Ubuntu 10.04 LTS Lucid Lynx is the latest Linux operating system from Canonical, aimed at consumers. It's free, but is it sufficiently consumer friendly that you should switch from Windows?

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 Lucid Lynx

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 >>

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