Wed, 01 Jun 2005

The Ubuntu Experiment

Last Monday afternoon I decided it was time to experience something new and different: a new Linux distribution. Of course if you know anything about Linux you'll know that the hottest new distro on the web is Ubuntu Linux. I spent a full two days with it on my laptop before going back to my old favourite, Gentoo Linux.

So, keep reading if you want to hear more about it. For the free-time-challenged, here's the summary: I wouldnt hesitate to hand a Ubuntu CD to someone for their first Linux experience.

I jotted down a few notes during the experiment, which I'm sure can stand in for a mini-review:

  • Beginning installation at 3:10pm by booting from the Ubuntu install CD
  • Simple text-based installer is remarkly clean and good-looking
  • Lack of unexplained jargon is quite remarkable all throughout the install
  • And yet, I dont feel limited by the clickable options, they have provided a very good interface to advanced install functionality if you want it
  • Prompted to create an ordinary user account but not to set a root password. I find out later that the root user is disabled and administration is done using sudo, similar to the way OSX does things
  • After around 10 minutes, I've rebooted once and am waiting patiently while Ubuntu installs itself
  • At 3:36pm, I am presented with the login screen. That makes it 26 minutes for a first-time install - not bad!
  • Integration of sudo for administrative tasks is seamless, using gtksu to prompt for your password where appropriate
  • All the "standard" apps are available by default, plus some very nice little administrative tools such as network settings. I'd like to see a Linux newbie try these out...
  • After getting a few things I needed the package manager, the install was only 1.6G
  • Lots of little things working out of the box, that are a real pain to muck around with usually:
    • Volume up/down function keys
    • Blanking when the laptop lid closes (although I dont think it as a full suspend, that's coming in the next version)
  • The boot process is at least twice as fast as Gentoo. I think this has a lot to do with them firing up the login manager as soon as humanly possible, the same way that XP does things
  • I got really frustrated really quickly with having to install gcc, gtk-dev, enchant-dev, python-dev, and the header files for all the other stuff I need. Spoilt by Gentoo I guess, but it makes sense for 'ordinary' users
  • Most software is a few minor versions behind that available in Gentoo's portage

All around a very positive experience. I'd say "keep an eye on this one" if you're into new distros. So why did I switch back? The bleeding edge. Having two out of three machines running Gentoo and one running a few versions behind was just a little too frustrating. I'm sure if everything was running Ubuntu I'd have been very happy with it.