The 9.04 release doesn’t contain much that is new, but it is a welcome update and keeps Ubuntu at the head of the Linux pack with low entry requirements in terms of both hardware and the level of expertise required. It may even tempt some disillusioned Vista users, at least until Windows 7 comes along.
Fast boot times; Firefox multimedia plug-ins pre-loaded; updated Gnome desktop; Brasero CD burning software; commercial support options; LiveCD for evaluation.
Some command-line expertise still required.
Free to download
The most popular of the free Linux distros, the 10th and latest release of Ubuntu Linux (9.04, also known as Jaunty Jackalope) is available for both servers and desktops. Ready-made install media can be purchased online, along with chargeable support from commercial sponsor Canonical and others, however, we opted for the free download, choosing the 32-bit desktop edition supplied as a 699MB ISO CD image.
Once downloaded, we simply burned the image to a CD to create a LiveCD disk from which it is possible to evaluate Ubuntu without having to make any changes to the host computer. This worked well on the three PCs we tried, including a Dell Vostro notebook where the Ubuntu installer not only configured the display correctly but also the built-in WiFi adapter. Power management and hibernation options also worked as expected.
Once booted the LiveCD experience is much like running Ubuntu normally although, because files have to be fetched from the CD, a lot slower. Added to which you cannot update or install extra apps or save changes, which meant having to re-type our wireless security passphrase every time we re-booted, download the browser plug-ins we wanted to use and so on.
Still, that is all cured when you install the software to disk with a graphical and very easy to follow setup program. Little has changed here from the previous version although the frenzied scrolling of the world map has been slowed making it a lot easier to select the right time zone.
That done, we took the option to use the whole of the hard disk for our setup, leaving Ubuntu to work out the partitioning and decide what packages to install. However, more experienced users can configure partitions and packages themselves and also choose which file system to use, with optional support for the new ext4 format added in this release.
As with Windows, regular updates are issued both for Ubuntu and the various packages that come with it. A bundled Update Manager tool is also provided to download and apply these updates which, in our case, advised installing some 135MB of new files. This we duly told it to do, and although it is not as transparent as Windows updates, the whole process took just 20 minutes, after which we re-booted and started to use Ubuntu in earnest.
First impressions were extremely favourable. The default desktop manager is Gnome (2.26) which is very Windows-like with enhanced multi-monitor support in this release. The usual tools to customise desktop colours, wallpaper and screensaver are all there plus support for additional 3D graphical effects, courtesy of Compiz Fusion, should you want them. A separate KDE implementation (Kubuntu) is yet another option plus it features extensive multi-language support.
The default browser is Firefox 3.0, but you can always upgrade to a later version or download an alternative if preferred. Moreover, once the updates had been applied, Flash and a number of other plug-ins were ready installed enabling us to view YouTube and other multimedia content straight away. Java, however, was not pre-loaded although Firefox offered to download and install a choice of Java plug-ins for us, so there were no real issues there either.
Windows network browsing bugs in earlier Ubuntu releases seem also to have been addressed, and we certainly had no trouble connecting to any of our network shares or accessing the documents and files within them. PDF documents were opened using the Evince document viewer provided, while double-clicking an Office document caused OpenOffice.org to load for editing. On the downside the OpenOffice apps are not as functional as the latest Office equivalents. But they are pretty good, and in the 3.0 release provided can handle all of the Office file formats, including most of those used by Office 2007.
We did have to do a little work before we could create shares on the Ubuntu PC despite the inclusion of a graphical tool to turn sharing on. That was because the first time this is used you are prompted to load additional SMB sharing software (Samba) after which we had to manually edit the Samba configuration file to join the correct workgroup/domain.
Among a clutch of welcome changes in Ubuntu 9.04, we particularly liked the new CD burning software (Brasero), better support for netbooks and faster boot times. Our test notebook, for example, took just 45 seconds to get to the logon screen.
Of course there were things we did not like such as having to hunt around for Linux printer drivers and revert to the command line when installing and configuring some add-on programs. Plus the Ubuntu software starts to look a little dated when compared to the forthcoming Windows 7 release, although a further Ubuntu update (Karmic Koala) is due out about the same time, which could well change that.