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Keywords: GNU/Linux, operating system, Gnome Desktop
Title: Ubuntu Linux 7.0x
Licence: GNU Public Licence
Verdict: Highly recommended
For a beginner contemplating switching to Linux there are a bewildering number of flavours to choose from. For those coming from the world of Windows, this wide range of Linux distributions presents a real dilemma. Which is the right Linux? Aren't they all the same? Why have so many in the first place? Very often all of this boils down to a simple question - which Linux is going to be easy to install, configure and run for the non-technical user? In that kind of situation, Ubuntu Linux should be high on the list of candidates.
The latest version of Ubuntu, version 7.04, also known as Feisty Fawn, comes in two packages - Desktop or Server, and it's the Desktop version that we're focusing on. Ubuntu is available for download as an ISO image to be burned directly to CD or DVD. The Desktop version includes all of the usual applications you would expect for home or office use: an office suite, web browser, CD and DVD authoring tools, games and accessories. In short it's a potential direct replacement for both Microsoft Windows and MS Office.
By default booting from the CD launches Ubuntu as a 'live Linux CD', much like booting from a Knoppix CD. It doesn't go straight into an install process, instead it runs Ubuntu direct from the CD. This means the user can try it out, take a look at the range of supplied applications, see what it feels like and so on without touching an existing operating system on the hard disk.
Once it's booted into Ubuntu you are presented with an uncluttered and rather elegant looking desktop. There is a task bar running along the top of the screen which provides the means to start applications, navigate files and network connections and so on. The bottom of the screen contains a status bar and on the desktop itself there are two icons - the first provides access to a range of example files (media, documents etc) which can be used with the supplied applications, the second icon kicks off the install to the hard disk. This live CD mechanism is a good way to see what Ubuntu looks like, see how much of your hardware it recognises and to see what it would be like in action before you take the plunge and do the install.
Installation is straightforward, and compared to some Linux installs requires little in the way of technical expertise. If you already have Windows installed the process allows you to install Linux side-by-side with it (dual booting), or else you can overwrite it completely. The installation wizard prompts for locale information, user name and a few other things and then begins the process of installing to the hard disk. At the end of the install process (which lasts around 10-20 minutes) you are prompted to restart and that's it.
On reboot you are presented with the same clean interface, (courtesy of the GNOME desktop that is the default for Ubuntu). The bundled applications - including Mozilla Firefox, the OpenOffice.org office suite, Evolution for email, multi-media apps, a range of games - can be accessed by clicking Applications on the task bar. Adding new applications, and there are literally thousands to choose from, is remarkably straightforward using the Synaptic Package Manager. In most cases it's simply a case of clicking to download and install, complications like missing dependencies are handled cleanly. In the same way system updates are automatically flagged for installation on boot up.
In practice, therefore, Ubuntu is easy to use and to keep updated. Most users making the transition from Windows will find things very easy to pick up and understand. Users of other Linux distributions will find things even more straightforward.
Java users and developers should note that Ubuntu also makes it very easy to install the latest versions of the Java runtime and the JDK from Sun via the Synaptic Package Manager.
Networking support is good, and for those on a LAN Ubuntu is fully able to navigate and find other machines. If those other machines are running Windows it's no problem as Ubuntu is able to connect to them, so it's possible to share files between machines even if they are running different operating systems.
There's not much more to say in such a short review. Ubuntu feels rock solid, and the ease of use is impressive. Compared to some distributions there aren't millions of applications loaded by default, there is only one office suite for example, but Synaptic makes it easy to add and remove programs with a few mouse clicks. If you are interested in moving to a version of Linux, then Ubuntu is highly recommended.