Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Debunking Linux #2: A Tour of Ubuntu Linux

One of the most common things I hear about Linux is that "It doesn't do anything" or "To do anything you are required to type a bunch of commands in the terminal". This spawns likely from 2 things:

1) From the infancy of the GUI in the mid-late '90s. But what was it pitted against? Windows 95 and Windows 98 in the Windows camp, and System 7 and System 8 on the Mac side of things (if you want to even consider a Mac side existed in that period before Microsoft bailed out Apple). The Linux GUI at the time consisted of windowing toolkits left over from Unix which was heavily console based. Gnome hadn't reached version 1 yet and KDE was not even a sparkle in someones eye. Would you still compare the latest OS X to Windows 95? Hell, I would even argue that the Windows 95 GUI was more functional then than the OS X of today! But that's may be a topic for another time. So why do people still compare the '70s Unix desktop to the Linux desktop of the 2010s? Because, either they haven't bothered to take a look at a recent release or have never bothered to look personally at any release and are just repeating the F.U.D they read online.

2) Because a lot of online documentation and tutorials reference how to do things via a terminal. There is nothing wrong with this, the terminal is easily accessed and very powerful. Often times it is much quicker to type a command (or copy and paste if you are following a guide), than it is to interact with a GUI. And it is definitely a lot easier to walk someone through a one line command than to try to explain to them every single mouse movement, button press and keystroke in a GUI and having to use outlined screenshots and videos to convey your information.

Ubuntu Linux 10.04 LTS (Lucid Lynx) was just released on April 29. It is a modern Linux distribution and features the latest Gnome Desktop for its user interface. They both follow a strict 6 month release cycle between releases and almost daily updates between releases. This ensures your computer is always up to date with the latest bug fixes, security enhancements and new features available. No more waiting 6 years between OS releases only to get a new theme and new hardware incompatibilities. This release adds two new themes (with a high resemblance to OS X), faster boot up and shutdown speeds, social networking integration, better desktop integration with Ubuntu One giving you 2GB of free cloud storage, a new Music Store and a lot more.

In the last Debunking Linux we looked at how fast and easy it is to install Ubuntu. Today we will look at what you get by default when you install it. The following video contains only software installed by default. The only setup done prior is installing video drivers, setting up email, chat and broadcast accounts and setting location. All of this is done easily using the menus on the top right of the screen. Also MP3 support was installed which you are prompted to install the first time you open Rhythmbox or access the Ubuntu One Music Store. Warning, the video moves very fast but it is the best I could do trying to cram so many features into the 10 minute constraints of YouTube.

Here is a list of what we just saw:

1) Installing software through the Ubuntu Software Center
2) Installing updates to all of your software through the Update Manager
3) Check and compose Email, Manage your to-do list and calendar and Send out meeting invitations with Evolution
6) Integration to chat and broadcast accounts with all your favorite social sites
7) Communicating with friends in chat and Facebook/Twitter with Empathy and Gwibber
8) Watch a DVD with Totem
9) Import music from CD, Copy music to and from an iPod, Listen to social radio, and browse the Ubuntu One Music Store from Rhythmbox
10) Import, Manage, Edit and Export photos with F-Spot
11 Open Word documents, Powerpoint presentations and Excel spreadsheets with OpenOffice.org and PDF's with Evine
12) Tabbed file browsing, two-pane browsing and connecting to network shared folders with Nautilus
13) Watch YouTube with Firefox and Totem
14) Manage your windows and organize your desktop with virtual desktops
15) Customize your themes and appearance

That is a lot of functionality there, right out of the box, without ever having to visit the terminal to enter a command. There is so much more that I didn't have time to include such as:

1) Creating slideshows and dvd's
2) Creating home movies and uploading them to YouTube or Facebook
3) Synchronizing your files, contacts, bookmarks, notes and music between your computers using Ubuntu One cloud storage
4) Connecting remotely to Windows, Mac or Linux computer with RDP or desktop sharing
5) Central account management and secure storage of keys and passwords
6) Advanced desktop management and desktop effects
7) Using Linux to clean or restore your broken or virus infected Windows OS

And this just barely scratches the surface of what is possible when you install additional software and customize your desktop. We will visit some of these features in more depth in following Debunkings and How-To's.

So what do you think? Is Linux a viable desktop alternative? Are tasks easy to accomplish without resorting to the terminal? Does the desktop environment look and act as you would expect a modern computer to? Are there other features you would like me to cover in the future? Use the comment button below to communicate with me.


  1. IMO, the problem isn't the GUI.

    I was a systems admin for many years. I am expert with Windows OS and am very comfortable with OS X and Linux. However, when I tried to use Ubuntu as my desktop, when I was running a business, it constantly gave me headaches. I couldn't find the software I needed to do my job half the time and when I did it was difficult to get working correctly and still suffered from the same dependency hell it has for years.

    After 6 weeks I threw my hands up in frustration. I had a major proposal to write and Ubuntu was the primary obstacle in getting it done.

    I sincerely hope the Linux community can come up with a distro that makes using the Linux OS easy and eliminates the headaches that have been so common with the platform. As a Flex developer I would have to forgo the use of a decent IDE and write my code without code insight and manually compile. These are unecessary steps and why I am still on a non-Linux platform for daily desktop use.

    So, while some people are ok with tinkering and fiddling to get something to work right for them, the majority of us just need it to work. This is why Windows and OS X are popular OSes and Linux still lags significantly behind the pack, not because it doesn't have a GUI or isn't a good OS.

  2. Linux is an infrastructure of language code that interfaces with the hardware of your computer system. It recognizes your hardware and makes it available to your software programs so that the software runs smoothly on your computer.