Six months ago I declared Ubuntu 9.10 to be the best version of Linux I had ever used on a desktop computer. In fact, I went on to call it "almost perfect".
But, and I hate to say this about any release of any Linux distribution -- Ubuntu 9.10, no matter how good it was, really didn't matter all that much. Why, you ask? Because Ubuntu 9.10 was not a "Long Term Support" release.
How it works is this:
Every six months a new version of Ubuntu is released. That given release, 9.10 for example, is only supported for 18 months. A year and a half of fixes for security vulnerabilities (among other things) is simply not long enough for most people to consider viable.
But every two years (give or take) we get a Long Term Support release of Ubuntu. Those versions are supported and updated for a full 3 years. Thus making it a possibility for businesses and the non-geek home users to consider installing on their desktops and laptops.
Ubuntu 10.04 is our first Long Term Support release since early 2008... and it feels long overdue. And that is because desktop Linux has come a long, long way in the last two years.
Just to give you one great example: Those amazing 3D desktop effects we all know and love? Those were not a part of Ubuntu 2 years ago. That's right. Out of the box, Ubuntu in early 2008 was horrifyingly 2-Dimensional!
So Ubuntu 10.04 is important. This is a release we are going to be "stuck" with (for many) for the next two years and is the release that many companies will measure up against Windows and MacOS X.
But how does it stack up?
The short answer: This is the best operating system currently available.
And here's why.
Look and Feel
This is a huge improvement over past versions of Ubuntu. Gone is the dreadful orange/brown theme of yesteryear. In is the new, super smooth dark look and feel.
The new look of Ubuntu is classy. Elegant.
I would call it far more pleasing to the eye (in an "ahhh, that's soothing" sort of way) than Windows 7 or MacOS X 10.6. Of course that is a purely subjective thing, but that's my take after sitting in front of all of these operating systems every day. Ubuntu 10.04 is just plain easier on the eye. Almost... calming.
There have, of course, been some controversy around the new look. Specifically the fact that the window buttons (close, minimize, etc.) have now been moved to the left side of the windows. This... has made some people cranky.
I, myself, was one of those people. I disliked the change. But I am now used to it and consider it not a big deal. It certainly isn't a deal breaker. In fact there are already tutorials for how to move those buttons back to the right hand side.
More Ubuntu One
Ubuntu One, Canonical's online file storage service (similar in many ways to services such as DropBox) has been integrated far more tightly in this new release.
It now auto-magically syncs your contacts, Tomboy notes and bookmarks across all of your Ubuntu powered machines.
And, of course, it still provides 2gb of free storage for every Ubuntu user. (For $10 per month you can upgrade to 50gb of storage, syncing with mobile phones and Windows/Mac desktop applications).
In my testing (using the free version of Ubuntu One) this worked astoundingly well. Syncing of data was incredibly fast and getting setup was a snap.
Will I be switching away from DropBox (which I have been a loyal customer of for some time)? It's looking that way.
The Ubuntu Software Center
This is the big one for me.
I've often lamented about the lack of a good, easy to use software store application for modern Linux distributions. This is, I feel, one of the biggest things that can be done to further Linux as a desktop platform.
And with Ubuntu 10.04... it's not here yet.
But it's getting closer. With this release, the Ubuntu Software Center has become my favorite way to find and install new software. It's fast. The user interface is clean and easy to navigate. Finding new applications is incredibly easy. Certainly a huge improvement over solutions such as Synaptic.
The public plan was that the ability to purchase commercial (non-Free) software via the Ubuntu Software Center with the Ubuntu 10.10 release later this year. And, if their progress with 10.04 is any indication, they seem to be right on track.
And that has me excited.
The Ubuntu One Music Store
Continuing on the theme of expanded Ubuntu One services, Canonical has introduced the Ubuntu One Music Store.
The prices are reasonable (typically seeming a little cheaper than iTunes), and the files are all provided in DRM-free MP3 format.
In an interesting twist, when you purchase songs from the Ubuntu Music Store, those songs are download directly into your Ubuntu One online storage. Which makes all of your music available on all of your Ubuntu-powered PC's without needing to manually re-download or copy over your music.
Which is, I must say, fairly cool. Plus, the store seems to work great. Good speed. Good sound quality.
My only gripe? The Ubuntu One Music Store is built in to Rhythmbox. Now, I like Rhythmbox, don't get me wrong. It's a good music player. Does the job. I just prefer Banshee so much more.
Lets talk for a moment about the new "Me Menu".
By default it sits in the upper right hand side of your screen. And, from there, you have quick access to your instant messaging accounts (via Empathy, my favorite little IM client).
That, by itself, is nice. Not earth shattering. But handy enough to be worth while.
But you'll also notice a "Broadcast Accounts..." option there. From this one spot you can post updates (simultaneously) to Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed and more.
Once set up you will also receive message alerts from these services in the form of nice looking system notifications. Plus, with the pre-loaded Gwibber, you can directly interact with all of these services.
This takes Ubuntu from being a totally acceptable platform for interacting with social media (on par with Windows or MacOS X)... to become the platform for interacting with social media. The other platforms don't even come close.
It is simple, elegant and very well designed.
Working with Media
Ubuntu has been great at managing photos for quite some time. F-Spot is a fantastic application for this task (and integrates awesomely with Facebook, Flickr, Picasa and more).
But video editing. That's another story altogether.
Before now, Ubuntu has not shipped with any way to edit video. And that is, due in large part, because there simply was not a good consumer oriented video editor, built for Linux, to include.
Thankfully, that has changed.
PiTiVi is now included, by default, in Ubuntu 10.04.
Sure. PiTiVi isn't the most advanced video editor on the planet. But it's capable, well designed and will serve the needs of the individuals who need to edit together some family video quite nicely.
Interesting to note: As of this very moment, MacOS X 10.6 and Windows 7. Neither of them ship with a video editor of any kind out of the box. That's right. Of the three operating systems, Ubuntu is the only one that ships with any video editor at all.
Most of the rest of Ubuntu 10.04 is pretty much what you might already be used to with previous versions.
You get a full office suite with Open Office 3.2, the latest version of Firefox, great CD/DVD burning tools and a handful of games that are completely adequate (though improved over past releases).
Are there problems? You betcha.
There have been reports of many people having significant trouble upgrading from past Ubuntu releases. We've also heard several reports of display driver issues causing a fair number of issues.
So it certainly hasn't been a 100% painless upgrade.
That said, I've got three machines in front of me (including two netbooks) running Ubuntu 10.04 with 100% support for every device attached to them. Wifi, video card, webcam... everything has been working and running great.
Oh my HP Mini 1000 netbook I had to enable restricted hardware drivers (a simple checkbox) to get my wireless working. But that's been the extent of my "tweaking" to get things running smoothly. Both of my other machines worked 100% on first boot.
But, and this can't be stressed enough, if you are upgrading to Ubuntu 10.04: Back up your data first. It looks, based on feedback so far, that things are mostly going smoothly. But it's always best to play it safe.
The Final Verdict
Ubuntu 10.04 ups the ante significantly by bringing polished features that Windows 7 and MacOS X users simply do not have.
The user experience is clean and elegant, with an almost timeless quality to it. The functionality is advanced and the integration between applications superb.
Add to this the fact that Ubuntu 10.04 has 3 years of full support ahead of it, and I'd say, with out a doubt...
Ubuntu 10.04 is, by far, the best operating system for desktops, laptops and netbooks available today. I highly recommend this release both both personal and business use. For existing Linux users, Mac users or Windows users.
This is a big freaking deal.
This is not a matter of "one day, Linux will be ready for the desktop". Nor is this a hopeful proclamation of "This year... this year will be the year of desktop Linux".
This is it. This release, of this particular Linux distribution, is astounding and competitive with both Windows and Mac. No. Strike that.
Ubuntu 10.04 blows them out of the water.
Sunday, the 2nd, we'll be recording our video review of Ubuntu 10.04 for the Linux Action Show. Feel free to join us live and take part in the discussion.
In the meantime: Go. Download Ubuntu.