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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  • fepple - Friday, August 28, 2009 - link

    That is exactly how the usability tests are performed. Developer asks Mom "can you change the background" then records what they do Reply
  • fepple - Friday, August 28, 2009 - link

    So i tried to find some links about this relating to gnome, but only got some pretty old ones. There are other methods they are using as well, like the 100 paper cuts idea. honestly have a look around and you'll see how much of a focus it is, particularly with ubuntu Reply
  • ap90033 - Friday, August 28, 2009 - link

    Face it, Linux is still back in Windows 2000 days. Try getting SLI working, 1080P working right, games working. IT IS Way to much trouble and damn near impossible for regular users. In Windows or Mac its next to no work and very little issue. Wake up guys, Linux has Potential but thats it. BECAUSE those who advocate it spend so much energy defending what is "easy" to them when they ought to use that energy making it ACTUALLY easy and USER USER USER USER (DO YOU UNDERSTAND THIS WORD?) FRIENDLY... NOT PROGRAMMER FRIENDLY... Reply
  • newend - Wednesday, September 2, 2009 - link

    All of the things you mention are probably not that easy for grandma to do either. People thrive on saying it's so hard to do things in Linux, but I think it's generally not intuitive to use most computer systems. Imagine if you had no exposure to computers how difficult any system would be. A few years ago a friend of mine wanted me to install some software on her Mac. I had no idea how to do it. I've been using computers since I was 5 years old, but had to google for information on installing software.

    I actually think that Yum/Apt repos actually make it significantly easier to install software. The other day I wanted an application to take a photo with my webcam. I simply did a search "yum search webcam" and looked at the descriptions of included software and found Cheese which did exactly what I wanted.

    When you know exactly what you want, and it's not available in the repos you use, I agree it is more difficult to get it installed. Still with both Red Hat/Fedora and Debian/Ubuntu, you can do an install by downloading a package file. This doesn't get you the benefit of automatic updates, but it's just as easy to install as an MSI file.
    Reply
  • fepple - Friday, August 28, 2009 - link

    Well maybe they would want '1080p' but I'm not sure how that could be a problem unless you have some strange hardware that requires a specific driver... like another OS sometime needs you to go to a manufacturers website ;) Reply
  • Penti - Tuesday, September 1, 2009 - link

    Installing nVidia drivers and XBMC or mplayer isn't that hard.

    But keep in mind there is only homebrew codecs on Linux which OEMs like Dell can never ship with there computers and has limited support of proprietary formats such as BD. It's the same codecs as ffdshow, or as in XBMC or VLC on Windows. What's lacking is a PowerDVD with BD support. w32codecs is also available for gstreamer, giving alternative support for WMV and such. Installing ubuntu-restricted-extras is essentially the only thing you need for it to work in Totem if you don't need/have VDPAU support. XBMC is definitively a decent platform to playback warez. You need to rip blurays to be able to play them back at all though. But an Ion is definitively powerful enough for 1080p h264 under linux. But because all that software contains unlicensed patented codecs Canonical don't officially support any of it. So it won't work on ubuntu OOB. Codecs aren't free.
    Reply
  • fepple - Friday, August 28, 2009 - link

    Thing is, 'regular users' dont care about SLI, 1080P and Windows Games... "where is the browser/word processor/email?" :) Reply
  • CastleFox - Friday, April 9, 2010 - link

    Great review. Thank you for reviewing 8.04 LTS Please review 10.04 when it comes out. I am interested to see if they software center has changed the authors opinions. Reply
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