Thursday, November 20, 2008

Ubuntu 8.10: The Verdict

I've been using the latest version of Ubuntu, codename Intrepid Ibex, for a couple of weeks now. Given this, I think I can give a fair verdict on it.

The verdict is: meh.

There's not really much that's actively wrong with Intrepid. I've noticed a general decrease in system responsiveness and reliability compared to Hardy Heron (the last release), but frankly that's like saying Kilimanjaro is unacceptably small compared to Everest. It's still damn good by comparison with e.g. every instance of Windows I've used in the last few months. I have high hopes of penguinising my dad in the near future, as his loathing for his company Vista laptop increases.

The only other issue was the grace notes (quite ironic). Intrepid has a bunch of cute little features (see below) which, unfortunately, weren't actually installed when I upgraded my system. I've since hunted them down and installed them, but this definitely abbreviated the honeymoon period.

The big disappointment for me is probably OpenOffice 3.0. As far as I can tell, there is no way in which it is substantially cooler than 2.0, and the list of "great new features" is going to make any MS Office user roll their eyes and yawn theatrically. Considering what projects like Firefox and KDE have achieved in the same time, this is starting to get a bit silly. The longer this goes on, the more chance that Novell will be successful in forking the codebase and filling it full of Microsoft encrustations*.

So what do we get out of this release? Well, whilst there's nothing here to really make you go "wow", there are a number of little exploratory tweaks that could easily snowball into major developments. For example, each user now has an encrypted section in their home folder. Throw in the GnuPG plugin for Thunderbird and it looks like Ubuntu is rapidly becoming the first OS to have user-friendly crypto built in.

Another window on the future is Ubuntu's collaboration with the BBC to provide well-integrated access to media. Basically a huge chunk of content has just become available as a glorified playlist, via the Totem player. No need to piddle around on websites, just click through the list. I'm currently listening to the Digital Planet podcast.

Finally, a fair bit of love has been bestowed on Nautilus, the file browser. It has Firefox-like tabbed file browsing and a rather impressively effective previewing system. Very cute.

In general, this version took two steps forward and one step back. If you're on Hardy, I wouldn't particularly recommend you upgrade. That said, I'm glad it's out. Its showcase of features has enough neat ideas to keep the community busy for a long time.

* This may be an unfair accusation against Novell. However, their deals with Microsoft have scared the crap out of most penguinistas - we're worried they'll go kamikaze on us like SCO did a few years back. They would get caned if they tried, but Linux needs that sort of problem like it needs a hole in the head. Given this, everything that Novell touch (especially stuff like Mono and Moonlight that they touch with Microsoft's help**) tends to be interpreted as an early chess move in the game leading up to lawsuit. This may or may not be paranoia.

** It's definitely not paranoid to be worried about Microsoft. It used to be that they'd just try to squish open source. These days they seem to have graduated to trying to corrupt it - embrace, extend and extinguish. Microsoft is the living expression of why the open source movement needs the free software movement - open source's pragmatism doesn't handle attacks of this kind very well.

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