Back in the early part of 2008 we decided that we wanted to take a fresh look at Linux on the desktop. To do so we would start with a “switcher” article, giving us the chance to start anew and talk about some important topics while gauging the usability of Linux.

That article was supposed to take a month. As I have been continuously reminded, it has been more than a month. So oft delayed but never forgotten, we have finally finished our look at Ubuntu 8.04, and we hope it has been worth the wait.

There are many places I could have started this article, but the best place to start is why this article exists at all. Obviously some consideration comes from the fact that this is my job, but I have been wanting to seriously try a Linux distribution for quite some time. The fact that so much time has transpired between the last desktop Linux article here at AnandTech and my desire to try Linux makes for an excellent opportunity to give it a shot and do something about our Linux coverage at the same time.

After I threw this idea at Anand, the immediate question was what distribution of Linux should we use. As Linux is just an operating system kernel, and more colloquially it is the combination of the Linux kernel and the GNU toolset (hence the less common name GNU/Linux), this leaves a wide variation of actual distributions out there. Each distribution is its own combination of GNU/Linux, applications, window managers, and more, to get a complete operating system.

Since our target was a desktop distribution with a focus on home usage (rather than being exclusively enterprise focused) the decision was Ubuntu, which has established a strong track record of being easy to install, easy to use, and well supported by its user community. The Linux community has a reputation of being hard to get into for new users, particularly when it comes to getting useful help that doesn’t involve being told to read some esoteric manual (the RTFA mindset), and this is something I wanted to avoid. Ubuntu also has a reputation for not relying on the CLI (Command-Line Interface) as much as some other distributions, which is another element I was shooting for – I may like the CLI, but only when it easily allows me to do a task faster. Otherwise I’d like to avoid the CLI when a GUI is a better way to go about things.

I should add that while we were fishing for suggestions for the first Linux distro to take a look at, we got a lot of suggestions for PCLinuxOS. On any given day I don’t get a lot of email, so I’m still not sure what that was about. Regardless, while the decision was to use Ubuntu, it wasn’t made in absence of considering any other distributions. Depending on the reception of this article, we may take a look at other distros.

But with that said, this article serves two purposes for us. It’s first and foremost a review of Ubuntu 8.04. And with 9.04 being out, I’m sure many of you are wondering why we’re reviewing anything other than the latest version of Ubuntu. The short answer is that Ubuntu subscribes to the “publish early, publish often” mantra of development, which means there are many versions, not all of which are necessarily big changes. 8.04 is a Long Term Support release; it’s the most comparable kind of release to a Windows or Mac OS X release. This doesn’t mean 9.04 is not important (which is why we’ll get to it in Part 2), but we wanted to start with a stable release, regardless of age. We’ll talk more about this when we discuss support.

The other purpose for this article is that it’s also our baseline “introduction to Linux” article. Many components of desktop distributions do not vary wildly for the most part, so much of what we talk about here is going to be applicable in future Linux articles. Linux isn’t Ubuntu, but matters of security, some of the applications, and certain performance elements are going to apply to more than just Ubuntu.

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  • sheh - Thursday, August 27, 2009 - link

    Also, it's "into", not "in to".

    Anyway, an interesting read. Thanks.
    Reply
  • sheh - Thursday, August 27, 2009 - link

    Also, it's "into", not "in to".

    Other than that, an interesting read. Thanks.
    Reply
  • ssj4Gogeta - Thursday, August 27, 2009 - link

    nevertheless is one "world"?
    :P
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Wednesday, August 26, 2009 - link

    Noted and fixed. Thank you. Reply
  • ClownPuncher - Wednesday, August 26, 2009 - link

    Web browsing page - Ariel should read Arial when talking about fonts? Reply
  • pcfxer - Wednesday, August 26, 2009 - link

    Ease of use of Ubuntu is superseded by PC-BSD and its PBI packages. PC-BSD also takes MUCH less time to install than Ubuntu. Reply
  • Souka - Wednesday, August 26, 2009 - link

    I use PC-DOS 1.0a

    Runs very fast on my Core i7 setup, and I haven't even overclocked it yet.
    Reply
  • ap90033 - Friday, August 28, 2009 - link

    You probably can run more games in that than linux LOL... Reply
  • Penti - Tuesday, September 1, 2009 - link

    You can run dosbox or dosemu in Linux just like in Windows... Reply
  • superfrie2 - Wednesday, August 26, 2009 - link

    I'm not quite sure I agree with your criticism of .iso mounting in linux. The mount -o loop command is very easy to use after you've done a couple of times. In fact, I think it is far better than using D tools in windows because you don't have to worry about unclicking all the gay-ware it tries to get you to install.

    Also, I'm not sure I agree with your pseudo dislike for some forms CLI. CLI is far more powerful than what its GUI based copies tries to accomplish. As a matter of fact, the more I learn about linux's CLI, the less I use the GUI. I find myself only using the GUI for web browsing on a regular basis.

    However, when looking at the linux GUI, compiz fusion is simply amazing. When I have a shitload of stuff open, compiz allows me to organize all of my windows and access them very efficiently. In fact, when I use windows for games, I feel handicapped.

    The most interesting part your testing was that windows applications running under wine outperformed linux native applications. I look forward to hearing more about that aspect like you mentioned.
    Reply

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