Ubuntu as slick as Win7, Mac OS X

Ubuntu as slick as Win7, Mac OS X

Summary: There's no doubt that Ubuntu is a worthy rival to Windows 7 and even hands Mac OS X a cold dish of nasty in its stellar 9.04 release. Hats off to Mark Shuttleworth and his team: you got game.


commentary Here's what the official press release won't tell you about Ubuntu 9.04, which formally hit the streets overnight: its designers have polished the hell out of its user interface since the last release in October.

News editor Renai LeMay (Credit: Alexandra Savvides/CBSi)

So much so, in fact, that I am starting to prefer using my Ubuntu "Jaunty Jackalope" desktop over the similarly slick Windows 7 beta (which I am currently running full-time on one desktop) and Mac OS X Leopard operating systems, which I also use regularly.

I left Windows Vista, XP and even Debian lying bruised and battered by the roadside some time ago.

Just like Microsoft has taken the blowtorch to Vista to produce the lightning-
quick Windows 7 ... Ubuntu has picked up its own game

You won't be able to notice the vast improvement in Ubuntu's desktop experience over the past six months by browsing screenshot galleries of 9.04 or looking at new feature lists. What I'm talking about is that elusive slick and speedy feel you get from applications launching fast, windows moving around without jerkiness and everything simply being where it should be in the user interface.

Launching and using Firefox on Ubuntu 8.10 on my 2GHz Core 2 Duo-based machine with 2GB of RAM, a 7200rpm hard disk and an Nvidia GeForce 8800GTS always seemed to feel like I was going back a few years to a time when web browsers were not considered something you always had open to service web applications like Gmail and Bloglines.

It was the same with Windows Vista.

Now, just like Microsoft has taken the blowtorch to Vista to produce the lightning-quick Windows 7, which so far runs well even on older hardware, Ubuntu has picked up its own game.

I particularly noticed the Ubuntu difference when I put the operating system to the test by simultaneously launching and using multiple applications, listening to music and more while using my spare CPU cycles in the background to encode high-definition video with Mencoder. Ubuntu still felt very fast ... even with traditionally sluggy pieces of software like OpenOffice.org.

It's not just the speed changes, however, that has got me excited about Ubuntu 9.04. It's also the subtle additions to the interface; the logical move of shut down and reboot options to the far right of the menu; the slick new notifications system; the seamless (finally!) integration of the Nvidia accelerated drivers and the cleaned-up options and package install systems.

Want Adobe Flash or other proprietary software like multimedia codecs on Ubuntu? Just search for them in the one location, under their own names. No downloading anything from any websites. No package management or dependencies. No apt-get. Point and click.

I'm not a Linux novice (in fact, I'm a former Linux and FreeBSD systems administrator), and I've been using Linux on the desktop since the late 1990s. I usually run a combination of Ubuntu and Windows on my PC, and the latest Mac OS X on my laptop.

So I'm in a position to notice step changes in user interface behaviour like the one that Ubuntu has brought to the table with 9.04. In short, Ubuntu is now as slick and beautiful as Mac OS X or Windows 7.

As we've noted in earlier articles, Microsoft has also brought its best to the table with Windows 7. However, it's a pity Apple didn't seem to do so with Leopard ... like some reviewers, I felt Steve Job's latest operating system opus added a lot of new features, but also some unfortunate erratic behaviour that muddied Mac OS X's position as a user interface leader.

Ubuntu is now as slick and beautiful as Mac OS X or Windows 7

As MacWorld has noted, the new Stacks feature in Leopard's Dock is a "mess" and replaced the formerly utilitarian approach to keeping folders in the Dock with a "snazzy but generally less useful pop-up window".

The new "Spaces" feature in Leopard is nothing new; it provides multiple virtual desktop workspaces which Unix has had for decades; but I found Apple's implementation erratic.

Then too, there was the speed price some users paid in Leopard for all the upgrade, although that could just be the older hardware penalty. On my 1.5GHz G4 laptop with 1280MB of RAM, Leopard runs sluggishly, whereas Tiger runs like a dream. As I don't use any of the new features, the upgrade seemed worthless.

When you consider Microsoft's remarkable rebirth with Windows 7 and the fact that Ubuntu is free, open source and runs on anything, you would have to wonder what sort of rabbit Steve Jobs will have to pull out of his hat with Snow Leopard to keep growing Mac OS X's share. Sure, there are some apps missing on Linux (say, Photoshop). But the same can be said of Mac OS X in certain areas, and VMware and CrossOver solve a lot of problems.

Looking back to the genesis of Ubuntu 9.04 six months ago, I suspect that its subtle but powerful changes are due to the new user interface team that Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth said at the time he would put in place. If so, that team has already earned its pay cheques and even more, and we're looking forward to seeing what another six months of development will produce.

In the meantime, kudos to Ubuntu 9.04: you got game.

Topics: Windows, Linux, Open Source

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  • Ubuntu was always great

    The problem wasn't the slickness of the UI, the problem is device support. Everything's fine if you purchase stuff that is already supported. As soon as you go outside the box, it's painful. Too painful for "normal users". Maybe they improved that, lets see.
  • what?

    > ...Leopard runs sluggishly, whereas Tiger runs like a dream.
    Only a muppet could make that conclusion.

    > As I don't use any of the new features, the upgrade seemed worthless.
    So you've never used Quick Look or Time Machine or a single item from here then [1]. But I bet you use spotlight--it's ten times faster in Leopard. Vast performance increases are a feature (ie. win7).

    Drivel. I should know better than to feed the zdnet trolls. Well "sys admins" tend to disparage Mac OS X because it makes them more redundant (eg. Leopard Server).

    [1] http://www.apple.com/macosx/features/300.html
  • What?

    What's up with this guy?
  • Apples with apples please

    "As we've noted in earlier articles, Microsoft has also brought its best to the table with Windows 7. However, it's a pity Apple didn't seem to do so with Leopard ..."

    Windows 7 should NOT be compared against Leopard! Snow Leopard will be released BEFORE Windows 7.

    Like MS with Windows 7, Apple is taking the blowtorch to Leopard to produce what should be a lightning-quick Snow Leopard. And judging from my Vista vs Leopard experiences I think I know where I'll be heading...
  • Try some real journalism

    Ok, first, the article you quote from MacWorld is from October of 2007, and it was reviewing Leopard before any of the .1 through .6 upgrades, one of which (I believe it was the first one released) changed Stacks' behavior so that folders in your dock can use the much derided pop up window or a hierarchical pop up menu that allows access to all folders and files within the docked folder. Granted, the way Apple shipped it originally left something to be desired, but apparently from your article so did Ubuntu until this recent update. If I trashed the UI of previous versions of Ubuntu, I'm sure I would be called out, and rightly so, for not using or being aware of the latest version. You do know about software updates, right?

    You say you found Apple's implementation of Spaces "erratic" without even one example of what you mean. Personally, I use Spaces continuously, and have no issues. I'd be interested to hear what your problems with it are, but apparently you think we should just take you at your word, and decide for ourselves what you mean by "erratic."

    Then you say that Leopard is sluggish compared to Tiger...on a single core 1.5Ghz G4 processor that Apple hasn't shipped since sometime in 2005 or so, and that Apple themselves had acknowledged was getting long in the tooth even then. You do mention that maybe it's just the "older hardware penalty." Don't you think this bears some investigation (since you are, in theory, a journalist) before you include it in an article? What do you expect from technology that's several generations old at this point? A PC laptop from the same era probably won't run Windows 7 very well either. Some can't even run Vista. For what it's worth, my old Powermac G4 (dual 1.25 Ghz, 1 GB RAM) performs noticeably better with Leopard than it did with Tiger, but if it didn't I wouldn't complain about it in an article comparing operating systems or imply, as you do despite your "older hardware" comment, that somehow the latest OS should run as fast or faster than the previous one on nearly obsolete hardware. Maybe this is a comment on Linux's ability to run well on older hardware, but if so you didn't explain yourself very well (or at all really). All this is the more ridiculous considering that a substantial majority of Mac users are running Intel chips on which Leopard runs just fine, thank you very much.

    I don't use Linux and I haven't used Windows 7 yet, so I can't comment on your coverage of those, but overall your journalistic abilities, or maybe it's journalistic integrity, are sadly lacking. Of course, maybe you've got a really bad editor (Oh wait, you ARE an editor!), which could explain some of it, but any way you look at it, this article is poorly researched, considered, and written. I understand that your article is a commentary, but that doesn't excuse sloppy research, poor testing, or unexplained allegations.
  • Fanboy

    Yea, he is probably an apple fan boy
  • Whats Wrong With Older Hardware?

    Why does everyone keep telling us that a perfectly servicable computer is useless for a new OS? What's wrong with this picture? Since when should we expect the OS to take all of the CPU cycles and RAM? Can't we leave the crunching to programs that run on top of the OS?
  • Installed yesterday

    I have an old Dell 700m - its a small form factor intel centrino laptop with onbard video and 1GB of ram. Licking my lips I installed the windows 7 beta, only to find it extremely slow, crashed everytime I attempted a driver install for video, wireless or sound.
    Yesterday, the Ubuntu 9 install, approx 20 mins, drivers all installed and a billion different software packages downloaded and installed with a point and a click. Interface is nice, speed on the old laptop is pretty good. Ubuntu is without a doubt my favorite distro, I think this time: it's here to stay.
  • Question?

    Probably not the right place to ask this but forgive me! I am curious.
    I have an ancient Compaq 1920 Laptop (about 10 years old) running Win98 2nd Edition. I don't use it any more but wondered if I could wipe it and install this new beaut Linux to play with and see what it's all about. Problem with proprietary laptops and pc's they need the Compaq drivers I suspect. If any one wants to advise me off list, ozguy at graffiti dot com
  • Re Question

    Sorry email is ozguy at graffiti dot net
  • Why does this article need a giant picture of the author?

    Vein much?
  • Why so rude?

    Why the need to be so rude with your comment.
  • Because the article is drivel!

    Sponge isn't actually being rude. He's being kind. His reply isn't emotive, it's quite factual. If you don't see that, try putting aside your own fixed ideas and reading what he wrote.

    Either Mr LeMay just can't be bothered to do any research, or thinks he knows all about it without needing to do any research or he is trolling for hits.

    And yes, I do realize that my comments are emotive and not factual.
  • Ubuntu on older PCs

    With any c10yo PC, just download the Ubuntu ISO from www.ubuntu.com and burn a CD then boot the older PC with that CD inserted (only problem is if you don't have any CD drive to boot from). Ubuntu recognises virtually all of the proprietary hardware and has in-built support for it... except WiFi devices because Broadcom (www.broadcom.com) refuses to make its microcode available for incorporation in drivers (though it does allow this for M$).
    I use a 10yo Toshiba Tecra laptop with only 384MB of RAM at a weekender, in case I don't bother taking my new laptop. While the 10yo PC is a bit slower to boot, once you're in Ubuntu and Firefox, all browsing is limited only by the satellite connection speed. And with Open Office also open, you still never get above 80% RAM usage! I strongly suggest installing Ubuntu on any hardware that is getting a bit old - it really gives it a second life!
  • Ubuntu 9.04 is great

    I installed it last night and am very impressed! Runs like lightning - very fast, even on my old laptop.
  • Unbuntu

    I have limited experience with Unbuntu but from what I have done with it I have enjoyed. I am going to install it on my old MAC g4 ti book that I have not used a while. We shall see how well Unbuntu runs on pretty much archaic technology.

    I have worked with Windows and Mac machines for nearly 15 years now to me it has always been well known that if you want the latest and greatest operating system to run will you should have a computer that had technology no more than about 1-2 years old.
  • Polished indeed

    I'm an old hand with Linux, having cut my teeth on Slackware back in the very early 90's, and I must say this version is the easiest to use so far. I even put it on my work computer ( a two year old HP laptop ) to try it out, and it's happy as a clam finding networked printers for me and making life as generally easy as possible.

    Now if I could just figure out how to get it to authenticate to our AD structure, quietly...
  • "Everybody Loves Renai LeMay"

    Yeah that photo reminds me of a sitcom "sports journalist"

    Who cares how rude your scone is, just give us an objective, thorough and well researched technology review.
  • Exasperation, not rudeness

    I don't feel I was rude and if the author took it that way I apologize. Exasperation with poor journalism is what I was trying to convey, and for what it's worth, I stand by my comments.
  • Linux, Shminux

    Try as I might, using Ubuntu 7, 8 and now 9, as well as several other flavors (mostly on VMWare), I just cannot bring myself to even remotely "like" Linux. If you never have to install anything but just use what come with it, it's fine. Makes a great Netbook. Other than that it's just too utilitarian for me. I guess I am shallow... maybe I like the style... but Linux, sorry, is just boring, ugly, and frequently infuriating. And that's with YEARS of trying to "like" it.