A mixed bag
Ubuntu is a predominantly desktop-oriented Linux distribution, based on Debian GNU/Linux but with a stronger focus on usability, regular releases, and ease of installation. Ubuntu is sponsored by Canonical Ltd, owned by South African billionaire entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth.. It is currently ranked #2 at distrowatch. For this review, I used the DVD distribution.
Pentium D 3.4 GHz with 2 gig of RAM, Nvidia 7300GS with 256 meg RAM and 19" wide screen monitor.
Ubuntu comes with live CD installation environment. The user can boot into the actual system, check how the distribution is going to look like and then finally install the operating system.
This XServer configuration was a lot better this time. Earlier the live CD came up with 1280x1024 resolution and looked really bad. This time the XServer came up with 1400x1050: its not optimal 1440x900, but still it is close. At least Ubuntu identified that the computer has a wide-screen monitor attached.
The installation is similar to previous versions, except for the migration assistant: it is removed. The installation summary screen shows information about it though.
In the previous release, Ubuntu introduced the concept of scanning all the hard disks after every change done in the partition table. Just for selecting the root partition, the user had to wait patiently for three scans: one initial scan, second when root mount point was selected and third when the root partition was marked for formatting. And on top of that, each scan took a lot of time. This time, scan time is reduced a lot. Seems that the installer is doing fine-grained sensible checking. But all this makes me wonder; why did they replace the original file-system selection screen from the installer? It was fast and efficient.
The installation starts and seems to go fine. Around 75%, the installer asserts "less than a minute remaining". And at 82%, while scanning mirrors, the installation stands still. I waited for an hour, but the installation would not move beyond 82%. After an hour, I was certain that the installer has entered an infinite loop and started digging the net. And it was not only me, who was facing the problem but a lot of other people too. he user has to disable networking; mirror scanning will time-out and the installation will proceed.
After Drapper (Ubuntu 6.06), I am yet to see a bug free installer in Ubuntu. Why every time I have to google for installing the most user-friendly distribution? Why can't the developers put a simple "skip" button? Why the installer does not time-out automatically? Why can't Ubuntu test these simple installation scenario? If I have to deal with installation nuisance, then why should I use Ubuntu and not FreeBSD or Arch?
Ubuntu has moved back to dark brown theme, and it looks really nice. At some places the older orange-brown color is still present, but that is acceptable. As usual the fonts look really good
Ubuntu comes with standard set of applications. If you have downloaded the DVD image, a lot of applications can be installed via DVD. With Gutsy, deskbar applet is shown in upper panel with the user name. Alt+F3 will invoke deskbar and its lot better than the application launcher.
Open Office 2.3 and Firefox 184.108.40.206 (both latest) are installed by default. Bug reporting tool, python 2.5 and Ubuntu device database are also installed by default.
Ubuntu has chosen not to distribute the multimedia codecs. So out-of-box multimedia support is missing. Still when the user plays a multimedia file, he has an option to search and install the required codec.
Eye-candy was the much awaited feature in Ubuntu. And it is as simple as it gets. Personally I feel that it is too much dumbed down. Nvidia-glx-new package is present on the DVD and contains the driver required for Nvidia 3D support. Installing it is a breeze. User can select the visual effects from System > Preferences > Appearnce > Visual Effects. There are three options: None, Normal, and Extra. Xorg.conf is not updated to incorporate Extra effect, and the user has to do it manually.
Now comes the shocking part: Ubuntu is targeted for windows migrators, that should not mean that one has to bring in ugly windows aspects! In windows, after every driver install, user is asked to reboot, and that is not the case with Linux. Linux supports modules and thus every driver installation does not require a reboot. But with Ubuntu user is forced to reboot, in order to use the new graphics drivers. Restarting X Server should have been more than enough.
Also people who are too much excited about the cube, will be disappointed. Ubuntu has left compiz configuration utility out of standard install. User needs to explicitly install "compizconfig-settings-manager" to get System > Preferences > Advanced desktop effects settings. The required packages only 527.1 KB. I don't know why these were kept out of the media, they could have been easily incorporated both in CD and DVD format
There is a saying "My way or Highway", but this is not amongst the open source principles. I have nvidia graphics card and explicitly compile the drivers and then load them through xorg.conf. But Ubuntu does not allow me to manually load the compiled drivers. And even if you somehow manage to load it, visual effect settings go for a toss (as they are bound with nvidia-glx-new package).
Ubuntu has quickly achieved mass attention, it was also #1 distribution for a long time. It has done some great work like ship-it to promote Linux. But I am really disappointed with the current trend. The current release is a mixed bag, but is completely unacceptable in terms of Ubuntu's glorious past.
Installer bugs are a strict NO, for any software. Right now, Ubuntu needs to only focus on "Bug-free, efficient installer". No software can beat the competition if the installer is buggy. Also Ubuntu should not limit the options given to open source enthusiast.
The next release 8.04(hardy) is supposed to be LTS(long term support) release, just hoping that Ubuntu is able to set things right in it.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Losing the Magic
Mandriva is a commercial Linux distribution: emerged from the ashes for Mandrake and Connectiva. Mandrake was the trend-setter for user-friendliness in Linux. Mandrake was Ranked #1 distribution for a long time before Ubuntu took over. Currently Mandriva is ranked #8 at distrowatch. Mandriva comes in different versions; one (single CD), free (OSS only), PowerPack, Discovery. I am using free DVD version for the review.
Pentium D 2.8 GHz with 2 gig of RAM, Nvidia 7300GS with 256 meg RAM and 19" wide screen monitor.
"Mandriva One" is the live CD; "Free" does not come with a live CD environment. So if you are curious whether all the hardware will properly function or not, you have to download a separate CD. I preferred to wait and see once the installation is complete.
After installation, desktop came up with native 1440x900@Hz. Only a few distributions are actually able to correctly configure a wide-screen monitor, thus Mandriva scores high points for this.
The installation process is a bit changed; changes seem to be influenced by PCLOS. Graphical Installer comes up and walks you through the installation process. The standard questions are asked. The security configuration that used to be the first screen, has been moved to post-install configuration page.
Mandriva searches for all the installed linux distributions and provides you the option for upgrading the compatible distributions. For my system, the installer gave me option to upgrade existing Centos, Ark, PCLOS distributions. I have never tried the upgrade path, but would certainly like to try them out once.
You can easily manage your partitions to accommodate the new installation. A new desktop selection screen is added. With this you can pick either Gnome or KDE as your default desktop environment. After the selection, installation starts and takes approximately 15 minutes to complete.
Post-Install configuration shows the most changes. It is now much more similar to the PCLOS configuration, and it is really awkward. Time-zone and country selection is a complete mess. The configuration for auto-login is missing. My wireless network card was not detected. The only good part came with desktop resolution. The driver for the graphics card was nv instead of nvidia.
Mandriva still retain the La Ora theme introduced in the earlier version. For the Free version its light blue and really pleasing to the eyes. But the fonts were looking really bad.
Being a DVD install there are plenty of softwares available. But majority of the software is of older version. Open Office is 2.2.1 instead of the latest 2.3.0 and Firefox is 220.127.116.11 instead of the latest 18.104.22.168. Additional repositories can be configured to install more software as well. This installation failed for me though.
Surprisingly the Free version comes with the audio/video codecs preinstalled. The kaffeine wizard reported lack of win32 codecs and libdvdcss. But, astonishingly, I was able to play MP3 files, WMV files, and DVDs.
Mandriva comes with Mettese and Compiz Fusion. But I was not able to use them with the default nv drivers. I needed nvidia drivers for 3D acceleration but was unable to install the nvidia drivers.
When I tried installing the drivers from on-line repositories, the installer was unable to set up any repository as it was always "unable to parse media.cfg". When I tried to manually build the drivers, nvidia.ko failed to load because either there was a version mismatch between the gcc used to build the kernel and gcc present on the system, or something regarding mis-configured headers.
This experience makes me think about the beta testing employed by Mandriva. These bugs should have been ironed out in beta and should not have made it to the release candidate. But, here they are in the release.
Mandrake used to have a unique identity. Initial versions of Mandriva continued with that identity. But the latest version seems to be shedding that identity, and becoming a shadow of other distributions. If you want to lead, don't follow someone else.
The current version is at best pathetic. It is below the expectation level of a free distribution, leave out commercial distribution. Hope that Mandriva tries to regain its vision and identity with future versions.