Say hello to Canonical's new Linux desktop: Ubuntu 12.04 beta review

Say hello to Canonical's new Linux desktop: Ubuntu 12.04 beta review

Summary: If you like Unity, Ubuntu Linux's unique GNOME-based desktop, you're going to love Canonical's Ubuntu 12.04, Precise Pangolin.


Even in beta, Ubuntu 12.04 is looking great.

Even in beta, Ubuntu 12.04 is looking great.

Canonical's next long-term support release of its flagship Linux distribution, Ubuntu 12.04 is in late beta. This next release, due out on April 26th, is in beta now. I've been using it for several weeks now and so far, so good.

Indeed, the new Ubuntu is good enough already that I've it on my default Ubuntu system: a 2009-era Gateway DX4710. This PC is powered by a 2.5-GHz Intel Core 2 Quad processor and has 6GBs of RAM and an Intel GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) 3100 for graphics. No, it's not fast, but unlike Windows 8's beta, you don't need a fast computer for Ubuntu.


To do all this I first, of course, had to download a copy of the early release from the Ubuntu beta site. Once I had it hand, I burned the image of the operating system to a CD. With it, I then booted my computer off the CD.

After I booted it from the live image I tinkered around with it long enough to make sure that the basics worked-primarily making sure that live version could connect to the Internet-and then I installed it on my hard disk.

I've also been running this pre-release Ubuntu on a VirtualBox virtual machine. The one trick you need to know before running it on VirtualBox is that you'll need to enable Physical Address Extension (PAE) under Settings/System/Processor to run it successfully.

In both cases, there was really nothing else to do except hit a few keys and give myself a user name and password. If you can put a CD in a computer and type you can install Linux these days.

Ubuntu 12.04, Precise Pangolin Specifications:

Ubuntu is based, as ever, on Debian Linux. For its Linux kernel, 12.04 uses the 3.2.6 Linux kernel. Under its Unity desktop hood, you'll find GNOME 3.3.20.

A first look at Ubuntu Linux 12.04's Unity desktop (Gallery)

It supports the full range of Linux file systems including Btfrs (aka Butter), ext3, ext4, JFS, ReiserFS, and XFS. By default, it uses ext4.

You can run Ubuntu on as little as 512MBs of RAM and with a 486 processor. Faster is better, but for practical purpose any recent system with a GB of RAM will work just fine with Ubuntu.

If you happen to have a system with an Intel Sandy Bridge chipset, you'll also see much better power management. Starting with this version, Ubuntu can turn the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) all the way down to zero watts if it's not being used. Canonical claims that "comparing under idle loads with machine state where RC6 is disabled, improved power usage of around 40-60% has been witnessed." I didn't see that much difference, but I did notice that my battery life on my new Lenovo ThinkPad, which uses the latest Sandy Bridge chipset, idled for much longer than I'd expected.

Putting Ubuntu through its paces:

Once I had Precise Pangolin installed and booted I started working with it. It felt very, very familiar. While Ubuntu plans to eventually change its default interface to Head Up Display, for this version, its primary desktop is still Unity.

A first look at Ubuntu Linux's Head-Up Display (Gallery)

Some people hate Unity. Me, while I prefer Linux Mint's retro GNOME 2 Cinnamon interface, I rather like Unity as well. What Ubuntu's developers have really been doing with this release is not so much getting HUD ready, as they have been cleaning Unity up and getting it ready for business users.

For the most part, they've been successful with that. Unity works both quickly and smoothly… for the most part. It does have its rough patches. For example, Ubuntu uses LibreOffice 3.5 for its office suite. It works well, but it still uses its own menu interface instead of Unity's universal menu. Let me make this clear. This doesn't get in the way of using the program at all. It's barely noticeable. But, it's still not as integrated into Unity as say its default Web browser, Firefox 11.

I also found that while Ubuntu has made Unity a little easier to customize, its still essentially a "What you see is what you get" desktop with little room for tuning. Old time Linux users will not be amused. People who just want a simple, easy-to-user interface though will like it though… so long that is as you like the launchbar to be on the left.

Yes, that's right. It's still on the left period. You can, of course, make it so that it disappears if you don't want it around all the time, but you can't put it on the top, bottom or right. Sorry guys, that's just the way Ubuntu wants it. I suspect that's because Canonical want future Ubuntu tablet smartphone and TV users to have the same experience as they might on the desktop.

On the other hand, I found that Ubuntu 12.04 worked extremely well with my local network. I run a variety of servers on my network for testing purposes and Ubuntu was the first desktop operating system to pick up all my LAN's servers--Samba Primary Domain Controller (PDC), Network File System (NFS), Windows Server Active Directory (AD), and Windows Workgroup--without any fuss or muss. Color me impressed.

I also continued to like that Ubuntu comes with its own cloud service, Ubuntu One. This gives you 5GBs of free storage that you can use not just from your Ubuntu or other Linux systems but from Windows boxes as well.

Ubuntu also comes with its own app store, the Ubuntu Software Center. While this replaces the old-style Synaptic, new users will find it mindlessly easy to use. It also comes with new recommendation feature that checks your applications to see if you're missing a complementary program.

That's nice, but what I liked better--and I confess that it's actually already present in Ubuntu 11.10 and I somehow missed it until now--is that you can synchronize applications between Ubuntu desktops. So, for example, once you have your Ubuntu PC set up with your preferred applications, it's easy to download and install them on your laptop as well.

Canonical has also made some changes in its default software selection. GIMP, open-source's answer to Photoshop, is back in. In addition, the default music player is now Rhythmbox in place of Banshee. As a long-time Banshee fan I'm not crazy about this change. But, thanks to the Software Center it's only a matter of minutes to download and replace Rhythmbox with Banshee.

The default e-mail client is Mozilla's Thunderbird 11. I'm not happy at all with that choice. As far as I'm concerned the best e-mail client on any operating system is Evolution. Evolution, which can work well with Microsoft Exchange, is also simply the better choice for a business desktop.

Still, like any Linux distribution, Ubuntu makes it easy to pick and choose applications. I had my preferred applications up and running within an hour. And, thanks to the application sync feature, I could clone my choice of applications to any other Ubuntu desktop in minutes without any thought.

I also liked that Ubuntu has a set of privacy options. With it you can delete your file and application use histories and not record activities with a wide variety of file types, applications, and services. Ubuntu easily out does any other desktop operating system I've seen to date when it comes to let you control your personal activity information. Now if only Facebook would do the same!


I think most users should still wait for the final release, but I also think they won't be disappointed with Ubuntu 12.04 when it does arrive.

No, it's not the old GNOME 2.x style desktop. If you want that I think you're better off with Mint 12 with its optional Cinnamon interface. But, if you want an easy-to-use Linux desktop that works well with business networks, I think you'll like Ubuntu 12.04 a lot. I know I do.

Related Stories:

Shuttleworth on the Ubuntu Linux 12.04 beta

Ubuntu 12.04 'Precise Pangolin' goes beta

What does Ubuntu want to be when it grows up?

Linux users cautiously optimistic about Ubuntu's Head-Up Display desktop

Beyond the desktop: Ubuntu Linux's new Head-Up Display

Topics: Operating Systems, Hardware, Linux, Open Source, Software

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  • While I want to see Canonical succeed

    in the respect that their success will help Linux in general, I'd like to see more support given to Kubuntu, the KDE 4.8.1 Distro.

    The KDE ui simply is light years ahead of Unity and any veteran Windows user will find that a switch to KDE is intuitive and natural. Everything works and customization is easy.

    Unity currently requires a host of third-party add-ons to make it work properly.

    Shuttleworth gained independence and control with Unity, but I am afraid Unity just doesn't make the product 'Enterprise-worthy'.

    Oh, here's another viral video from Chris Perillo of his Father trying Ubuntu 11.10:

    h t t p : / / w w w . y o u t u b e . c o m / w a t c h ? v = l t E _ e k c 8 k E 8
    Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
    • No KDE, No Linux

      I agree. If Canonical decides to table KDE I will move to another distro.
      • I already have

        I've never had one clean upgrade in Kubuntu. Not one. I finally figured that since I have to do a clean install to get things working anyway I may as well switch my distro. I'm now using Linux Mint 12 KDE. Hopefully when that gets upgraded it'll be a smooth one.
        Michael Kelly
    • RE: While I want to see Canonical succeed

      [i]I am afraid Unity just doesn't make the product 'Enterprise-worthy'.[/i]

      Apparently, Kubuntu (with KDE) isn't enterprise-worthy either:

      "Kubuntu Status
      "Kubuntu has not been a business success after 7 years of trying, and it is unrealistic
      to expect it to continue to have financial resources put into it.
      Rabid Howler Monkey
      • An unfortunate choice of words.

        Because, really, Canonical didn't focus of the commercial venture on any Distro other than Ubuntu, ultimately forcing Unity upon users (just as Metro is staged to become part of Windows 8).

        I wonder if you've tried KDE 4.8.1? If you were honest about it, you'd say it's as good as Windows 7 Aero UI.

        But, I don't know if you have the capacity to be intellectually honest with yourself.
        Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
      • @Rabid Howler Monkey .. I don't see any problem

        .. with KDE at all. If that's your opinion on it, then fine .. different strokes for different folks.

        Having said that, as long as KDE is made available under one distro' or another, i will use it as my Linux desktop of choice (incidentally, that would be Kubuntu).
      • Bury your heads in the sand if you like

        [i]Canonical didn't focus of the commercial venture on any Distro other than Ubuntu[/i]

        @Dietrich T. Schmitz According to Canonical's Jonathan Riddell (see the above link), there indeed was a focus on monitizing Kubuntu. For 7 years, Canonical put financial resources (beyond infrastructure) into Kubuntu. I'll take Jonathan Riddell's word on it before I do yours (a Linux advocate). Another quote for your reading pleasure:

        "[b]it [Kubuntu] has not taken over the world commercially and shows no immediate signs of doing so[/b]

        P.S. How is the SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED), which defaults to KDE, doing in the enterprise? Is Attachmate making any money on it? If so, please inform us with whatever metrics you have available.

        [i] I don't see any problem with KDE at all. If that's your opinion on it, then fine[/i]

        thx-1138_@... What I provided was the opinion, both as a link and an excerpt, of the Canonical employee responsible for Kubuntu. Kubuntu 12.04 is the end of the line as far as Canonical's financial support goes. Fortunately, 12.04 is an LTS release and will be supported for 5 years. I hope you enjoy it.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
        • Party-line Politics

          In a separate press release:
          h t t p : / / b l o g s . k d e . o r g / n o d e / 4 5 4 7

          Riddle says:
          "...KDE is really nowhere near a usable desktop."

          That is total tripe. To align Unity with KDE's functionality, one has to install a myriad of ppa products not even in the Ubuntu repository.

          It's utter nonsense. And the fact that he would even 'trash talk' KDE having been a former KDE developer now reassigned to Ubuntu, is most immature and indicates he has been 'bought and paid for'. He is now talking the party-line.

          Resecting one key developer from the KDE Team isn't going to skuttle all work done thus far and won't stop the momentum that KDE is gaining.

          Users need try KDE 4.8 once and will see immediately how well the UI fits its moving parts together to mesh into a beautiful fluid Desktop experience--superior to Windows 7 Aero, IMO.

          May Riddle's pants catch on fire.
          Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
      • Canonical Never Really Got Behind Kubuntu

        I don't use Gnome, Unity, or KDE to any extent (I tend to use XFce, Fluxbox, IceWM, or Openbox). However, I don't have to take anyone's word for how much support Canonical gave to Kubuntu. They never seriously promoted it, and it was always second fiddle to Ubuntu. You just have to have eyes and ears to know that. If Ridell says differently, I'm not going to believe him over the evidence of my own observations.
    • RE: Canonical Never Really Got Behind Kubuntu

      @CFWhitman wrote:
      [i]They [Canonical] never seriously promoted it [Kubuntu], and it was always second fiddle to Ubuntu.[/i]

      Sibling rivalry: [i]mom always liked you best![/i]. Yes, Canonical always led with Ubuntu, initially defaulting to the Gnome desktop environment and, more recently, to Unity. Canonical's Jonathan Riddell never stated otherwise. What he stated was that Canonical provided financial support to Kubuntu for 7 years and that the return on this investment was insufficient. And, like Google, Canonical is putting more wood behind fewer arrows. Unity won, Kubuntu lost. Sour grapes.

      Anyone wanting a distro that leads with KDE doesn't have far to look: openSUSE and SLED. DTS stated that KDE is enterprise-ready. Clearly, SUSE agrees. However, I'll ask you the same questions that I asked DTS: [i]How is the SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED), which defaults to KDE, doing in the enterprise? Is Attachmate making any money on it? If so, please inform us with whatever metrics you have available.[/i]
      Rabid Howler Monkey
      • You people who measure evrything in terms of dollars

        obviously don't have a clue about the open source community and how it evolved. If money or market penetration was the only measure of software 'worthiness', there'd be no Firefox, or Apache, or many of today's software standards.
        As long as its available for those of us who like it to use it, its 'successful' enough.
      • RE: You people who measure evrything in terms of dollars

        I don't measure [i]everything[/i] in dollars. Canonical's rationale for dropping support for Kubuntu was directly related to it's lack of [i][b]commercial[/b][/i] success.

        And SUSE is a [i][b]commercial[/b][/i] Linux distro, both SLED and SLES. One cannot use SLED or SLES without a [i][b]license[/b][/i]. OpenSUSE is merely a testbed for SLED and SLES that is offered to the community as open-source (read, no license) to maximize its testing exposure as well as pay back to the community for its efforts.

        Unlike SUSE, Canonical offers [i][b]all[/b][/i] of its distros, Ubuntu along with it's community-based distros, free to anyone, including enterprises. Without any support, of course. Support costs $$$, just like with SUSE and Red Hat.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
  • I like 12.04 beta well enough...

    and Unity has even grown on me a bit. But after a few weeks of playing around with Ubuntu, it was back to Crunchbang for me. It's faster, stable, and I can do anything in it that I want to do in Ubuntu.
  • Eh?

    "This PC is powered by a 2.5-GHz Intel Core 2 Quad processor and has 6GBs of RAM and an Intel GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) 3100 for graphics. No, it???s not fast, but unlike Windows 8???s beta, you don???t need a fast computer for Ubuntu."

    I have a Dell Inspiron 1546 laptop (and knock Dell's build quality all you like, I knocked a can of cider over it and it's still working OK!). It has a 2.2-GHz AMD Dual Core processor and 4GBs RAM. I.e, it's slower than your PC.

    Now given that W8 CP runs fine on my machine, I have to wonder what you're doing with yours that makes you think it isn't fast enough to run W8?

    Or are you just trolling?

    With regards to Ubuntu, I tried Unity and couldn't get on with it. Will likely wait for new Kubuntu to get released and have a go with that, see how it stacks up against Mint.
    • Exactly, why the Win8 comment.. it was completely out of context

      I am running Win 8 on a 5 year old Core Duo, with 1GB of RAM and it is fast. SJVN should talk good points that help Linux stand on its own than blame Win8. Win8 will do great and be successful, whatever haters might try to sell
      • Win8 hardware

        Same thing here, I'm running Win8 on a 2Ghz Celron with 1GB of RAM and it's just fine. MS has apparently done some major work to improve the performance of Win8.
        As for Unity, we use Ubuntu as thin clients at work and Unity is too confusing for the end user. They're expecting shortcuts on the desktop but it seems like Unity only let's you save documents there.
      • Windows 8 runs but you have to use AV.

        As a Linux user, that makes all the difference since I've never used AV on any Linux.

        My AV "protected" Win7 64-bit that really wasn't used for work, but as the tail end of a dual boot was hit with 5 items including Aleuron.DX which turned on my browsers' proxy feature and pointed my browsers to a Russian IP address. I have a screen shot of it. I mean, this is Win7 64-bit with "Advanced driver signing" that was hacked essentially in the process of running Microsoft updates. People generally aren't focused or educated enough here to realize that 1) Windows source code was never written to be secure on it's own accord. 2) Browsers or applications cannot effectively provide "Add-On" security to a defective OS. 3) ZDnet blames browsers for security issues that mask the underlying OS failure, a failure that will be eventually fixed by MS sometime in the future without all the negative fanfare given to the browsers. Linux doesn't have these problems, ever.

        It's just important to have security before everything else. If you can't run Windows securely without AV, it's not in the same League as Linux.

        To save money, time and manhours, Microsoft has never addressed OS security, even from the very beginning. Their business model relies on free external security data from the AV companies and zero-day watchdog groups and the screams of suffering users attacked by malware. As long as people don't realize that an OS can be designed with security at it's core, like Linux, this abuse will continue. Major abuses like TDL-4 affecting millions of users get buried by ZDNet and Microsoft.
      • RE: Windows 8 runs but you have to use AV.

        Joe.Smetona wrote:
        [i]Windows source code was never written to be secure on it's own accord.[/i]

        Neither were Linux, OS X or BSD (save, perhaps, OpenBSD). Thus, [b]Qubes OS[/b] using the Xen hypervisor (while Xen is Linux-based, it has an extremely small code base). Think of it as a Xen distro providing security by isolation. Qubes OS was initially launched running Fedora VMs, but will soon support Windows VMs. Finally, a way to run both desktop Linux and Windows securely.

        h t t p : / / q u b e s - o s . o r g
        Rabid Howler Monkey
      • Open Source by its' definition defines ultimate security.

        OK, Microsoft does not use open source and keeps their source code absolutely secret. They do so, not for commercial proprietary reasons, but to turn their source code into a binary puzzle to (in their minds) provide security. It does not work. I have used Mutek black box and that was about 10 years ago.

        Linux is open source and by it's definition, it's functions are created to be secure, even if the blue print of their design has been freely made public since 1991. I have no problem with Linux security and am fine with the performance over the last ten years without any restrictions on browsing and without using any AV.

        You could say I have way, way too much experience with Windows to trust Microsoft.

        If Microsoft had secure source code, they would not require AV in the same way that Linux does not need AV. Also, Microsoft would publish on their website that Microsoft does not need AV like LinuxMint does.
    • Good Question

      "...I have to wonder what you're doing with yours that makes you think it isn't fast enough to run W8?"

      Hmm, good question. You beat me to it.

      On a side note, I am going to wait for Xubuntu 12.04 to be released before I upgrade. No need to mess around with something that is light on resources and currently works for me.