Ubuntu 13.04 Review: Linux for the average Joe or Jane

Ubuntu 13.04 Review: Linux for the average Joe or Jane

Summary: Hard core Linux fans won't care for it, but for the average user the new Ubuntu desktop Linux has a lot to offer.


The new Ubuntu Linux distribution, 13.04, aka Raring Ringtail, is ready to go, and for most users, it may be all the desktop they need.

Say hello to the newest version of Ubuntu.

True, many hard-core Linux users have turned against Ubuntu in recent years. Or, to be more precise, they turned against it when Ubuntu's parent company, Canonical, switched from the GNOME 2.x desktop to its Unity desktop interface. They have a point. Unity doesn't give Linux experts the kind of control over the operating system that they get from desktops such as KDE, MATE, and, my own personal favorite, Cinnamon.

However, Unity is not a user-experience failure like Windows 8's Metro. Instead, it's very good at what it sets out to do: Provide a user-interface (UI) that's easy enough for an 80-year old to use and provide an interface that's designed to work equally well for desktops, tablets, and smartphones. In short, Ubuntu is not for Linux power users, it's for all users.

Ubuntu 13.04: The Linux desktop for everyone (Gallery)

That's very clear in Ubuntu 13.04. While this new version doesn't offer a lot of new features, it has done a nice job of cleaning and speeding up the ones it had. In particular, I noticed how this works on a review system, a 2008-vintage Gateway DX4710. This PC is powered by a 2.5-GHz Intel Core 2 Quad processor, has 6GBs of RAM, and an Intel GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) 3100 for graphics. Unity itself was much faster than before on the same box.

That's because Ubuntu spent a lot time making performance improvements to Unity. These include: "reduced memory consumption and a great number of small UI fixes to bring a better overall shell experience. Those are like being typo-tolerant in the dashboard when searching for an application, using the mouse scroll wheel on a launcher icon to switch between applications, or better available third-party device handling."

Of course, if you really want Ubuntu, and you really can't stand Unity, there are a wide variety of Ubuntu 13.04 variants with different desktops. These include: Kubuntu, with KDE; Xubuntu, with Xfce; and Lubuntu, with LXDE.  

One change I didn't care for is that Ubuntu versions now only have one workspace available by default. If, like me, you want to more than one workspace, you can add more with the Behavior tab in the Appearance panel of System Settings.

Under the hood, you'll find the Ubuntu Linux kernel 3.8.0-19.29. This, in turn, is based on the 3.8.8 Linux kernel.

For applications, Ubuntu 13.04 supports LibreOffice 4.0 for its office suite. It also includes Firefox 20 for the Web browser and Thunderbird 17 for email. Rather use something else, I'll take Chrome and Evolution for my Web browser and e-mail thank you very much, you can easily get more applications using the Ubuntu Software Center. This is Ubuntu's native app store. I should add that there's a known problem with installing Chrome on Ringtail. This is expected to be fixed with the release of Chrome 28.

One eternal complaint about Linux is that "There aren't any games!" Actually, there always were lots of them. Now that Steam is producing games for Linux in general, and Ubuntu in specific, that canard contains less truth than ever. Heck, Dell will even sell you an Alienware Ubuntu-powered gaming PC these days.

How to install the Steam gaming client on Ubuntu (Gallery)

I've been using Ubuntu 13.04 in its beta forms for several weeks now. I'm a Linux power users' power user so for my own use I still prefer other distributions. In particular, I use Linux Mint, which is based on Ubuntu, with its Cinnamon interface. But, if you just want an excellent desktop that anyone can use without a lot of blood, sweat, and toil, then Ubuntu 13.04 is for you.

It's easy. It's secure. It will run on systems as slow as 1GHz with a single GB of RAM. True, it won't run Windows applications, but for 90 percent of people it will run all the applications they'll ever need. In short, Ubuntu is the operating system I recommend most to most people.

Ready to give it a try? You can download Ubuntu now. What you can't do, alas, is try it from within Windows. Wubi, which would let you run Ubuntu as if were a Windows application, is no longer supported.

In addition, if you are stuck with a Windows 8 PC, you will also have trouble running Ubuntu, or any other operating system, because of Secure Boot. This, Windows "security measure" locks out alternative operating systems.

While there are ways of hacking Secure Boot to allow you to install and run Ubuntu and other Linux systems, they're not easy to use. If you have a Windows 8 system, your easiest move is to deactivate Secure Boot using your motherboard's UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) settings. Unfortunately, every motherboard vendor uses a different way to turn Secure Boot off so I can' give you a universal fix for this problem.

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Topics: Ubuntu, Linux, Operating Systems, PCs, The Year's Best Tech for Work and Play

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  • My personal favourite?

    Would be Xubuntu. If it's simplistic, the xfce Desktop Environment is what I prefer. If we went with a nice slim and fast Linux distro go with Zenwalk.



    But. But. But this is jm2c.
    Arm A. Geddon
    • Lubuntu works well . . .

      . . . on a couple of old netbooks I keep for student use.
      • I second that!

        Smile! Apparently a smiley by it's self is Spam! 8-)
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      • Re: Lubuntu works well . . .

        Agreed :)
  • the measure of Ubuntu

    is how much Linux Mint has grown since Unity became Ubuntu's default UI.

    No, Unity isn't as annoying as Windows 8's Modern UI, but it's more annoying than Gnome 3, and way more annoying than MATE or Cinnamon. But let's face it, real adults write their own OpenBox themes.
    • Real adults don't make cracks like that!

      Some of us are hardware people and don't want to waste time piss farting around with our interfaces. We just want to use them. "shakes head"
      • Well said

        I use Windows and Linux, but what really got me started with Linux was a person who was willing to walk me through some setup steps without trying to seem superior. He (or she) answered some questions that, looking backward, were far below his/her level of knowledge and experience, but did so with courtesy and a genuinely helpful attitude. That was in 1995 and without that experience, I'd probably have just put it aside and stuck with Windows exclusively.

        That comment makes one thing obvious, though--Linux geeks don't want anyone to learn, because their egos rest on their hoarded knowledge.
        • That is the problem with a lot of Linux users

          …they think that everybody should be an OS expert and the more cryptic the OS the better. All these years I was put off Linux basically because of the encounters I had with all these people. What I had missed though is all the effort that is taking place all this time trying to make Linux more mainstream.

          But no more, this time I am determined to try it for real…and actually I already see some unexpected results.

          I had an installation of Linux Mint on a capable laptop but I wanted to try the Unity UI anyway so I installed the 32 bit version of Ubuntu on an old VGN S4XP VAIO laptop. It is a Pentium M with 1.6 GHz processor and 1 GB memory (and 100GB of HD space).

          Actually this particular ex-Windows XP PC suffers from a serious video driver issue, it has the NVidia GeForce Go 6200 with turbo cache. Windows 7 installs and runs fine until the NVidia driver starts its performance tricks and you lose the desktop (it starts flashing like a Metro Start Screen, i.e. it becomes unusable). I could not find a driver that works for it, so I reverted to Windows XP each time.

          Now I installed the latest Ubuntu version and actually the problem was more or less the same…until I changed it to the proprietary NVidia drivers and it works fine.
          I can watch video, play games, WiFi is working fine, everything works fine, it is a Pentium M for crying out loud and it is alive and useful again.

          Well done Canonical…now I will try to learn more so I can also start complaining about the UI that “it is not for expert users”…but I think at the moment it is fine for Windows users that do not want to see too much of the engine underneath.
          • Ubuntu and Mint are for non-geeks...

            ...and Windows for geeks. Mint and Ubuntu are easy to use, Windows hard. There are lots of other ridiculous paradox too. If you wanna use Bing, then use Linux. Guided to malware sites isn't a for Linux users.

            Linux Mint and Ubuntu are so stable, so secure, so easy to install and use that they are almost becoming boring. Windows is much exciting - you will never know when those Trojans, Worms and Viruses will make their breakthrough.

            If you wanna be saved use Linux, if our like danger use Windows.
          • Yes they are not for geeks

            But then again you cannot say that Windows is useless (prior to Windows 8 of course). The point is that a Windows user trying Linux all these years would hit a wall immediately. There was “no easy way in”, were with Windows you can dive deeper as you are getting more and more confident.

            Now of course with Ubuntu and Mint you get the level of abstraction that is necessary not to overwhelm a new user. And let’s not forget that to win over Windows users/developers they need to behave a bit like Windows (at least on the surface).
  • Ubuntu 13.04 Review: Linux for the average Joe or Jane

    I predict this release to be a huge failure for Canonical, a bigger failure than linux already is. If the hardcore linux users who are the most vocal don't like it then they are going to tell the average Joe or Jane not to use it. I can see their conversations going like this:

    Joe/Jane: Whats this about ubuntu?
    Hardcore linux user: It sucks. Its got an unusable interface that changes every 6 months so you will have to relearn it every time you upgrade every 6 months. On top of that the security is lacking because they left the telnet port open and vulnerabilities in the system that are 2 years old. Did I mention I have to compile all my own apps and kernel just to get the generic driver support? Yeah I have to do all that. Also it won't just boot up on your PC because the good linux folks don't want you to have a secure system. Instead you will have to use a lot of workarounds to get it to boot up. You would be better off sticking with your Microsoft Windows since it has minimal hassles, a clean interface, supports your current apps, and supports your hardware.
    Joe/Jane: Thanks, I knew it was just a bunch of hype surrounding linux.

    "However, Unity is not a user-experience failure like Windows 8's Metro."
    A failure that keeps growing in usage... interesting what you call failure.
    • Nobody cares what you think . . .

      . . . because even Windows enthusiasts know you're an idiot.
      • Insults

        When you know I'm right you can't say anything more than insults. Pretty cool.
        • Nothing but Loverock FUD!

          Comments like yours really don't help your cause.
          No one takes you seriously.

          You will always be known as the ZDNET class clown.
        • Liar. You know that the telnet issue is more than a decade out of date.

          You know that the everyday user of linux systems doesn't have to compile a damn thing. You know that by turning off the pointless UEFI, linux installs easily and in 1/10th the time of Windows. You therefore knowingly made statements that are not true. You are a liar. That is a statement of fact, not really an insult. Did you use some of your MS shill money to take your Mom out to dinner and pay her the rent you owe for her basement apartment yet?
          • You're right about UEFI...

            It turns off easily. And yet SJVN spent weeks whining about it.
          • He needs another Xbox.

            It's that damn "red ring of death."
            Arm A. Geddon
        • You might be right

          But come on you don't even think about your posts, they are always in the same direction.
          I suppose you are directly or indirectly sponsored by Microsoft - and I don't think there is anything wrong about that - but obviously your opinions must be taken with a grain of salt... and I do hope you are being sponsored by Microsoft, or your posts would be extremely awkward - in a scary way :-P
        • Actually, you are wrong.

          Especially about the user interface changing every 6 months.

          Which is actually more a windows trait than a linux trait.

          With Linux you get to CHOOSE what desktop you want.

          With Windows, MS chooses for you.