Without much fanfare, developers of Ubuntu Linux have delivered the latest version of the open source operating system that scores higher than Windows Vista in performance testing, does a better job than Windows in making wireless connectivity easy and, overall, leaves fewer reasons to stick with Windows than any other previous release of Linux.
Ubuntu 8.10 Desktop Edition, nicknamed "Intrepid Ibex," provides so much functionality and ease of use, at zero cost of acquisition, that it is really impossible to ignore. For anyone or any business not tied to Microsoft legacy desktop applications, Ubuntu 8.10 may realistically be considered a smarter choice in many scenarios.
During initial evaluation in the Test Center lab, Ubuntu 8.10 scored big in both performance testing and in wireless integration - - areas where Linux has had some trouble in the past.
Using the same, custom-built PC test bed loaded with, alternatively, Ubuntu 8.10 and Windows Vista Business, Ubuntu proved to be a quicker installation, scored higher in benchmark testing, managed wireless connectivity easier and booted slightly faster than Vista. Keep in mind that, less than two years ago, wireless integration with Ubuntu was pretty weak and non-intuitive - - especially for Linux newbies - - while Windows XP enjoyed nearly universal market support. Early results show Ubuntu has closed the gap dramatically.
The Test Center's PC test bed was built with an Intel Core 2 Duo E7200 CPU at 2.53 GHz, an Elitegroup Computer Systems G31T-M motherboard with integrated Intel graphics and 2 GB of SDRAM. First, Windows Vista Business was installed on the PC; using Primate Labs' Geekbench benchmarking software the system rang up a score of 2838. That's about on par with other Vista-based systems we've reviewed this year with similar hardware specs.
After that, we did a clean install on the same PC with Ubuntu 8.10. Running Geekbench on the PC then, the system returned a score of 3367 - - a measurable and noteworthy performance spike. Geekbench is a multi-platform benchmarking software and scans each system for elements of both hardware and software performance, including floating point CPU performance and I/O. Even apart from the Geekbench score, the PC with Ubuntu 8.10 was noticeably faster when opening or switching between applications. Boot time with the PC running Vista was 56 seconds; with Ubuntu 8.10 it took 50 seconds.
In Ubuntu 8.10, developers have also integrated a simple, intuitive console for managing wireless connectivity, including for WiFi and broadband wireless. After installation, it took two clicks of the wireless console to hook the PC up to a wireless router. The PC was built with a Linksys Wireless-G PCI adapter, nothing exotic, and connectivity worked like a charm. No line commands were needed, no installation of drivers were needed. It just worked.
There are a few other noteworthy improvements in this version versus the 8.04 release. With two clicks of the management console, a "guest" account can be created to permit more than one person to customize a desktop on the same PC. A guest account can then be saved to a thumb drive and then loaded onto another PC. Developers have also provided a streamlined upgrade process to get from one version to the next. (The upgrade process was a little balky when we tried to upgrade from 8.04 to 8.10 inside a Sun VirtualBox VM.)
Canonical, the organization that oversees development of Ubuntu, releases a new version of Ubuntu every six months - - the most recent being version 8.04 in April. That version, nicknamed Hardy Heron, is considered a "Long Term Support" release, meaning free updates will be made available to that version for three years. Version 8.10, which Canonical launched Thursday, will receive updates for 18 months.
It's also important to note that the ecosystem around Ubuntu has grown significantly over the past couple of years as well. Canonical continues to bundle key application software with Ubuntu, including OpenOffice.org, Rhythmbox (music management software that can integrate with MP3 players including iPods), Firefox 3.0, GIMP photo editing software and more.
The bottom line: Ubuntu 8.10 Desktop Edition easily ranks higher than any other Linux desktop OS we've looked at in the Test Center. Based on performance numbers, its Ethernet and wireless management and zero licensing cost, this is an operating system we can recommend to VARs - - not just as an alternative to Windows but as a strong OS in its own right.