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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  • amrs - Saturday, September 26, 2009 - link

    Your ignorance and stupidity is showing here. No engineering software for Linux? Hello? Matlab is available, Simulink is available, Labview the same. Xilinx and Altera have supported Linux for a long time and so do the smaller FPGA houses like Lattice and Actel. Mentor Graphics too. Orcad is the only one you mentioned that isn't available on Linux, but Cadence does support Linux with their Allegro product and so does Mentor Graphics with PADS and Board Station and Expedition.

    Reply
  • MadIgor - Thursday, September 24, 2009 - link

    I have to disagree. You are NOT talking abut average Joe/Jane. I think that even the article author is kind of biased towards enthusiast user. Ubuntu actualy completes all needs of average Joe/Jane user, you can browse www, you can do email/scheduling, you can play games (easy non enthusiast games), you can DL pictures from your camera and edit them, you can even playback mp3/CD and video, do basic office work, all out of the box. The gnom learning curve for PC beginners is much shorter then with windows. Most of the average Joes/Janes dont install aps or peripherals by themselfs, belive me I had to install it for them many many times on Win systems (the best is "installing" digital camera: plug one wire end in camera, other in PC). Yes I agree that installing Ubuntu so that ALL is runing right may be pain in the ass, but average Joe/Jane naever install their system (not Win, nor MacOS), but when they get the PC with preinstalled Ubuntu you are done. With windows you have to worry that they will "bother" you every few months with non working system. Yes it might be nice source of income for PC technician, but not always welcome as reliability advertising (for customer to come).
    I did some instalation of Ubuntu to my customers mostly as a "safe" web/mail PC, they all where used to windows platform already, after one week of using Ubuntu even the hardest critisizer where comfy to use Ubuntu (some even asked me to install it on their home PCs), The most "problem" was: that no one can read our "excel" files. So I showed them that it has to be saved with .xls extension and voila, no more problems. I was NEVER asked for any CAD system, nor MATHLAB, not even Graphics apps, all what they used in offie was already there! Then there are home users, only complaint was that thay had windows at work, but after few houres all was fine, only kids had problems that they cannot play enthusiast games on it. My wife is running Ubuntu for three years now, with no problem. When my 62 year old mother asked me for a computer I brought her a notebook with Ubuntu, had no time to explain it comming next mornig. My mom never used a computer before (ok shooting ships on my ATARI doesnt count), next mornig I came there, she was already browsing. I asked her how did she do that and she said its easy, tap the aplications then internet and one of the apps was "internet". She even installed the snake game, Isaid how did you do that, she said in aplications section is install new aplication, then she clicked on games and then she piscked what she tought would be the game for her and then install, whas that wrong? she asked, I said NO, its right.
    BTW no one knows that they can use CLI or that there is some terminal window in Ubuntu. They are average Joes/Janes.
    Not everyone is an enthusisat with PC full of stuff that, and be honest, you dont use on dayli base.
    The truth is that Ubuntu will not be a succesfull system for enthusiast or high level profesionals until big software houses (Adobe, hallo!) and game producers will not start to port software for Linux. But that is not fault of Ubuntu or linux and again we are not talking here about majority of users (I mean Joes/Janes).
    Reply
  • fazer150 - Friday, September 4, 2009 - link

    All folks who think Linux is hard. Have you tried PCLinuxOS? this is easier to install, use than Windows XP, 2003 and Vista period.
    there is no Windows hatred here, but you have to try that before you complain.
    I have access to all Windows OS at work including the latest Win 7 RC but i find PCLinuxOS easy to setup and use. Needs no special admin skills every config is GUI driven.
    Linux has come a long way from where it was 5 years ago!
    Reply
  • Cynicist - Sunday, September 6, 2009 - link

    There are two things I'd like to comment on that bothered me about this article. Firstly, most regular users do not use LTS, the software is just too old and the latest releases of Ubuntu are quite stable. LTS is mostly guaranteed stability for corporate environments.

    Second, this package manager hatred is based on this flawed idea that no packages exist outside of the official repositories. A simple google search for deb packages leads to GetDeb.net, a website dedicated to providing up to date packages of all kinds of software specifically for Ubuntu. Google search too hard you say? But its even less difficult to find packages because many project sites (such as wine, featured in this article) include multiple packages for various distributions and even PACKAGE TYPES.

    Overall not a bad article. The author definitely knows technology and I'm grateful for that, but he did not seem to do much research on the actual community itself or the Linux Way of doing things. These are minor issues which will resolve themselves with time and I'm looking forward to seeing more linux articles on this site in the future.
    Reply
  • cliffa3 - Thursday, September 3, 2009 - link

    I was concerned as well with the constant releases...until I upgraded the first time. I had set aside the better part of an evening because I was *sure* there were going to be plenty of headaches. I've done three such version upgrades now and am happy (not to mention shocked) to report that it's literally a one click upgrade. Simply amazing. I'm sure something will get mucked up in the future with one of the version upgrades for me...but for now all has gone amazingly smooth.

    That being the case, I have to disagree with you on the "they release too often" point. I understand it's a pain to sift through all the search results on the forums, but I also have found some older threads (sometime 3 versions back) that the same fixes work for my issue. I agree they need to tag posts with version info...that would make it far easier. Also, there's far more useful information in the (versionally-diluted) forums than I've found for any other piece of software or OS I've used. I almost don't cringe when I have a problem or issue now because I'm quite confident I can find the information without too much digging.

    I'd encourage you to upgrade versions from your current install (don't wipe) and comment on how the process goes. Maybe I've just had an extremely easy (and lucky) go of things with no problems...it'll be interesting to read your experiences. Honestly with how easy my upgrades have been, I look forward to new releases (but still give them a few weeks before upgrading...just to see the comments from other users).
    Reply
  • Mem - Wednesday, September 2, 2009 - link

    Very good read as usual,personally I like to see Kubuntu reviewed at some point(I hear Kubuntu 9.10 is due in Oct) ,as you know its the KDE version,also Gnome and KDE compared would be interesting.

    I think the main problem for new Linux users is which one to go with,sure they are all free but it can be confusing and time consuming to try them all,some are more noob friendly then others like Ubuntu/Mint.
    Reply
  • lishi - Wednesday, September 2, 2009 - link

    Since you spend so many time dealing with the windows its worth pointing that compiz is actually much more powerful then what you wrote.

    Install the package ccsm-simple for more option.(like different application selector, different windows animations etc).

    Or install ccsm for the complete configuration tools. Given most of them are eye-candy there some who can improve the desktop experience.
    Reply
  • sethk - Tuesday, September 1, 2009 - link

    In this sentence:
    "It’s undoubtedly a smart choice, because if Ubuntu wiped out Windows like Windows does Ubuntu, it would be neigh impossible to get anyone to try it out since “try out” and “make it so you can’t boot Windows” are mutually incompatible"

    The more common phrase is 'nigh on impossible' (as in close to impossible) or you could say it's nigh-impossible. Definitely not neigh. Sorry to point out grammar issues, but this is a pet peeve, right along with pique being spelt peak or peek (as in pique my interest).
    Reply
  • v8envy - Tuesday, September 1, 2009 - link

    I've been a 100% Linux desktop (Ubuntu 9.04) user at home ever since I bought my last i7 920. Gaming, multimedia, web -- everything a typical desktop user does under Windows. The inconvenience of migrating an existing Windows install & re-activation outweighed the convenience using Linux which simply booted and worked on the new hardware.

    Yes, there are times where you must fire up Google and search for solutions, some of which are commands to be pasted into a terminal window. Yes, sometimes you need to upgrade software packages (Wine is horribly out of date for instance).

    On the other hand, with Windows you get apprximately 1,337 updaters which run on startup, virus checkers, malware checkers, browser parasite checkers, firewalls, DRM and misc layers of barnacles which accumulate the longer you use the system. Thankfully the gathering of cruft is not a bane on the typical Linux system yet.

    Try 9.04 and see if it is more to your liking. LTS means nothing when most open source problems are "supported" by simply upgrading to the latest software.
    Reply
  • trexpesto - Monday, August 31, 2009 - link

    "linux" is "niche" spelled inside out and backwards


    ..in rot13.
    Reply

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