July 2005


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Hoary Hedgehogs, Batman! : Ubuntu Linux Review

I’ve been noticing lately that the old laptop here has been getting kind of slow and boggy after I leave it running, so I’ve been thinking about a reformat and looking around to see what’s available. Slackware has been good to me, but there were still some quirks that I was hoping to work out.

There’s been a lot of talk in the trade mags and websites about Ubuntu Linux, and I have been meaning to check it out. The Roomie reminded me that he had already done so, and highly recommended it – it’s based on Knoppix, which is in turn based on Debian, which is one of the most stable versions of Linux available, and Knoppix is known for it’s hardware detection abilities. Why not? sez I.

What I actually installed was Kubuntu, which is simply the KDE version of Ubuntu, which normally ships with Gnome. I’ve never really liked Gnome for silly little personal reasons – don’t let my opinion stop you from using it.

The installation routine isn’t as pretty as SuSE’s YaST or Fedora’s anaconda, but it gets the point across and is very straightforward. Compared to Gentoo, it’s positively urbane. The most amazing thing is when it got to the network detection part it automatically recognized the Orinoco wireless network card, asked me about the SSID and WEP keys, and then had it working.

POW! Just like that. If you remember me bitching about the Slackware and SuSE installs I have done before, you know how amazing this feat is. I didn’t have to cuss at it once.

I almost felt gypped…for about a picosecond.

The rest of the setup process was very simple, but did not include a package selection routine – you get what they think you need in this instance. Considering how easy it is to use the Kynaptics (or Synaptics in Ubuntu) Package Management routine, there’s no need to have one during the install process. As long as you have a network connection, new packages are just a click away.

This is one of the first things I did, since Kubuntu does not come with any Gtk applications at all, such as Firefox or Gaim. (They use Konqueror and Kopete instead.) These installed just fine though, and I was surfing and chatting in minutes. There is a slight hitch currently when it comes to installing themes and extensions to Firefox though – the build in the Ubuntu repository is a modified version of Firefox 1.0.2 – it has all the security fixes of 1.0.4, but it doesn’t identify itself as such to the Mozilla website, which won’t let you in. The redirect page has a link to a workaround, though, so it’s not a big problem.

Another cool trick – this distro has an automount system for USB thumbdrives! I use mine all the time, and it made me very happy to see this work right out of the box without any tweaking at all.

The rest of the system is just as slick as the install – the menus are straightforward, without a lot of clutter. All the usual Linux favorites are right there to hand, and the base install is enough to do just about any basic computing task. OpenOffice.org handles your document needs, there are a selection of media players and graphics programs to choose from, and (of course) several games to keep you busy when you should be working.

My opinion? Go ahaead and give it a try. This is a fairly easy distro to install (provided you have basic disc partitioning skills) and it is a solid piece of work. You shouldn’t be disappointed. I liked it so much, in fact, that I decided to blow away the recalcitrant SuSE install on my work laptop as well. Unfortunately, this distro doesn’t like my D-Link card any better than the previous distros did, and I should probably just replace the silly thing – it’s only 802.11b anyway…

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