I can be a rather harsh critic.
It's been quite some time since I've given a really glowing review of any Linux Distro on the Computer Action Show (previously the Linux Action Show).
In fact, I'm pretty confident most people on the Fedora team view me as the biggest-jerk-face-ever for my -- let's just say... "not overly glowing" -- reviews of recent Fedora releases. And I've given folks on the Ubuntu team a fairly hard time over the years as well.
Keep that in mind when I state the following:
Ubuntu 9.10 is as close to perfection as any version of Linux I have ever seen.
A little background: Back in May I wrote an article titled "The Perfect Linux Distro" where I laid out what I would view as, well, the perfect Linux distro.
And, while Ubuntu 9.10 certainly doesn't implement everything I'd dreamed of in that article, they hit some of the key points. Let's take a few minutes and go over the good and bad.
The Good Things in Ubuntu 9.10
The Ubuntu Software Center
The new Ubuntu Software Center is (or will be) a combination of Synaptic (the current Ubuntu package manager) and an Ubuntu-specific Software Store.
At present it is merely a standard interface for installing packages from the Ubuntu repositories... with a little nicer look and feel than Synaptic.
Canonical has set the goal of developers being able to sell their own commercial software from within the Software Center by the Ubuntu 10.10 release (next year).
This is huge. Services that allow users to find and purchase software for their platform (such as Apple's iPhone App Store) have become an almost necessity to support a thriving software ecosystem. For me, as an independent software developer focusing on Linux, this is a really big freaking deal.
Themes / Icons
I know, most of you probably don't care what the default theme is for your OS. But, whether we want to admit it or not, the initial look and feel is critical. This is the first impression people get for a new piece of software.
In the past, let's be honest, Ubuntu was lacking in this area. It was... orange. And brown.
Orange and brown don't exactly scream "advanced, super-attractive, cutting-edge software".
Well, I have to say, Ubuntu really stepped up their game in 9.10. The new default "Human" theme is a smidge darker and a lot classier than what we previously were seeing. The older, brighter, more "orange-y" Human-Clearlooks theme is still available for those nostalgic for the old days.
On top of this, the default icon set is the new "Humanity" icon design. Which look fantastic. Polished. Modern. Nice, understated gradients.
I feel almost a little silly including something as simple as "Desktop Backgrounds" here. I mean, it's just pictures, right?
Well, if you've been using past versions of Ubuntu, you'll know that it has typically only shipped with a very small selection of background pictures. We're talking like 2 or 3.
Now, in 9.10, they have a respectable collection of nature and space backgrounds that look as nice and polished as any you'd find shipping with systems from Microsoft or Apple.
The Live-CD Installer
The installer for Ubuntu 9.10 has not changed significantly. Functionally it is roughly the same as the one we have had in both Ubuntu 9.04 and 8.10.
What they have done, however, is polish things up. The installer window now fits properly on smaller Netbook screens. And they've added a series of pictures that show you what you can do, with various applications within Ubuntu, as the installer progresses. Other software makers have been doing this for years (with varying degrees of class)... the Ubuntu team has done this very, very well.
This is a critical piece that has been missing -- as many "non-nerd" users will not know to launch something called "F-Spot" to manage their photos. Now the installer helps these users over that initial learning curve.
New Instant Messaging Client
Pidgin has been the defacto IM software for many Linux distros for years now. However, it has stalled a great deal and was feeling a big long in the tooth.
It has been replaced by Empathy (which is something I recommended back in May and am incredibly happy to see this is the route they have gone down), which looks and works great.
Built-In Ubuntu One
Ubuntu One, a service that currently offers file storage and synchronization between different Ubuntu powered computers, has been in beta since earlier this year. With Ubuntu 9.10 this service is now shipping by default.
What's so great about this? Two things:
- It's a great piece of functionality that both Apple and Microsoft are providing in various forms for their customers.
- It provides a critical revenue stream for Canonical. (Which is kind of an important bit... considering the system itself is 100% free of charge.)
This, to me, is a sign of maturity. And I quite like the direction this (combined with the Ubuntu Software Center) is heading.
The Things Missing In Ubuntu 9.10
Notice I didn't say "bad things". Because, in my opinion, the main problem with Ubuntu 9.10 is that it's missing a few key pieces of functionality.
The Games Are Weak
There are so many great, free games that could be included in Ubuntu.
Yo Frankie, Hedgewars and Frozen Bubble all are great open source games that could give a good representation of some of the great quality of games that are available.
Sure, shipping with a simple solitaire and sudoku game is great. But let's step it up a notch!
I don't fault Ubuntu for not having a built-in audio editing suite. Sure, I might use it, but it's not something that most people are going to need.
But video editing? Windows and OS X both have their defacto tools to let people do at least basic video editing out of the box (or, at least, semi-out of the box).
Grab PiTiVi and either include it as a default application or make it a featured application to install. The lack of video editing on Linux is often given as a reason why people don't "switch from Windows"... so take away that reason.
Rhythmbox is an okay music player and manager. That's what Ubuntu ships with right now... and it does the job.
But it's no Banshee.
Banshee is the bees-knees of music players. Make haste and get that application in there by default.
As you can see, not exactly a big list of "problems"!
Overall I'd call this release polished, smooth, easy to install and with an improved feature set (new applications that are incredibly promising).
Is it perfect? No. But so, so close.
I'd take it so far as to say I see very little reason that Ubuntu 9.10 would not be an excellent choice for the vast majority of computer users.
... Other than PC games. But that's a different story...