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
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
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
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
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.