Windows is maintaining its monopoly in desktop computer operating systems by a country mile, with Mac OS X some way behind in marketshare. But there is a third way that gets closer to domestic reality every year.
That way is Linux, and in particular Ubuntu Linux. This season’s release – version 10.10 and codenamed Maverick Meerkat – is undoubtedly the finest iteration we’ve used to date.
Fair enough, any OS refresh is supposed to raise the game each time in performance or usability. Yet we sense a very real transition occurred with Ubuntu Linux Maverick Meerkat. Its added polish in crucial areas is making it an eminently attractive proposition as the operating system for your desktop or notebook PC.
Far removed from the techy interface of yore, Ubuntu Linux Maverick Meerkat is the Linux for all the family.
Maverick Meerkat: Lucid beginnings
At first glance, Ubuntu Linux Maverick Meerkat looks very similar to the major update we saw in spring this year, Lucid Lynx 10.04. That revision saw the end of the muddy brown theme that, while perhaps in keeping with the system’s African-philosophy allusions, was not especially enticing to some people.
Linux may boast endless customisation possibilities, particularly of its graphical interface, but Ubuntu is aimed squarely at users who want a more pret à porter experience.
Changing your desktop wallpaper is just the first stage to endless personalisation options in Ubuntu Linux Maverick Meerkat
So now upon startup of Ubuntu Linux Maverick Meerkat, we’re presented with a more regal purple desktop and orange folder icons and details, alongside charcoal-grey top menu bar and drop down menus. But before we see any of that, we must first install the OS — or at least boot from a live CD.
Like most Linux systems, Ubuntu is free to download and install. The principal version available from the company’s website is Ubuntu Desktop Edition 10.10 32-bit, which is a 693MB download. This can either be burned to a 700MB CD-R or copied to a USB memory stick. Ubuntu provides straightforward instructions for this operation using your existing Windows, Mac or Linux computer.
A 64-bit version of Ubuntu Linux Maverick Meerkat is also available, plus the latest netbook-optimised version. Previously dubbed Ubuntu Netbook Remix, the new Ubuntu Netbook Edition and its novel Unity interface will be the subject of a separate review at PC Advisor.
We’d advise first simply booting from the live OS, if only to get an idea of how well the hardware of your PC is supported out of the box. This is especially pertinent with laptops since they carry many more items of hardware with which to interface than a desktop PC.
The usual grumble points for Linux in the past have been graphics drivers, WiFi wireless adaptor support, and then various peripherals such as Bluetooth, trackpad, and keyboard control of screen brightness and speaker volume.
We didn’t get off to such a great start though, when we tried Ubuntu Linux Maverick Meerkat on our first testbeds, namely three Samsung laptops and netbooks.
Maverick Meerkat: A tale of three laptops
A Samsung R510, which has been running Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty Jackalope with some success, had issues with its keyboard brightness controls, locking up the interface and requiring a hard reboot to restore control. However, everything else was supported, even its microphone which had failed to connect with the older OS.
A Samsung N510 proved to be beyond easy setup, due to an unsupported Realtek wireless card. This could be remedied with a custom compiling of driver from source code, although this hardcore fix also carries the risk of breaking with any future OS update.
And a Samsung N110 netbook initially had problems with its keyboard brightness/volume controls, although that smaller gripe was resolved after a BIOS update from Samsung.
But it was the remainder of our tests that restored faith in the fitness of Ubuntu Linux Maverick Meerkat for primetime use.
Notebooks we tried from Packard Bell and Sony all functioned splendidly. In the case of the latter Sony VAIO notebook, its internal 3G HSDPA modem was immediately recognised and the machine was online with a Three SIM after just a few clicks and no further configuration. That particular out-the-box 3G network support is unheard of in either Windows or the Mac OS.
A Parallels virtual machine ran well once Parallels Desktop for Mac 6 had been patched to support Meerkat. The latter still had minor graphics issues, but those seem to be from Parallels Tools' incomplete support.
Even battery level meters, another occasional stumbling point, were found to be working well on each notebook.
‘If you have to look at the command-line interface [when running Ubuntu], it’s a bug as far as we’re concerned’, Steve George, Ubuntu’s Vice President for Business Development told PC Advisor. And judged by that metric, we found installation of Ubuntu on all manner of PCs a resounding success.
There should be no need to use the command-line Terminal just to set up Ubuntu Linux Maverick Meerkat - but it's easily accessible if you should wish to tinker
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