Hands on with Ubuntu 14.04: The best Ubuntu desktop ever

Hands on with Ubuntu 14.04: The best Ubuntu desktop ever

Summary: I still find Ubuntu with Unity the best desktop of all for users who don't know computers and just want something easy to use.

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Lately, Ubuntu has been getting a lot of flack from other Linux users for going its own way. For example, Canonical, Ubuntu's parent company, eventually plans on using its own Mir display server instead of the more broadly supported Wayland, and that's annoyed many non-Ubuntu Linux developers. 

That "inside baseball" criticism aside, I've found the latest release of Ubuntu 14.04 , Trusty Tahr, to be an outstanding Linux desktop both for new users and for professionals.

Ubuntu1404
Ubuntu 14.04 with Unity 7 desktop.

I've been checking out the Trusty Tahr since its beta two release and I've been very pleased with it. I've been testing it in a VirtualBox virtual machine (VM) on a newer high-end Dell system and on two older test systems: The first was my 2007 Dell Inspiron 530S, which is powered by a 2.2-GHz Intel Pentium E2200 dual-core processor. This PC has 4GBs of RAM, a 500GB SATA (Serial ATA) drive, and an Integrated Intel 3100 GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) chip set. The second was a 2008-vintage Gateway DX4710. This PC is powered by a 2.5-GHz Intel Core 2 Quad processor, 6GBs of RAM, a 1TB SATA drive, and an Intel GMA 3100 for graphics.

My point in listing these systems' stats in detail is that Ubuntu works just fine even on seven-year old systems.

Gallery: Ubuntu 14.04: Smoother than earlier versions

It's also worth noting that Ubuntu 14.04 is a long-term support (LTS) version. That means that Canonical will be supporting this desktop Linux for five years. In turn, if you use an older PC you could get as much as 13 years of use out of it before you'd need to buy a new PC—just try that with Windows.

Installing Ubuntu remains as easy as ever on older PCs: Download the Ubuntu ISO, burn it to a DVD, boot your PC from the DVD and follow the instructions. If you're stuck with a Windows 8/8.1x PC, dealing with Secure Boot can still be a pain. The easy way around this is to go to the UEFI menu as you boot your PC and disable Secure Boot.

As an LTS, Ubuntu 14.04 doesn't have a lot of new features nor has there been much in the way of changes under the hood. Canonical has decided, for example, to not pull the old stable X window server and the Unity 7 shell for the graphical interface for the newer Mir graphics stack and Unity 8. You'll see those appear first in Ubuntu's smartphone and tablet efforts.

If you want, you can give Mir and Unity 8 a try. To do that, open a terminal and enter the following command:

sudo apt-get install unity8-desktop-session-mir

That's the quickest, cleanest way to install Mir and Unity 8. Both projects are under heavy development so be ready for  regular changes.

That said, Unity 7 is a completely polished desktop now. If you still love GNOMEKDE, or one of their variations such as the GNOME-based Cinnamon you're not going to love Unity. There are, of course, versions of Ubuntu 14.04 that use other desktops. These include: Ubuntu GNOME; Kubuntu with KDE, and Lubuntu with LXDE.

If you haven't tried Unity lately, though, and you can keep an open mind, you should give Ubuntu 14.04 with Unity a try. It's much smoother than when it first appeared. In addition, I still find Ubuntu with Unity the best desktop of all for users who don't know computers and just want something easy to use.

Ubuntu has made several minor changes to Unity that have lead to major advantages in usability. The first of these is that Unity now has the option of using local menus again. In earlier versions of Unity you had to live with your applications' menu choices being in the master menu bar, ala Mac OS X. That's OK, but if you use a big display—I'm writing this using a 23-inch Samsung monitor—then your menu choices can be a long, long way from your application. By giving you a choice of having them on the main menu bar or on a more traditional local application menu bar, you get to pick what works best for you. For me, with my large monitors, its local menus all the way.

As for its base operating system, Ubuntu uses the Linux 3.13 kernel. This includes security and networking improvements.

For applications, Ubuntu has stuck with its usual defaults. It now uses LibreOffice 4.2.3 for the office suite; Thunderbird 24.4 for e-mail; and Firefox 28 for the Web browser. As always, you can install the programs you want if those don't please you via the Ubuntu Software Center.

Canonical has also taken out one feature: its own personal cloud storage program Ubuntu One. You can replace its functionality with Dropbox, Google Drive, or any of many other personal cloud storage services.

At the same time, it's kept one controversial feature: Built-in search scopes for such commercial sites as Amazon and eBay.

If you can't stand these built-in searches, you can disable them manually by going to the terminal with the following command:

settings set com.canonical.Unity.Lenses disabled-scopes "['more_suggestions-amazon.scope', 'more_suggestions-u1ms.scope', 'more_suggestions-populartracks.scope', 'music-musicstore.scope', 'more_suggestions-ebay.scope', 'more_suggestions-ubuntushop.scope', 'more_suggestions-skimlinks.scope']"

Personally, these smart searches don't bother me.

Put it all together and what I see is a mature, smooth Linux desktop that would work well for either business or personal use. While old-school Linux users may never learn to love Unity, I think most others will find this latest Ubuntu a true pleasure to use. I know I did.

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Topics: Enterprise Software, Linux, Ubuntu, PCs

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250 comments
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  • Yawn

    Ubuntu is boring and ugly.
    Time Agora
    • Time Agora

      Dont look in the mirror while typing your comments troll.
      heldemanpieter
      • Look the reality

        Windows 8.1 is ROCK SOLID, polished and way faster on boot and than ubuntu 14.04 on the same hardware. Plus I get all the premium software on the planet, which is a must for me and millions out there.

        So why to use ubuntu? Because of the libre office or gimp? There is no free lunch, remember that!
        obje
        • Is that why they dropped releasing patches for 8.1?

          But then, why would MS release 8.1 update 1 and say you MUST upgrade if you are to continue getting security patches???
          jessepollard
          • the picture is bigger

            Try not to upgrade your system with ubuntu and than do online banking for millions. The same message appears when you do not upgrade linux, too.
            obje
          • maybe

            I am tempted to agree with this. I still use IE for that purpose, but if IE gets any slower and Comcast stands in my way ONE MORE TIME about un-encumbered 'net access, the less-desirable/more-work-to-set-up "alternatives" are going to look better. I already use firefox and chrome for most other things and soon it may be curtains for my boot image of vista, which has always been a piece. Why would I ever replace that with windows 8.anything ?
            ta1
          • Update 1 is an Update.

            Why are you STILL spewing out your FUD?

            STOP talking about things that YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND.

            Microsoft stopped updating 8.1 because EVERYONE who can run 8.1 can run 8.1.1, and WILL receive it through AUTOMATIC updates.

            Let me make this easy for you:
            - OS A gets updates. OS B is an UPDATE to OS A.
            - People still running OS A will not get anymore updates, but those who get the OS B update will
            - As an update to OS A, OS B is completely free to people running the former, and everyone can get it through OS A's automatic update utility

            PLEASE, just PLEASE stop talking about this like you understand it. You don't.
            ForeverCookie
          • PLEASE, just PLEASE stop talking about this like you understand it. You don

            By the looks of it neither do you understand what M$ have pland for you, so let me put you in the picture
            (1) Force user to use their cloud services
            (2) Force users to pay $99.00 annual subscription fee
            (3) Force users to pay for other services (Media player service),
            (4) Pay high prices for W8 software,
            (5) Stop users from downloading and installing software not bought from M$.

            Read their W8 EULA.
            Carling-26d7a
          • oh the drivel

            Keeps continuing. Nothing that you wrote is actual true.

            Come back when you do have actual facts. By the way, how old are you ? I hope you are in your teens, no adult would actually write the name of the company with a dollar sign, as not only is that childish, it is also so last century.
            sjaak327
          • M$

            it was a common expression in older operating systems for a variable symbol. Apparently you are not old enough to know that.
            ta1
          • easy

            let me make it easy for you: Microsoft hosed up version 8. Everybody knows that. 8.1 is basically windows 7 isn't it. XP was solid but now they want to kill it. Did I miss anything here?
            ta1
        • Reality?

          What'd you pay for your Reality? Lots of Window's users use the Window's version of Gimp and Libre Office. I've been eating free lunch for a long time and it taste very good! Been using Ubuntu and only Ubuntu for everything! I have been set free literally! Jump in the pond the water fine!
          snogoer1@...
          • :)

            well, go on your free lunch then.. when you enjoy it!

            I'm so called pro in my field, and the products I use do not have even close alternative in the open source "SECOND HAND" world.

            All the blinded in one place :) and they call me windows fan boy. No, I'm just realist, who pay his employees very well :)
            obje
          • UM Excuse Me?

            Amazon uses Ubuntu......... My daughter is a manager at a call center for them. Yep, you're right Ubuntu is only good enough for the World's Largest online retailer. I am in the Oil Industry and I sit in conference rooms in office buildings all over the world. Nope I am not a professional. I also am a published photographer... Nope, no professionals use Gimp either.. GET A LIFE! Why do think Microsoft is going building more hardware and buying companies like Nokia, investing in Dell, building tablets. Because software...now called applications and operating systems no longer control the tech industry.... Because of open source and people refusing to be taken hostage by the Gates of the world. Believe me, you need to get your head out of the sand!
            snogoer1@...
          • get a life?

            you are ignorant or brain dead!

            Amazon ?! of course, they support ubuntu, because they advertise on the platform, that is YOUR free lunch :) you are hit from commersials. The model is similar to google's.

            By the way, check what Stoleman is saying about your favourite free piece of crap. It is nothing but a spyware. It is free, and yet it is in the commersials of site like this or channels.. do you get the math?

            One click usage for mysql (open sourse) in windows, not ubuntu?! and so on..

            No decent software for drawing, Gimp even not close to Photoshop - come on!!!

            MS Office superior to libre office - so powerful that you could create entire interface on it!

            DON'T BE STUPID AND YOU GET A LIFE..

            Not to mention pro video editing, pro architecture and so on and so on....
            obje
          • Advertise on what Platform?

            Amazon pays for their Ubuntu and support.... You might want to use Gimp again because you may want to look at how many professionals are now using it and paying for support? Does it do everything PS does.. Not even close, but the critical things that most use PS for, Gimp covers extremely well and it is in the reach of many and opens many avenues for people to better themselves. I use Gimp not because I can't afford PS, I use it to support Open Source. I donate and I purchase the publications. Bill Gates said the biggest threat to MS is open source. So office my have some bells and whistles, but Libre is able to be accessed by all and which allows many many more people to better themselves with the strength of quality software that actually holds its own against the so called "quality genuine Microsoft brand." Fact is Microsoft is in trouble because of open source and Google. I am sorry, those are the facts and Microsoft's diversification is the proof. They didn't try to get Alan Mulally as their CEO because they're doing so great! Mulally passed on their generous offer as well. So if Mulally can see the writing on the wall, then so should you.
            snogoer1@...
          • like to see

            I would like to see those professionals who use gimp.. this is so funny :)

            And what about the father of open source who said "UBUNTU IS SPYWARE"? and why he said it ? because amazon is so glad of the services and just supports the platform?

            Why UBUNTU IS TRYING TO MAKE A PHONE? and they can't come up with one, because they do not have enough market ???

            Besides the hypes over more than year still no phone ?! Why?!

            And why you said Google is open source? Open just on documents, reality is different! where is the free android distro under the linux mark?! could I customize it and distribute it as my own distro?

            Why they are closing the market, and what is the freedom behind the force google + account integration of the old users ?

            Why they collect data from your surfing? and how they use it?!

            Why google refused to use dual boot on machines with windows 8.1 on fast boot?

            And why they insist to put the trademark ANDROID on every device whit android?

            Why my Lumia never crashed for over 1 year, and my S4 crashes 2 times a week at least ( friends are complaining the same).

            And do not compare GIMP with Photoshop NEVER! IT is not serious just to mention it in one sentence! if you have the will to check why, do it.
            obje
          • "where is the free android distro under the linux mark?"

            Can't seem to use Bing to find things? You need to try the worlds best search engine - Google.

            CyanogenMod.

            http://source.android.com/

            Have at it.
            jessepollard
          • it always crack me up

            How the free and open source idiots try to cheer Google. As if Google isn't a company that has a goal to make money.

            At least with Microsoft you are not the product, with Google you are.

            I actually wonder why people refuse to use their brains. It isn't rocket science, it is common sense, yet they still post utter bullocks.
            sjaak327
          • sjaak327

            Get used to Google's format, because Billy Gates is following it hook line and sinker. Nothing wrong with making money, as long as you don't attempt to deny others access to the market. Ask Motzilla or Netscape how it went back in the day when in the Biily Gates' atler-ego was Darth? I feel Google broke Billy Gates' strangle-hold over all of us! They (Google) had given Billy Gates a good old fashion Nut Kickin every time he tried to either sue them or Bing something on them. Eventually, I think it became their (Google) mission to put MS in the hole they're in today!
            snogoer1@...