With each and every release, Ubuntu Linux seems to get that little bit easier and friendlier to use. To put it through its paces, we downloaded the CD image of the latest iteration, Ubuntu 10.04, burned it to a disc and booted directly from it.
In the past, many Linux distros booted up as a live CD from that point, and once you’d arrived at the desktop screen, there sat the icon to install the operating system to your hard disk. Ubuntu 10.04 instead offers you a welcome half-way house, in that mid-boot you can choose whether to try a live CD without writing files to your system, or go for the full install. We opted for the latter.
Ubuntu has made this a breeze. You choose your location, keyboard layout preference, how you want the OS to sit on your hard drive (especially useful if you’re looking for partitioning work on an already-in-use drive), set up your username and password and away you go. The only problem we had is that with one of our older hard drives, that had an old XP partition we wanted to keep on it, Ubuntu couldn’t sort this out and just hung. We dug another old drive off our pile, however, and had more luck instantly.
So if all goes to plan, you’re looking at an installation of around 15 minutes or so before you get to a workable desktop screen. That’s after an enforced restart, but from there, boot times are exceptionally quick.
What’s more, you arrive at a completely clean desktop screen. The top of the screen has a series of icons and the assorted drop-downs, and there’s a toolbar at the foot of the screen. But mostly you have an expanse of empty space. For once, Ubuntu struggled to pick up the NAS drive attached to our test Windows network automatically, although it did as usual give us the offer of proprietary graphics drivers for extra performance.
It also offered a smattering of useful applications, the likes of which you get with most distros of Ubuntu’s ilk. So OpenOffice is present and correct, for instance, as is Firefox, a collection of games, disc burning tools and suchlike. And the Ubuntu Software Centre remains just a click away if there’s something you want to quickly grab and install. As usual, all the hard work is done for you. Interestingly, though, graphics package The GIMP has been left out of the default install, with its complexities apparently to blame.
Still, as usual, Ubuntu does an excellent job of presenting Linux in the friendliest manner possible. There’s a terminal option in there, of course, as you would expect. But if you never want to see a sudo command, you never need to. Instead, Ubuntu 10.04 – a long term support edition, incidentally (which means this version carries three years of support) – does an exceptional job of making Linux as friendly as it can be.
And as many experienced users know, it can be very friendly indeed. The key advantages of this latest Ubuntu are its quick boot times – under 10 seconds in our testing – and the polished, mature user interface. It’s a terrific operating system, and once that continually manages to improve, just as it has done here.