersome. You can easily install them later if you find yourself missing them.

Firefox 7 is now the default browser for Ubuntu 11.10. Don’t like Firefox 7? Well wait a few days and I’m sure Mozilla will release Firefox 8, 9, 10, etc. Ha, ha. Just kidding.

LibreOffice 3.4 should easily meet the needs of most desktop office suite users.

Gwibber has a new interface based on the latest GNOME technologies.

Ubuntu One

Ubuntu One

Hardware Requirements & Installation

Hardware Requirements
Here’s what you’ll need to run this distro:

1 GHz Cpu (x86 processor (Pentium 4 or better))
1 Gb Ram (system memory)
15 Gb of hard-drive space (or usb-stick, memory-card or external drive but see LiveCd for an alternative approach)
800 by 600 screen resolution
Either a Cd/Dvd-drive or a Usb-port for the installer media
Internet access is helpful

Installation
The downloadable ISO file comes in a 1.8GB version (i386), or a 1.9GB version (AMD64). So it doesn’t take very long to download if you’re on a reasonably fast connection.

The Ubuntu installer is as slick as ever. I had no problems doing my install; even those who are totally new to Linux should be able to install Ubuntu 11.10.

When you first boot into Ubuntu 11.10, you’re given the option of trying it before installing. I decided to skip the live desktop (been there, done that a zillion times) and just went with the desktop install right off the bat. If you are totally new to Ubuntu then by all means try it first. You can do a full install right from the live desktop.

The installer walks you through each step of putting Ubuntu 11.10 on your system.

Welcome

Welcome

You can watch a slideshow of features while your install is completed. Please note that at one point you can opt to install updates and third party software such as flash while you’re install happens. I highly recommend doing this because it will save you time. Yes, the install will be a little longer but you won’t have bother with it later on.

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

Login
Here’s what the new login screen looks like:

Login

Login

As you can tell from the screenshot, it’s quite pretty. I suppose some might dismiss it as fluff but I think it’s rather sharp looking.

The Desktop
The Unity desktop, as I noted before, has had some significant changes done to it and is finally coming into its own. While I still lean toward Xubuntu, I could see myself getting quite comfortable with Unity the more I used it. In this release it has a way of growing on you that I did not expect since I was quite turned off by it in Ubuntu 11.04.

Note that the Dash appears at the top of the launcher. Click it and you’ll see the search box popup, along with commonly used applications and application categories. This makes using the Dash easier and faster.

Note that there are icons (lenses) at the bottom of the Dash screen that let you search Applications, Music, Files and Folders, etc. If you aren’t familiar with Lenses, be sure to read this page on Ubuntu’s Wiki. There are also some neat Lenses you might want to check out that go beyond the default ones that come with Ubuntu 11.10.

If you click the More Apps icon you’ll see Most Frequently Used, Installed, Apps Available for Download and also application category buttons on the right side of the screen. If you click one of the category buttons you’ll see a list of installed apps as well as a list of some apps in that category that you can download. I rather like the inclusion of app “suggestions” to download. It makes it easier to surface potentially useful apps that Ubuntu newbies might not even know exist.

As I mentioned earlier in the review, Unity 2D has been improved. So even if you aren’t running hardware that can support the full Unity experience, you’ll still have a good looking and highly usable desktop. The screenshots below are of Unity 2D.

Desktop

Desktop

Dash 1

Dash 1

Dash 2

Dash 2

One thing that may irritate some users is the change to menu buttons. If the window is maximized you won’t see menu buttons in the upper left unless you hover the mouse over them. I’m on the fence on this change. I suppose it makes things neater, but it also means you have to focus on hovering for a second to click on the buttons. Perhaps others won’t really care though? Maybe it’s a question of beauty being in the eye of the beholder.

Menu Buttons

Menu Buttons

The Power Menu now lets you shutdown and do all the usual stuff you need to do.

Power Menu

Power Menu

Themes & Wallpaper
Ubuntu 11.10 comes with a decent and rather attractive set of wallpapers. You can access themes right from the same menu, so it’s quite convenient to change both at the same time.

Themes & Wallpaper

Themes & Wallpaper

System Settings

Here’s a look at the System Settings menu. Everything you’d expect to be there is and it gives you a good amount of control of your Ubuntu 11.10 system.

System Settings

System Settings

Bundled Software in Ubuntu 11.10

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

Games
AisleRiot Solitaire
FreeCell Solitaire
gbrainy
Mahjongg

Graphics
Document Viewer
Image Viewer
LibreOffice Draw
Shotwell

Internet
Desktop Sharing
Empathy
Firefox
Gwibber Social Client

Multimedia
Banshee Media Player
Brasero Disc Burner
Movie Player
Sound Recorder

Office
LibreOffice

Software Management
The Ubuntu Software Center has had a significant overhaul. Top rated applications are now very visible when you first open the Software Center. There’s also a banner at the top that features a particular application. Application categories are also prominent on the left side of the screen.

You can also easily see your installed software by clicking the icon at the top of the Software Center. The history screen lets you see All Changes, Installations, Updates and Removals.

Application list views can be sorted by Name, Top Rated, Relevance or Newest First. I particularly love sorting based on Top Rated as it helps speed up the finding of the best applications by utilizing the combined collective knowledge and experience of all Software Center users.

I also noticed that there is a What’s New section on the main view as well as I write this review. It’s a nice way of surfacing new apps that users might not otherwise know about.

The Software Center has come a long way from where it started and I’m glad to see such progress. No, it’s not perfect but it keeps getting better and better as time goes by.

Software Center All

Software Center Main View

Software Center Installed

Software Center Installed

Software Center Category

Software Center Category

Software Center History

Software Center History

Adding & Removing Software
It’s easy to add or remove software. To add just click the Install button in Software Center. Click the Remove button if it’s something you want to get rid of from your system.

Installing VLC

Install VLC

You can click the More Info button when viewing an application in list view if you want to know more about a particular application. More Info will take you to another page that will let you view add ons, comments by other users, version number, total size, etc. It’s a good way to find out more about an application.

K3B More Info

K3B More Info

Sound and Multimedia
YouTube & Flash
As I noted in the install section, I opted to have third party software and updates installed during the installation. So I had no problems running flash based videos in Ubuntu 11.10. Flash performance seemed pretty good in Firefox 7.

YouTube

YouTube

Multimedia Applications
The selection of multimedia applications that are installed by default is very bare bones. You get Banshee, Brasero Disc Burner, Movie Player and Sound Recorder.

I strongly suggest browsing the Software Center and sorting multimedia applications by Top Rated to snag some really good additional multimedia software. There’s quite a bit available in the Software Center and sorting by Top Rated will bring most of the best stuff right to the surface for easy downloading and installing on your Ubuntu 11.10 system.

VLC Media Player pops up right at the top of the list when you use Top Rated sorting. It’s an excellent program and highly recommended.

Multimedia Apps

Multimedia Apps (Sorted by Top Rated)

Problems & Headaches
For some strange reason, I was not able to authorize my Twitter account while using Gwibber. I’m not sure what the problem was, but I had no problems setting up Facebook in Gwibber. I don’t count this as much of a big deal since I don’t tweet all that much anyway. But perhaps others out there have noticed it too? Or was it just a temporary Twitter burp? Let me know in the comments if you had a similar problem.

Beyond that I didn’t find very much to complain about in Ubuntu 11.10. I didn’t come across any noticeable bugs or other aggravations. Things ran relatively speedy and everything seemed pretty stable.

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. You’ll find documentation, a technical answers system, training courses, paid support services and even free community support on that page. So bookmark it in case you have problems with Ubuntu 11.10.

Final Thoughts & Who Should Use It
Ubuntu 11.10 is a more polished release than 11.04. Unity is finally beginning to come into its own and has become significantly more usable. Canonical has made up for some of Unity’s initial headaches and these efforts may bring back some of the Ubuntu users who have fled to other Ubuntu spins such as Xubuntu or Lubuntu.

The Software Center upgrade also provides some real value in this release. It’s gotten to be a much better experience as it has evolved and it should be a fairly comfortable tool for even those totally new to Linux.

Ubuntu 11.10 is suitable for beginner, intermediate and advanced Linux users. Those currently running Ubuntu 11.04 should definitely consider an upgrade to this release. At the very least it’s worth burning to a DVD and trying out the live desktop environment to see if it floats your boat.

If you still aren’t sure about Ubuntu 11.10 and you aren’t willing to download and burn a DVD, head over to the web based demo. You can kick Ubuntu’s tires a bit and poke around right from the comfort of your browser. You can also take a short online tour of Ubuntu 11.10.

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 11.10
Web Site: http://www.ubuntu.com
Price: Free
Pros: Updated Software Center and new releases of compiz and Unity. 32-bit applications & libraries can now run on 64-bit machines. Deja Dup can be used to backup locally or online via Ubuntu One. Contains Linux kernel 3.0 and GNOME 3.2 components.
Cons: Confirmed Unity haters might still want to stick with a different distro or a different Ubuntu spin. Default multimedia application selection leaves a little bit to be desired.
Suitable For:  Beginner, intermediate and advanced Linux users.
Rating: 4/5