Review: Why Ubuntu 'Hardy Heron' Wins Laurels


The new Ubuntu version offers an enhanced multimedia experience and Web surfing, nicely wrapped up in a Windows-friendly package. All that's missing is a bow on top.

The latest version of Ubuntu Linux desktop from Canonical is released with long-term-support. Code named "Hardy Heron," Ubuntu 8.04 will be supported till 2011. Ubuntu LTS releases come out every two years and offer three years of support for the desktop version, five years for servers. The last Ubuntu LTS, Dapper Drake (6.06.2), came out in May 2006, and has one more year of support left. The previous version, Gutsy Gibbon, or Ubuntu 7.10, was released in October 2007 but wasn't LTS.

Test Center has followed Ubuntu 8.04 through the alpha and beta stages and applauded the steps Ubuntu took in this release towards making Ubuntu more accessible and friendly to Windows users. The biggest and most visible addition is Wubi, a Windows-based installer that writes the entire Ubuntu OS as a file on a Windows machine. Creating a dual-boot machine is fairly common, with Windows on one partition and Linux on the other, but it can be a daunting task to anyone not comfortable with disk partitioning or unwilling to lose existing files. With Wubi, there is no partitioning of the disk drive, so Ubuntu can be installed on to an existing Windows machine without losing any data. If the user or admin decides against Ubuntu, it can easily be uninstalled using the Add/Remove Programs option in Control Panels.

Just as Boot Camp brought the Mac to Windows users, users interested in Linux but uncomfortable about losing legacy Windows apps now have a painless option at their fingertips.

Reviewers downloaded 8.04 and did a clean reinstall (That's the Test Center-preferred method) instead of an upgrade on a HP Compaq desktop with an AMD Athlon 64 processor. Prior to the reinstall, the machine was running Ubuntu 7.10. Similar to past installations, the install process was straightfoward. Ubuntu 8.04 installer auto-detected all components and detected the printers without trouble. Once the updates were installed, Hardy Heron was good to go.

Reviewers also tried Wubi to install on an existing Windows machine. On a HP Compaq desktop running Windows XP, reviewers selected the Windows Install option from the Live CD. Total disk allocation, target disk drive, and user account information were entered into a dialog box. With the relevant information entered, the intallation ran automatically. After reboot, Ubuntu appeared as a second option under Windows Boot Manager.

This is a familiar look for anyone who has sat down in front of a dual-boot machine before. Knowing there is no physical partition for the second OS, it's pretty cool. Everything looks the same in Windows, except for a Ubuntu folder with documentation and information for using Ubuntu. Booting into Ubuntu option brings up the default desktop, with a menu bar on top and a icon for the filesystem.

Solution providers can offer to install Ubuntu Linux on existing customer systems without interfering with any existing processes. Customers interested in trying out Linux in the workplace now have a lower barrier to entry.

Next: Troubles With Wubi.
Reviewers encountered a lot of trouble with Wubi on Windows Vista. It kept hanging toward the end of the installation. On reboot, the boot manager would list Ubuntu, but it would display screenfuls of error messages or a blank page that exited to a BusyBox/initramfs prompt. Ubuntu installed properly once User Access Control was turned off (or the executable run as "Run as Administrator") in Vista. However, the installation process continued to hang. This is a known bug, and does not actually impact the installation process since by the time it hangs Windows has completed the installation. Copying Wubi to the hard drive and running locally fixed the problem, but it was an odd bug to encounter in a stable LTS release.

The look and feel of Ubuntu remains the same, with the brown and orange color scheme. The rounded corners and overall finish also are familiar. Under the hood, however, Ubuntu 8.04 runs on a new engine. Based on the new Linux kernel 2.6.24-12.13, there is significant security and performance improvements. Ubuntu 8.04 comes with the new GNOME 2.22 desktop (that we liked in Fedora 9 beta) as the default, with improved Bluetooth integration, world clock applet, and multimedia support.

Hardy Heron feels faster and more responsive than the previous version, and it is definitely an improvement since the last LTS. Copying large files or launching applications all seemed quicker. On the machine with only Ubuntu installed, performance was markedly faster, but even on the Windows-based-Ubuntu-install (with Wubi), applications opened quickly and disk access was fast. For users sticking with Wubi's dual-boot, there is no performance hit for using Ubuntu. In fact, Firefox launched faster on Ubuntu than on the Windows side.

A note of caution, however: Hibernation does not work in a Wubi installation.

Solution providers can work with customers to take advantage of dual-boot. Have the users boot into Ubuntu to surf the Web, check their e-mail, download files, and light word processing; boot into Windows to run office-specific or legacy applications that would not work on Linux. This would help secure the office since many of the malware attacks would be ineffective against a Linux box.

Ubuntu 8.04 has enhanced many of its multimedia capabilities, including F-Spot enhanced photo manager, plugins to work with YouTube and MythTV (open source TVR) and improved Totem Media Player to play DVDs. Transmission has replaced the older Gnome BitTorrent, Transmission. Finally, Brasero CD/DVD burning application replaced the Serpentine audio CD burning utility.

PolicyKit, integrated in administrative user interfaces, supports fine-grained control over user permissions. Under PolicyKit, the entire application does not need to run as root, but only selected operations within the application, enhancing security.

Reviewers tried integrating with an Active Directory using Likewise Open and succeeded, but it wasn't exactly seamless. However, the capability opens up Ubuntu 8.04 to otherwise Windows-only offices. Users can use their AD credentials to login to their Ubuntu box, and continue accessing servers and other services in the office.

Hardy Heron maintained the Spartan look and feel that made Ubuntu popular amongst the Linux faithful, while packaging it in such as a way as to make it comfortable for Windows -oriented businesses. The bare desktop might be a difficult adjustment for Windows users looking for their folders and data, but it's all there with a little poking. Getting them this far is a victory of sorts

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