09 November 2009

First Impressions Of Ubuntu 9.10

Lately you might have noticed that I haven't made a post for quite some time. The reason for the delay is because of some mysterious display problems with the previous version of Ubuntu (8.04 LTS) that I used. Eventually the problems reached a point where the OS had to be reinstalled, and it was a great opportunity to make a clean install of Ubuntu 9.10. After all with the glowing reviews of the OS hitting the web I thought that it would be reasonably smooth sailing with getting the current version of Ubuntu installed.


Display Woes

Smooth sailing wasn't to be the case with the live CD failing to display anything at all. In order to get something displayed the resolution was changed through the use of two keyboard shortcuts (Ctrl+Alt++, Ctrl+Alt+-). Normally most people (non technical) would give up at this point so Ubuntu was not making a good impression so far. At that point the installer could then be started.

Luckily the install went very smoothly and after a reboot everything seemed to be going fine until.... more problems occurred. Once EnvyNG (video driver management for ATI and NVidia video cards) was installed I had tried to run it but to no avail. It turns out that one has to install the envyng-qt package since envyng-gtk is broken. After a reboot the display was showing the CLI login prompt which was flickering for some strange reason.

When I tried entering in the username no characters were being displayed at all. This happened to be one of the most irritating parts of installing and setting up Ubuntu since many people (who have an ATI or NVidia video card) were having the exact same issue, and it took a long time to resolve (a matter of hours). Even worse was the fact that the Nvidia driver package is currently broken thus there is no GUI login being displayed.

Once the NVidia drivers were installed using the version supplied on the official NVidia website some progress was finally being made. Not all the display issues had been resolved yet since not all of the resolutions were being picked up properly. This part took the longest amount of time to resolve through trial and error with editing /etc/X11/xorg.conf. In my case I had eventually reached the point where I had to put up with the resolutions that the NVidia driver had picked up. Luckily after commenting out the "HorizSync" and "VertRefresh" lines in the monitor section, and logging in again all of the resolutions were then picked up properly.


What Is New And Different
  • Many packages in the Ubuntu repositories have been updated including NetBeans, and the Sun JRE (Java runtime)
  • Firefox is now at version 3.5.4
  • Open Office is now at version 3.1.1
  • Gnome is now at version 2.28.1
  • Vastly improved general performance (start up times are so quick that they rival the Hibernate mode)
  • The new Palimpsest Disk Utility 2.28.0 has been included, more details to follow
  • Introduction of the new Ubuntu One service, more details to follow
  • Default option to use the new ext4 file system when partitioning
  • Linux kernel is now at version 2.6.31-14

What is most notable about the current Ubuntu release is the introduction of the brand new Ubuntu One service. Ubuntu One allows contacts, notes, and files (2GB free storage) to be synchronised with one or more Ubuntu (9.10 or later) PCs. Initially when I logged into the service (via Firefox) a message was displayed saying there was a version mismatch with the server. An OS update quickly resolved the problem with updating the Ubuntu One desktop client to handle the current server.

I would advise anyone who is using Ubuntu One on Ubuntu to use Nautilus (file browser) when uploading a batch of files, since the web client is slow and produces errors every time a file is uploaded. With the desktop client you can add directories and files to the Ubuntu One directory. For example with the joe user this is located in "/home/joe/Ubuntu One". Every time you add or remove a directory and/or file the client automatically synchronises the changes whenever your computer is connected with the service.


Another notable change in Ubuntu is the new Palimpsest Disk Utility. Palimpest manages disk partitions, and provides very handy diagnostic information on partitions and all storage devices. It is absolutely amazing what you can find out using this handy utility. For example one can find out about the current airflow temperature for a particular storage device, and can see what the normal temperature is supposed to be. Also Palimpest automatically notifies the OS if there are any major problems, and can perform some tests on the user's behalf for a particular storage device.


One other major change is the brand new refreshing Ubuntu look. This look reminds me of the JavaFX look, classy, legible, and visually appealing which doesn't take up too much screen real estate (netbook friendly).


Lastly Ubuntu's Add Software has been replaced with the new Ubuntu Software Center. When using the software center you can no longer install/uninstall a group of software at once, and more details are provided for each piece of software (including a screenshot, package name and version etc). Installation and uninstallation of software is now handled in the same window used to browse software, and one can swap between "Get Free Software" and "Installed Software" tabs with navigation being remembered with "Get Free Software".


Current Issues


Sound performance in my case is much worse than in Ubuntu 8.04. There is a very noticeable sound lag (consistent) which wasn't present before. Hopefully this will be resolved in the next batch of OS updates. Wireless networking is now a bit of hit or miss. It used to be in Ubuntu 8.04 that if the IP address was not picked up through DHCP the first time, then the second attempt would always pick up an address. However with Ubuntu 9.10 I usually have to restart the wireless router in order for an IP address to be obtained properly. Again the next batch of OS updates should resolve this.


Conclusion

For people who have an ATI or NVidia video card in their machine, and are currently thinking of installing Ubuntu 9.10 are advised to hold off until Ubuntu 10.04 LTS arrives. The reason for this is because 10.04 is a long term support release which is supposed to be much more robust for hardware support, and OS stability. If your machine contains an Intel video card then 9.10 is for you since many improvements have been made with supporting Intel video cards out of the box.

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