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The Ubuntu Experience

The Ubuntu Experience

Ubuntu Linux is a new experience for me. Having used only Red Hat's Fedora Core, I was anxious to try out the recently released Ubuntu 5.10 (available from Ubuntu's Website at www.ubuntu.com).

I was not disappointed. After waiting approximately 45 minutes to download the 617 MB ISO file, I quickly burned it to a CD and rebooted my computer. Within a mere half an hour, Ubuntu was successfully installed on my system.

Ubuntu 5.10 opens with an attractive background display resembling a swirling, luminous horizon surrounded by clouds. The bottom half of the picture looks like an ocean. Both the top and bottom of the desktop are framed by long horizontal menu bars. The top menu bar shows a few menu items such as "Applications," while the right-most corner displays the current date and time.

The bottom of the desktop shows currently active programs along another horizontal bar (similar to other Linux distros). Clicking on one of the tabbed programs maximizes it onto the desktop. In addition, both active and inactive desktops are displayed near a small trash can at the very right-most corner of the screen.

Clicking on the "Applications" menu shows several menu items: Accessories, Games, Graphics, Internet, Office, Sound and Video, System Tools, and Add Applications. Next to Applications is Places, which includes Home Folder, Desktop, Computer, Network Servers, Connect to Server..., Search for Files..., and Recent Documents.

Finally, the System menu displays Preferences, Administration, Take Screenshot, Help, About GNOME, About Ubuntu, Lock Screen, and Log Out.

The menu system is self-explanatory. If you've used Linux before, they are easy to navigate and find. Desired programs are but a few clicks of the mouse away. If you're not satisfied with the present crop of programs, you can always "Add Applications" under the Applications menu.

Ubuntu also includes a few "shortcut" icons on the top menu bar. The first one (starting from the left) is the Firefox Web browser from Mozilla Corporation. The version included with Ubuntu is 1.0.7. Next to the Firefox icon is Evolution Mail, sort of an "Outlook Express"-style mail client. The last icon at the top launches the Ubuntu "Help Topics" program. From here you can search the knowledge base online or in preselected categories within the help program.

Ubuntu uses GNOME 2.12.1, a fairly recent variation of the popular desktop environment. While others may prefer KDE, I have always found GNOME to be highly intuitive, easy to use, and extremely stable.

Of particular note in Ubuntu is the inclusion of Open Office 2.0. Open Office includes Base, Calc, Draw, Impress, Math, and Writer. These programs compare very favorably to their Microsoft Office counterparts. While some minor variations exist, most users who have used Microsoft Office products in the past will feel right at home with Open Office.

If you still prefer the console mode, Ubuntu gives you that and more with Konsole 1.5.2. Installing additional packages is a snap. If, for example, you wish to install the KDE desktop in Konsole, type:

sudo apt-get install kde

Because Ubuntu restricts access to the root shell account (a smart idea), the end user will have to type in their password to install anything on the system. This safeguard also applies to launching most administration and networking tasks. But the price paid is small for a degree of added security.

Speaking of security, Ubuntu uses Firestarter 1.0.3 (a well-known firewall utility). I have found this firewall to be superior to many currently available on the market.

For games and entertainment, Ubuntu gives us a fair assortment of classic card, parlor, and board games. Also included is the Totem Movie Player and Serpentine Audio-CD Creator, while GIMP and XSane provide excellent image editing and scanning capabilities.

I was a bit disappointed with Rhythmbox 0.9.0, however. I found the features somewhat lacking, especially considering Rhythmbox has been in development for at least three years now. Nevertheless, music afficionados will appreciate a very stable program and a decent set of playback features.

For people who enjoy instant messaging, GAIM 1.5.0 provides an easy-to-use AOL Instant Messenger clone. And XChat IRC is a simple-to-use program for connecting to Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels.

If I had to choose one thing to improve upon in future versions of Ubuntu, I would upgrade many of the sound and video component programs to be easier to use. Both ksCD and JuK confused me for several minutes before I got the hang of things. Most veteran Linux users won't have trouble with the aforementioned programs, but some new users to Ubuntu may be unfamiliar at first with several of the chosen packages.

Overall, I was very pleased with Ubuntu. For a beginning Linux distro, it has everything you need to get started. Setup is quick and virtually painless (only the Wireless LAN Setup was somewhat unorthodox). For intermediate users, though, Ubuntu might seem a bit boring. Thankfully, Ubuntu is easy to customize and change to your liking.

Ubuntu is headed in the right direction. With release 6.04 on the horizon, expect more changes to this already promising Linux distro.

More Stories By Paul Panks

Paul Panks is the author of "HLA Adventure," an adventure game written in Randall Hyde's HLA (High Level Assembly) language. His ultimate intention was for others to eventually contribute to this project, so in May 2003 he released it into public domain, including the source
code, so others could add to the game over time. Paul is a native of Phoenix, Arizona, an avid fan of pro football and creative writing, and became
interested in Linux programming through Red Hat Linux and Fedora Core.

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