For the past few years, we’ve been hearing about the year of the Linux desktop. In other words, a workable graphical-interface Linux, matured sufficiently that it can be comfortably installed and used on a computer by a new user, with no knowledge or interest in command-line operation.
Ubuntu, the most familiar of Linux distributions, is coming closer with its latest operating system, Lucid Lynx – or 10.04 LTS (Long Term Support). With a new desktop theme, some minimal tidying here and some interface tweaks there, it’s easily the best version yet.
Ubuntu 10.04 LTS Lucid Lynx is now drawing closer to the layout of Apple Mac OS X. Close/minimise/maximise buttons are now in the top left corner of windows, although this can be switched for inveterate Windows users.
A primary challenge for any OS is to work with all the hardware in a computer. Introducing the Ubuntu install CD to most PCs shouldn’t present any show-stopping problems – unless your desktop is actually a laptop, as we discovered.
A notebook requires a lot more attention to get Lucid Lynx working fully. Problems can arise with many drivers: touchpad, keyboard, WiFi, Bluetooth, ethernet, webcam, microphone, speakers, for instance. And then there’s stability when coming out of sleep. These are, and remain, the biggest hurdles to getting Ubuntu, the most friendly of distros, working on your laptop.
Should you overcome the slings and arrows of installational misfortune, the effort may be rewarded with an attractive, stable and powerful OS. Initial installation of Ubuntu 10.04 LTS Lucid Lynx is very straightforward, with partitioning of an existing Windows setup carried out seamlessly.
The software bundled with Ubuntu 10.04 LTS Lucid Lynx is much the same as the past few versions – Firefox, OpenOffice, Rhythmbox (think iTunes), and F-Spot (for digital cameras) – so you needn’t scour around for the essentials. GIMP (Photoshop-like image editor, but without CMYK support) is not in by default any more but easily added.
When you do need to install something else, a new Ubuntu Software Centre offers a cheerful interface, for a large repository of free apps.
Ubuntu Software Centre: a cheerful interface with a large repository of free apps
Where Ubuntu Lucid Lynx stands out from earlier versions – and just about any other OS – is its built-in tools for social media such as Twitter and Facebook. For many a user, this will be entirely superfluous; but Canonical, the commercial company behind Ubuntu Lucid Lynx, sees this as a way to attract a new generation.
Gwibber is the hub for social aggregation, and lists Flickr, StatusNet, Qaiku, Facebook, FriendsFeed, Digg and Identi.ca as networks with which it can socialise. We tried adding our Facebook account to Gwibber but were left scratching our head with what we could afterwards.
NEXT: installing Lucid Lynx - try, try again >>
We tried Ubuntu 10.04 LTS Lucid Lynx 32-bit Desktop Edition on a Samsung N110 netbook. Out of the box, Lucid supported the Intel graphics and wireless card. The audio system worked fine, and webcam too, so Skype was not a problem once we’d installed the app from a debian package found on Skype’s site.
But problems existed with the keyboard, and waking from sleep. While the Fn-left/right keys supported volume adjustment (with a pretty translucent overlay), screen brightness controls on Fn-up/down did not work. Worse, after the netbook woke from sleep, the screen would dim to the point of unreadability, with no chance to correct short of a reboot.
Time spent on forums discussing Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx showed others with these problems, but no fix worked for us. So we turned our attention to a Samsung N510 Ion-platform netbook.
Impressively, its integrated nVidia 9400M graphics processor was supported, allowing smooth screen animations, including the compelling Compiz effects unavailable beyond Linux. But first we had to get internet connectivity; we were initially defeated by the lack of support for the popular Realtek 802.11 card.
With more forum help, we got this working by downloading the required firmware that was left out of the final OS software build; although it would sometimes fail to connect after waking from sleep. Or even after rebooting. And this Samsung had the same perplexing problem with keyboard controls and brightness adjustments.
To be fair, hardware support of every available computer must be challenging. But we were surprised that Canonical hadn’t worked harder on Ubuntu 10.04 LTS Lucid Lynx to support laptops from a popular top-tier manufacturer.
We finally gave up on the Samsung after failing to get a DVD film to play with either Movie Player or VLC.
Ubuntu Rhythmbox: like iTunes, only not
Our third attempt with a Packard Bell EasyNote TJ74 was mixed too. Here, wireless and graphics worked, even keyboard controls of volume and brightness. But the internal mic was not found, ruling out any Skype chatting.
DVD playback was possible through VLC, but only after libdvdcss had been installed using apt-get through the command line. And the F-Spot photo app bizarrely refused to launch at all.
On the one hand, maybe it's really expecting too much, to get a system that all works out of the box, for free. If it doesn't work, you've lost 'only' your free time.
Or as Canonical's marketing manager candidly told us when we mentioned some issues getting the free Ubuntu OS to work properly on our laptops: caveat emptor.
Canonical has added cloud computing support to Ubuntu 10.04 LTS Lucid Lynx, with its own Ubuntu One services.
It’s free to enroll and receive up to 2GB of online storage, useful for synchronising files between computers. We tried syncing a folder between two machines, which worked but took a few hours to appear.
You can buy MP3 music through Rhythmbox, using an Ubuntu-branded version of 7Digital’s shop. Choice is smaller than iTunes, and quality and pricing less consistent; many songs are at the same 79p/track price but at lower 192kb/s MP3 quality.
Purchased tracks are downloaded to Rhythmbox and automatically synced to your other Lucid computers’ music libraries. Rhythmbox has limited compatibility with the iPod. It played its loaded files but with some distortion and we couldn’t transfer our purchased music to it.
The free 2GB storage is enough for a few music files and backing up some photos and your contacts book. But if you really want to take advantage of Ubuntu’s cloud, you’ll need to pay dues to Canonical – arguably a gentler way to repay the favour of getting a (somewhat incomplete) operating system for free.
It costs around £80 a year ($10/month) for the 50GB storage provided, and is still in beta. We liked the way you could synchronise folders between computers, but otherwise its facilities don’t come close to rivalling Apple’s MobileMe cloud services just yet.
NEXT: our expert verdict >>
Ubuntu 10.04 LTS Lucid Lynx: Specs
- 64MB RAM
- 5GB hard disk space
- 64MB RAM
- 5GB hard disk space
Ubuntu is more workable than ever with an attractive new look, less grimy looking than the all-brown of yore. But Ubuntu 10.04 LTS Lucid Lynx is still not everyman’s OS, as problems will inevitably arise that require tech support from a Linux-speaking friend, or your time spent scouring forums. If you have the patience and time to work through issues, there’s the potential to enjoy a secure and versatile operating system. If you want a safe and reliable computer that just works, there are solutions available but Lucid Lynx isn’t quite one of them yet.