Well, Ubuntu reviews are a dime a dozen online. But here you've been waiting on Ubuntu, hovering on the edge of taking the plunge, waiting for Penguin Pete to review it, right? Yeah, sure. In the face of the outrageous hype of the Ubuntu cult, trying to say anything rational about it tends to be an exercise in screaming into a hurricane. Amidst the voices of many, this is one more story.
Ubuntu is a phenomena that has turned the Linux movement on it's edge. Thousands have found it and rejoiced in it's goodness. That's great for you; if you love Ubuntu, then God's speed be with you, and don't pay any attention to this cranky geek. I'm happy if you're happy. I'm going to take the same path with my kids when they get old enough to start demanding piercings and tattoos in weird places - I think you're crazy, but it's your body, do what you will. Don't expect me not to point and laugh forever afterwards.
Cutting to the chase: On my three machines, here's the performance:
"Village Idiot": the newest motherboard, processor, graphics card, biggest monitor: IT COULDN'T RUN! It gave me the splash screen, then died screaming in a kernel panic. Yes, I said kernel panic, barfing hex runes and inscrutable text all over a black screen. We of the Linux community make our fun of Windows' fabled Blue Screen of Death, but let me tell you that at least Microsoft fails in a tidy fashion. When Linux dies, which is a damn rare occasion, it goes down in flames. Kernel panic, didn't run; move along, nothing to see here.
"Euclid": My own home box, sleek hardware setup with decent balance between modern enough and not too cutting edge: Ubuntu booted here. And ran for all of thirty minutes while I futilely clicked one menu option after another and sat waiting for two and one-half eternities while it choked and gagged and dragged it's ass into starting the program I'd ordered, by which time it was too late for me to remember or care what program I'd clicked on. Firefox 2.0 shambled forth like a zombie from the depths, only to promptly freeze and die. After twenty minutes I gave up and hit the 'reset' button on my PC, which doesn't feel my touch for years at a time.
"Crash Test Dummy": Oldest and crappiest hardware in the house, five-dollar yard sale bomb box that was last seen running Windows 98: Ubuntu booted here, but I'd learned to give it a good ten minutes to finish waking up. Having done so, I started Gimp and oh my God it actually came up running! Played with Gimp long enough to note that it came with "python-fu" which my Slackware 11.0 doesn't, even though they're both Gimp 2.2.13. pout
This led me to Ctrl-Alt-F2 to a console and type "python". Whoa, baby, we have Python! Ctrl-D out of Python and type "info". Jesus, they installed info! I cruise around info and exit it and try "emacs": command not found. It has vi, but no emacs. When will Linux distributors understand that every time they release a distro without Emacs on it, a baby fuzzy cute penguin dies? I don't care how great you are; I don't care if you're Superman. You didn't include Emacs, and you automatically lost 50% of your hit points right there. They've built distros with nothing but a Linux kernel and Emacs; take heed. It's half an operating system all by itself. Give me Emacs and I can build what you didn't package in Lisp. I take Emacs to bed with me. It's my teddy bear.
Well, run "locate emacs" from the console (warning: database /var/lib/slocate/slocate.db is more than 8 days old), and here comes a bunch of leftover packages for site-lisp and so on in /var/cache, /usr/share, /usr/lib, and /etc/emacs. So what the frink? You had Emacs, then ripped it out? Sigh and back to the desktop (a word on the Ubuntu console font: ICK!!!). Tried the Gnome games, and it was sure fun playing Gnometris with the pieces responding to the keys I'd hit a minute ago, because the desktop is so damn slow!
SLOW! Ubuntu is the slowest Linux distro, slow to boot, slow to use, and the slowest FOSS desktop next to Open Solaris Belenix I've seen! I've tried Debian Sarge and even it's boot blows Ubuntu away, and remember, Debian is the quicksand, I mean the rock, that Ubuntu is built on!
Ubuntu includes an impressive office suite. The word processor worked, although it was too laggy to write in. There are other programs such as F-Spot, the photo manager, that are new offerings on the distro front, at least. As you can see from the screenshots, I hung around long enough to style Metacity's bland themes and add a couple of my blah desktop wallpapers to style it to at least look decent; just to say I did it.
For the extremely patient user, Ubuntu is usable. Theoretically, you can install it and use Debian's apt-get magic to build it into the distro of your dreams. Take my review together with the hundred others on the Internet; the composite picture you should arrive at is that Ubuntu has downsides balanced by some limited upsides. Ubuntu is one of the "half-way house" distros for people just joining us from the land of proprietary monopoly software, and many arrive two steps inside of the Linux gates on the Ubuntu square and say "This is what I wanted." OK, if that's your kink, I'm happy if you're happy. But please, I beg you just this one small favor you can do for this greasy old bird: never forget for a minute that Ubuntu is but the tip of the Linux iceberg. There's so much more that free software has to offer, that an Ubuntu user is like one who has arrived in the country of one's choosing, only to make one's home in the airport terminal. Don't be a Merhan Nasseri for long!
But Ubuntu has a halo on it that is too big for just me to dislodge, and I wouldn't want to. It is popular for keeping true to Free Software ideals, keeping it small and simple, and selecting the best packages for each function. Ubuntu's installed software is sparse, but refined. It has come up recently as being a versatile distro, working as both a server and a flashy desktop. I left it running all night, and my offspring was happy enough to play games and surf the web on it in the morning. On the one out of three machines to successfully run it, it never crashed, albeit it was laggy.
By the way, for the first time, I have failed to find a root password for a live CD in time to write the review. Instead, just say "sudo -s -H" and this magic spell will give you root. Let's see if they disable that for when it's installed.
Yeah, I know, flame flame flame. The Ubuntu shock troops will arrive in the comments. I know. Hey, there is something to like about Ubuntu. It keeps you riff-raff out of the Slackware and Debian forums. Ha ha! Hooray for Ubuntu!