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May 13, 2011
In April 2011, Ubuntu 11.04 was foist upon the masses — or at least upon those who chose to upgrade. Now that the new operating system has officially debuted, it’s time to recap its upsides and downsides. Read on for one user’s opinion.
I’ll leave Unity out of this discussion, since I’ve already both praised and nitpicked that component of Ubuntu 11.04. But Unity aside, there’s still plenty to like, and dislike, about the new release, namely …
For starters, the Ubuntu 11.04 installer was, without a doubt, the most efficient, user-friendly and gorgeous software installation experience I’ve ever had. In only a few clicks the installation was under way, and the installer saved me from extra work later by downloading updates for me, using the wireless connection from which I was able to set up seamlessly within the live session. I also enjoyed an attractive slideshow of Ubuntu’s features during the few minutes I waited for the installation to complete.
I’ve also been loving Firefox 4. Even after importing my bloated portfolio of bookmarks, Web history and add-ons, the latest iteration of the world’s most popular open source Web browser has been shockingly speedy. It may not offer very many new features, but its speed alone is amazing, and makes me glad that I never quite made the jump to Chrome.
Application fonts are also looking quite a bit better in Ubuntu 11.04. Ugly fonts make even the most beautiful writing look horrible, and the latest Ubuntu release has made major inroads on this front over its predecessors, which suffered in certain cases from some pretty egregious typesets.
Like most things made by humans, Ubuntu 11.04 is far from perfect. First, I was unsurprised to encounter a number of bugs, which, understandably, tend to be part and parcel of new software releases. All the same, they’re annoying: In particular, the function key for toggling the wireless radio on my Latitude 2100 netbook no longer works, and pulseaudio seems not to start itself automatically.
Beyond the bugs that Ubuntu developers will probably fix sooner or later, however, there are other bits about the new release about which I’m less than thrilled. For one, the new scrollbar, while theoretically more efficient than its predecessor, doesn’t sit well with my tastes. At first I chalked this up to not having gotten used to it, but it’s been a while now and I’m still not liking the affair. It just seems strange to reinvent the fundamentals of an interface attribute that has remained pretty much untouched on virtually ever graphical operating system since the 1980s.
Controlling desktop effects has also become much more difficult in Natty. Not only did the upgrade break much of my customized compiz configuration, but the eye candy in Ubuntu no longer can be toggled on and off easily in classic GNOME through the “Appearance” dialog; instead, users’ only choice is to select a 2D environment at the login screen. This change seems a bit silly, since it remains entirely possible to kill or start compiz manually from the terminal within a GNOME session, meaning that removing the option to control it via the GUI seems to have made the lives of users more difficult for no valid technical reason.
Last but not least, I miss the music manager Rhythmbox, which has been superseded by Banshee. This isn’t anyone’s fault, since the Rhythmbox project has died and it only made sense for Canonical to switch to an application that remains in active development. All the same, while Banshee is good in its own right, Ubuntu doesn’t feel the same without the simplicity and familiarity of Rhythmbox.
These gripes about Ubuntu 11.04 aside, the release overall brings some welcome improvements, and in any case, complaints about Natty have to be qualified by the understanding that it’s not an LTS version of the operating system. I’ll be looking forward to Ubuntu 12.04 LTS in April 2012 to see what the future will really hold for the world’s most popular open source computing platform.
Christopher Tozzi started covering the channel for The VAR Guy on a freelance basis in 2008, with an emphasis on open source, Linux, virtualization, SDN, containers, data storage and related topics. He also teaches history at a major university in Washington, D.C. He occasionally combines these interests by writing about the history of software. His book on this topic, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” is forthcoming with MIT Press.
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