My Experience with Ubuntu Gutsy 7.10

Since the Ubuntu 7.10 Gutsy release date, I have upgraded my laptop and desktop as well as done several test installations. The Ubuntu team has made great improvements in some areas, but failed attempts in others. I will discuss several new features exposed such as desktop effects, graphical display configuration utility, restricted drivers, themes, and more.

Desktop Effects

I didn't come to Ubuntu to be wowed with eye candy, but I confess it is currently enabled on my computer...because it's really cool and far surpasses Vista's eye candy. I ran both Compiz and Beryl in previous versions of Ubuntu with little success. It crashed often and lagged the rest of the time due to poor driver support. Now, it runs good enough for me to have it enabled all the time. I have a GeForce FX 5200 w/ 128M video memory on an Athlon 3200+ computer. (More on video performance in the restricted drivers section.)

Restricted Drivers

If you've been using Ubuntu for a while, I'm sure you know all to well about restricted / closed source drivers. If you were looking for an easy way to get your restricted video driver installed easily, Envy or Automatix probably rings a bell. Thankfully, third party software is no longer needed to install restricted drivers. Although this utility was present in previous versions, more drivers and components are supported. I installed this on my laptop, and it showed restricted drivers for both my wireless adapter and modem. No more configuring ndiswrapper for me! :) Here is a screenshoot of how simple it is to get my nvidia card working. All I had to do was check the box.

Restricted Drivers

New nVidia Driver

Apparently, a new nVidia driver was included with this release: version 100.14.19. Desktop effects and general video performance has improved dramatically with this new driver. The black window bug was also supposedly resolved in this version although it does come back to haunt me every once in a while, but it's tolerable. I'm probably pushing it with my 128M card and need to get one with more memory.

Restricted Software

Before it was a nightmare to get restricted extras such as a flash plugin or codecs to work properly. In this version, I fired up Firefox and went to a flash site, and Firefox installed the flash plugin by itself! I was amazed!! On top of that, if you want codecs, DVD support, mp3 support, etc., all you need to do is install the one package that makes Automatix obsolete: ubuntu-restricted-extras. Install it on your computer using apt-get or find the package by using the Add/Remove application.

Add/Remove Dialog

Graphical Display Utility

Unfortunately, this one is a disappointment. It was hyped that the graphical utility was going to eliminate the need to hack the xorg.conf file, but the utility lacks the options it needs. When I installed Ubuntu 7.10 on my desktop (fresh install), using the graphical utility broke my desktop effects because it messed something up. The only way I was able to get it working was by restoring my old config file with the previous version. Oh well, I'm sure it will be made more powerful and usable in the next version. :)

Themes

This may be trivial, but I do not like the original Ubuntu theme. I don't like the brown/tan look, so I always switch it to a blue theme. It's not necessarially issue because it could be changed. I should note, however, that themes can turn new users away. When I was a Linux newbie, I preferred Fedora over Ubuntu because it has a better mouse busy cursor. (Fedora has that animated blue ball flying around the cursor, while Ubuntu has a cheap-looking Ajax whirly thing). Nothing against Fedora, but I learned to like Ubuntu better because the package manager is easier to use with dependencies and such, and I quickly found the Fedora cursor theme to install on my Ubuntu machine.

Conclusion

Although I will admit that Windows still has the edge in the desktop market in terms of user-friendliness, Ubuntu is catching up, and they already have me preferring Ubuntu over other OS's. I was excited to install this since the day it came out. I've also had a copy Windows Vista Business that I got through my University for $10. I have yet to install it. I'm only going to install it when my clients start using it and call me with their problems. :) Oops, I just made it a Win vs. Linux article.

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