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Ubuntu Review

Posted by eitan on December 14, 2005 at 11:58 AM PST

Approximately in June or July of 2005, I started
weaning myself off of my powerbook G4, and learning
the Gnome environment under Ubuntu (v5.04, now v5.10).

Overall, it's been a terrific experience, and it's looking
like I've come here to settle down.

So I thought I'd summarize my experiences, from my perspective
as a Java software developer, and as a computer user in general.

The Good

Here are a few things I really like in Ubuntu / Linux:

  • The Gnome Epiphany Web Browser: my favorite browser.
    See my blog entry on the subject.

  • Edutainment + kids games: On linux, one can download a number of games for children that are of high quality from the point of view of the material they cover. Sure, some games like supertux, are just plain fun 'mario brothers' style games. But many can be powerful tools that can hone the brain power of children. Here are some of them:

    • kturtle (logo programming)
    • gcompris
    • tuxmath / tuxtyping

    My kids and I also very much like supertux, tuxracer, and tuxkart. I'm particularly proud of my 3 year-old who is now a supertux champion and has mastered the arrow keys, the enter key, the control key, and spacebar.

  • Quality open source desktop applications. Who said that open source can't produce desktop apps of higher quality than their commercial counterparts. If you thought the adobe had the best vector graphics editing application, take a look a inkscape. For pictures, check out the beauty of f-spot. For spreadsheets, I think gnumeric is terrific.

  • Authoring tools. A number of different technologies can be used to write books or articles. Docbook is one and docbook support in the form of toolkits, documentation, utilities and more is the strongest on linux. Many love LaTex.

    I particularly appreciate lyx, a wonderful wysiwym editor that does all the heavy lifting for you. If you're about to write a book and don't have in-depth knowledge of docbook or latex, then I believe lyx is the right choice.

  • Strong pdf support. One can easily produce a pdf version of a document, translate a postscript file to PDF. I recently printed a web page to a postscript file and then translated it to PDF.

  • editors galores. Lots of editors to choose from. gedit, kedit, kate, jedit, and many more besides.

  • apt-get and the amazing synaptic package manager.
    Want an app? Just wish it and a few seconds later it's completely
    installed on your system, along with all its dependencies. That's the magic of the synaptic package manager. apt is the technology that makes it happen and the synatpic front-end gives you no reason to ever fall back to the command line.

  • strong printer support

    • lj3200 which i'd given up on entirely with my mac (hp did not
      make apple drivers for this specific version), worked like a charm
      with linux, without having to install drivers
    • doing duplex printing with my brother 5150D at the office
    • doing network printing to an hp inkjet printer
  • wifi worked for me out of the box.

  • the sleep feature works just fine but does not conserve the battery charge
    nearly as well as my powerbook did. hibernate then is the alternative,
    which has worked great for me for many months, up until a recent kernel

  • strong device support in general: plugged in my camera and automatically
    started downloaded photos, without even having to download anything.

  • amazing endless suite of kde apps. from kontact to koffice, kde is simply
    an amazing source of seemingly boundless energy.

  • kde and gnome apps can run side by side

  • terrific support forums

  • java:

    • unlike the last OS i worked on, there are no issues regarding obtaining
      the latest java udpates on time
    • all the java ides work with it: intellij, eclipse, and netbeans
    • have the option of building java applications that use the gtk toolkit
  • latest firefox

  • endless supply of artwork for customizing background image,
    login manager, login splash, window decorations, icons, and themes
  • freedom!

  • no viruses, no symantec, no mcaffee

  • complete desktop customization features, especially with kde, although in the end i prefer gnome; i find myself forever tinkering on kde, and more productive on gnome. each has their strengths and together they make for an even better distribution: a wider array of choices; sometimes you get this feeling though that the velocity on the kde projects is just so amazing..

  • i love the ability to assign keyboard shortcuts to anything
    i rarely touch the mouse and am in complete control

  • ruby. if you're doing ruby development, installing the toolstack, including rails is a snap.

  • cost. i don't have to pay for additional apps. my notebook cost me approximately 1/3 the price of my last one.

The Bad

  • projector support is not really there like it is on a mac
  • sleep does not conserve battery well
  • had some hickups with hibernate after a kernel update
  • have some weird totem/video problems at the moment, though there's no lack
    of video players for gnome or kde, this one happens to be the default and
    for some reason hangs when attempting video playback


The main reason I switched to ubuntu is that I can now compile and launch
my java apps in 1/2 to 1/3 the time it used to take me on my last laptop.
I used to run a 1GHz powerbook G4. Now I run a 1.7GHz intel centrino
(same amount of ram on both). That's a serious advantage.

Finally, contrary the general perception, I don't compile my gnome apps
or kernel. I download and install precompiled binary distributions of
all my apps.

I'm very satisfied with Ubuntu and in the event that you're looking for
the right home, I hope this short review was helpful.

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