Ubuntu 13.04 Review: Linux for the average Joe or Jane

Hard core Linux fans won't care for it, but for the average user the new Ubuntu desktop Linux has a lot to offer.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

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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