Review: Ubuntu 5.10 “Breezy Badger”
I first came across Ubuntu when I reviewed version 5.04 (Hoary Hedgehog) earlier this year. I was pleased with its easy installation process, clean GNOME desktop, and great package management features. Now a new Ubuntu release is out, version 5.10 (Breezy Badger), and we’re going to take it for a spin to see if it holds up to the reputation for stability and ease of use that we’ve come to expect.
Ubuntu follows a six-month release cycle, with each new release being only slightly different than the previous. Which is great for users because this minimizes the potential for unpleasant surprises in new versions. Ubuntu 5.10 builds on the stability of 5.04, and packs in the latest Linux desktop software. This includes GNOME 2.12.1 (desktop), Firefox 1.0.7 (web browser), Evolution 2.4.0 (email client), GAIM 1.5.0 (instant messaging), OpenOffice.org 2.0 beta 1.9.129 (office suite), GIMP 2.2.8 (image manipulation), and X.org 6.8.2. Numerous improvements include better laptop suspend/resume support, a polished graphical bootup process, easier application installation, better multi-language support, and simpler dual-boot configuration.
Our Breezy Badger test drive begins with a clean installation from the single-CD installer disc. The target machine was a generic PC with an AMD Athlon processor and 1.5gb memory. Ubuntu’s text-based installation process consists of two stages. During the first stage, the user answers a series of simple questions to configure basic system settings like default language, keyboard layout, disk partitions, and timezone. The installation of base system packages follows, ending with installation of the GRUB boot loader.
The second stage begins after a system reboot. Users familiar with older versions of Ubuntu will notice the new graphical bootup. The second stage installs the remaining system packages. The entire installation process took approximately 47 minutes and required very little user intervention.
Usually when we think ‘Ubuntu’, we envision ‘desktop’ Linux. Ubuntu, however, is quite capable as a file/mail/web server too. An Ubuntu server can be installed with a minimal package set, taking up approximately 400mb on disk. You install Ubuntu as a server either by running the separate ‘ubuntu-server’ install CD, or by typing ‘server’ at the installer prompt, using the standard Ubuntu install CD.
Upon initial setup you may be surprised that no default network services are running, not even ssh. Fortunately, adding most standard packages is easy with ‘apt-get install’ as these are included on the CD. I was able to install Apache 2, PHP 5, Plone 2.1 and Zope 2.8 without problems.
On the Desktop
At first glance users may not see any glaring differences between Breezy Badger’s GNOME desktop and the previous Ubuntu release. However, a closer look reveals quite a few small changes sprinkled all over.
A new entry ‘Add Application’ has replaced the ‘Run Application’ entry in previous releases. ‘Add Application’, also known as GNOME App Install, gives you an easy way to install applications onto your Ubuntu system by presenting a list of available programs. Experienced users can launch the Synaptic package manager from within GNOME App Install via the ‘Advanced’ mode entry under the File menu. Where did the earlier ‘Run Application’ disappear to? You can still launch the ‘Run Application’ dialog using the ‘Alt-F2′ keyboard shortcut.
The entries under the GNOME Applications menu can now be modified, thanks to a simple menu editor utility, SMEG (Simple Menu Editor for GNOME). Although SMEG’s functionality is very basic, it was easy to add new entries, sub-menus, and manipulate existing entries. The ability to restore the default menu configuration would be a great addition — just in case we delete something by mistake. SMEG can be launched via the ‘Applications Menu Editor’ entry under the ‘Applications’->’System Tools’ menu.
The Nautilus file browser includes a number of usability improvements in this release. Navigating up and down a hierarchy of folders is much faster in ‘list view’, because you don’t need to launch another window to view the files inside a sub-folder. ‘Breadcrumb’ icons represent your current ‘location’ instead of just a text entry box. For example, if your location is ‘/var/spool/mail’ — there will be icons for ‘var’, ’spool’, and ‘mail’ — allowing quick access to those folders. Finally, a Nautilus sidepane that shows Places (default and bookmarked locations) is now available.
A peek into the GNOME System menu reveals the addition of three new entries under the ‘Administration’ menu. First, you can use the ‘Language Selector’ utility to configure a default language for your system, and also install additional language packs. Second, the ‘Services’ utility provides a simple graphical interface to activate basic system services (e.g., crond, ntpdate, cupsys) on your system. Finally, the ‘Shared Folders’ utility lets you configure folders that can be shared with other Windows or Linux systems on your network via NFS and Samba.
Breezy Badger is the first Ubuntu release that has been integrated with LaunchPad, Ubuntu’s online translation and bug tracking infrastructure. Entries in each application’s Help menu will give users an opportunity to translate the application into their native language or report a bug. Every so often all the translations would be exported to language packs, that would be updated periodically to reflect ongoing translation efforts.
Users who prefer KDE for their desktops will want to try out Kubuntu, an offshoot of Ubuntu with a package set geared for KDE. Kubuntu is available from kubuntu.org and can be installed two ways. Choosing the first way, you download the Kubuntu install CD ISO image and then run a default installation. The second way allows you to install the Kubuntu desktop package (kubuntu-desktop) on top of an existing Ubuntu 5.10 system, which gives you an hybrid environment with a mix of GNOME and KDE packages. Kubuntu, like its GNOME cousin, is also available as a ‘Live CD’.
Kubuntu’s default package set includes KDE 3.4.3, OpenOffice.org 2.0, KMail (email client), Kontact (personal information manager), Kopete (instant messaging), Konversation (IRC client), AmaroK (audio player), Kaffeine (video player), Krita (image manipulation), and Adept (package management). KOffice 1.4 is available, but not installed by default.
Edubuntu is a distribution focused towards teachers and their classrooms. Like Ubuntu and Kubuntu, it is available as either a ‘Live CD’ or an installable package. A default desktop installation takes approximately 45 minutes and occupies 1.8gb on disk.
Edubuntu debuted with Breezy Badger and highlights packages to help teachers create educational content including tests and worksheets. Additional packages supporting classroom management activities such as grading tests and tracking scores is planned for future releases. Packages for students include the KDE Edu suite (KTouch, Kstars, KPercentage, etc.), word processing and publishing tools (OpenOffice.org, Scribus), educational games, programming languages and tools.
Edubuntu takes advantage of LTSP (Linux Terminal Server Project) integration in Breezy Badger and comes configured as an LTSP server by default. Teachers can utilize this to give students hands-on experience with educational tools, via LTSP thin-clients. When setting up your Edubuntu LTSP server, having an understanding of how LTSP works will certainly help. Also, it would be great if the LTSP administrative utilities (ltsp-utils) were available from the GNOME Applications menu. Have a look at the Edubuntu installation notes (http://wiki.edubuntu.org/LTSPServerSetup) for additional tips on setting up the LTSP server.
In the short time that I’ve spent using Ubuntu 5.10 (Breezy Badger), I’ve really come to like it. The installation was painless, all my hardware was detected and configured correctly, package management was easy, and the clean-cut GNOME desktop is terrific. If you haven’t tried Linux on your desktop yet, get your hands on the ‘Live CD’ version of Breezy Badger — if you like what you see, this is a great distribution to embark on your desktop Linux journey. For users already into Ubuntu, an upgrade to Breezy Badger is definitely worth it.
Kubuntu is a great alternative for Ubuntu users who find they are more productive using KDE. However, long time SuSE users may find the Kubuntu KDE desktop a bit bare, as it lacks the powerful YaST configuration tools. Edubuntu is a step forward towards an education focused distribution, offering a well-rounded set of applications for the classroom. My hope is that efforts behind Edubuntu will energize development of more educational packages for Linux.
Before I forget, one of Ubuntu’s many strengths is it’s active user community. Getting help with any kind of configuration issue is amazingly easy — just check out http://www.ubuntu.com/support/supportoptions/freesupport for the various online forums, mailing lists, and web sites dedicated to Ubuntu.