Ubuntu Lucid almost shines

The latest release of Ubuntu shows a great deal of promise but still needs time to really shine

May 5, 2010
Ubuntu Lucid almost shines

Ubuntu 10.04, otherwise known as Lucid Lynx, was released last week and is the third long term support (LTS) release from Canonical. With much hype around the new Ubuntu theme, as well as the new social networking tools, Lucid had much to live up to. We took it for a spin to see how it fared.

New theme

The most obvious change in Lucid Lynx is the desktop overhaul. Lucid sports a new dark theme with “aubergine” accents. It is horrible. After all the discussion and promises that a new theme was coming to replace the brown Human theme – it has been more than a year now – the new look is dark and unappealing.

Clearly there are some users that enjoy the new darker look but I am not a fan. The lack of colour differentiation between window border, menu bars and panels makes for a mess of dark all over the screen. And the other lighter default theme is no better, except that it looks washed out, and still has no definition.

Ironically, the old, much-hated brown Human theme is far more appealing than the new themes.

If you can see past the theme – and it is easy enough to change it – there is a lot to like about Lucid.

MeMenu and Gwibber

The other big change in Lucid is the new “MeMenu” and Gwibber integration.

With these two tools, Ubuntu users can be “social” right from their desktop.

Gwibber is a multi-protocol application that can handle streams such as Twitter, Facebook, instant messages and IRC messages in one place. Gwibber has long been a part of the Ubuntu desktop but in its latest incarnation it is vastly more powerful than before.

While Gwibber allows users to receive, and send, status updates across multiple networks, the MeMenu pulls them all together. The MeMenu is the place to mark yourself as available or away, post new status updates or be notified of new incoming messages.

The idea is a good one, although the implementation is still a little basic.

Being able to pull all your social networks into one place and be alerted when they need attention is a key part of the modern desktop. As it is the first real outing for the MeMenu and the social desktop it is unsurprising that there is still work to be done. But not that much.

Sound

Managing sound on Linux has always been a problem. With a choice of sub-par tools to manage sound users simply had to live with the iffy sound on Linux.

The switchover to PulseAudio a couple of years ago promised to fix the problems with a single, integrated tool. But that too didn’t work. At least not until now.

The new PulseAudio sound controls in Lucid are finally up to the task of managing a wide array of sound hardware as well being able to manage multiple input/output streams. Being able to manage and control the sound for each individual application radically transforms Ubuntu sound management into something worth using.

Software Center

I’ve been an Ubuntu user from its very first release and before that I used a number of other distributions. As a result I am completely comfortable adding and removing software using the command line and have had little or no time for various incarnations of the Ubuntu Software Center. In most cases they just seemed like a bad front-end to a perfectly good back-end process: apt/deb. But with Lucid this stream of sub-par software management tools has been broken.

For the first time it actually feels that the Ubuntu Software Center is a truly useful tool. I still jump to a command line for reconfiguring packages and the like, but increasingly I am finding myself using the Software Centre for basic installation needs.

The new Software Center interface is neat and attractive and with only a couple of options is simple to use. The link between the Software Center and the Software Sources tool feels like a bad hack but at least there is an attempt to integrate that into the Software Center. The Software Center, after all, feels like a natural home for the Software Sources rather than having it lumped in with the many other orphans in the System-Administration menu. Perhaps soon it will be removed for good from the System menu.

Speed, Ubuntu One Music Store

Once installed Ubuntu Lucid Lynx is fast; just seconds to get to a usable desktop. I’ve noticed some slowdown if the driver for Nvidia devices is installed but as a whole Lucid is pretty nimble on its feet. There have been many reports of problems with the Nvidia drivers although they are apparently mostly worked out now.

Switching applications is fast and slick which makes using Lucid a pleasure. And the desktop as a whole feels a lot more polished.

The Ubuntu One Music Store has had tons written about it and now it is finally here. In beta releases of the Ubuntu One music store there were problems for users outside of the US and Europe. Those problems have mostly been fixed and in theory users in South Africa should be able to purchase music tracks through the Ubuntu One Store. There do, however, appear to be some stability issues with the Ubuntu One Store so it is not completely simple to purchase music online, yet.

Conclusion

Lucid Lynx is a very good desktop operating system. It is both more adventurous than its Long Term Support label would suggest while still being surprisingly usable even with a host of new features on board. As a whole the operating system is full of promise which will hopefully be fully realised between now and the release of Ubuntu 10.10 in October this year.

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