First look: Ubuntu 9.04 stays the course

The new edition of the friendly Linux desktop OS is more maintenance release than upgrade

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This is typical of Ubuntu, which often sacrifices some configurability for the sake of ease-of-use. For example, while Ubuntu includes support for GUI bling by way of Compiz Fusion, some of the more talked-about effects -- including the famed "desktop cube" -- are disabled by default. To enable them, users have to install an unsupported software package that provides a new control panel.

Ubuntu 9.04 is guilty of worse sins, however. When I booted the installation CD, it cheerfully informed me that my computer had no operating systems installed on it and offered to partition the entire drive. In reality, the PC contained not just a previous version of Ubuntu, but Windows Vista and an abortive installation of Mac OS X as well. Lucky for me I know how to manage partitions by hand.

Slips and hitches
During installation, the system offered to migrate user information from the Windows drive that it failed to detect earlier, but upon logging in, no data seemed to have been transferred. Firefox showed only the default bookmark entries and nothing from either Internet Explorer or the Windows installation of Firefox. On the positive side, Ubuntu recognized my NTFS partitions after boot and made them available for mounting without a hitch.

Typical of Linux, hardware support remains a mixed bag, and the Ubuntu team can't take all of the blame. Ubuntu's default open source video driver wouldn't recognize a TV as a second monitor out of the box, but installing Nvidia's own, proprietary driver was trivial. I was less successful with a networked printer, however. The Add Printer wizard spotted it right away but couldn't find an appropriate driver, and while the manufacturer does offer drivers for Linux, the installation packages were not compatible with the 64-bit version of Ubuntu. These kinds of hardware issues remain among the thorniest problems desktop Linux users face.

These gripes aside, the latest version of Ubuntu maintains its reputation for quality while offering incremental updates to a variety of software packages. Ubuntu 9.04 is not an LTS (long-term support) release, so customers who need an OS that will be maintained through 2011 should stick with last year's 8.04 ("Hardy Heron") edition. For those who just want a stable, polished desktop OS that's packed with the latest open source software, however, Ubuntu 9.04 is a worthwhile download.


Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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