We’re nearing the release of the Intrepid Ibex, and I thought I would share some of my thoughts after having used both Ubuntu and Kubuntu versions of the venerable and popular Ubuntu Linux.
First, since there’s not a large Linux audience on Gear Diary, I will do a little explaining. The Linux Kernel was first developed by Linus Torvalds in or around 1991. He was designing it as a replacement for the Minix kernel. It’s hard to say when it truly started to take off, but the most important thing Linus did was release the kernel under the GPL, which then lets anyone who wants to modify the kernel. Since the kernel is GPL, anyone can download a copy, modify it if they wish and then redistribute it – so long as there is credit and a copy of the GPL included with it.
Since it is GPL, many others have taken the Kernel, the GNU utilities and other GPL software and then distributed it. First, was SLS. Then Slackware, then Redhat and Debian. So as the years have gone by, there’s been distribution after distribution…more distributions than I can count. Some think this is a bad thing, but I think it is a very good thing, as it gives the user a choice of which tools they would like to use.
My choice (or choices) as of late have all been Debian based. My top two favorite distributions of Linux are Ubuntu and Kubuntu. The main difference between the two is that Ubuntu uses the Gnome Desktop as its interface, while Kubuntu uses KDE.
First up, Ubuntu. Ubuntu 8.10 beta include these updates: Gnome 2.24, Xorg 7.4, Linux Kernel 2.6.27,Encrypted private directory, Network Manager 0.7,DKMS, Samba 3.2, PAM Authentication Framework, Totem BBC Plugin.
Gnome is one of the top two desktop environments; the updates in this version of Ubuntu are hardly noticeable, and that’s actually good! I felt right at home when working with the new desktop. Those who have used Gnome in the past will be satisfied with the updates.
Xorg 7.4 is the Xwindows subsystem that Gnome and KDE run on. It’s very important, but most people won’t even notice it once it’s properly configured. This release is supposed to provide better support for hot plugging mice, keyboards and tablets into your machine. It also provides a failsafe X that will never leave you without a GUI to troubleshoot things. This is very important as most new users are really comfortable with GUI’s, and when you’re dumped to a command line and don’t have a lot of experience with the shell, you may be stuck on what to do next. Thankfully, the amount of times you have to use this failsafe mode should be small. In the last year I have never had a default install that was broken to the point of not having X working, unless I was tweaking the X.org configuration (stored in /etc/X11/xorg.conf). Xorg 7.4 should prevent a lot of the problems users have with X, and it’s a welcome update to Ubuntu.
Ubuntu now provides you with a way to have part of your home directory encrypted instead of the whole thing. There’s a folder in your home directory called Private. You just use the Nautlus File Manager to drake items into this folder, and then it will be secure. eCryptfs is what does the encryption, and it is where you’ll want to store important documents; when you put them in here, they will stay secure.
Ubuntu now provides a way for you to share your computer. How many times have someone asked if they could use your computer for a moment? This guest mode allowed a user to login, use your computer and then logout; upon logout, all traces of the session are deleted. This is extremely handy for a desktop, and it’s a welcome addition to Ubuntu.
Guest Mode on Ubuntu 8.10
Network Manager 0.7 provides many updates to the network manager. Network manager makes it unnecessary to hack around with text files to make a network connection work. Network Manager also makes it easy to switch back and forth between ethernet, wifi and NOW 3G! Yes, Network Manger makes using many 3G data data cards MUCH easier for new Linux users. I loaded it on my 8.04 based laptop install and used it when I was in Virginia; switching from wifi to 3G was pretty much a seamless affair. This is something that has been very needed in the Linux world, and it is something that Windows users have taken for granted. Mad props need to be given to both the Ubuntu team and the team who works on Network Manger; I thank you!
DKMS is actually code that was contributed by Dell. Dell has started to ship Ubuntu on many of its machines and that’s good. However, one issue that plagues the Linux community is graphics cards. ATI and Nvidia both have binary parts of their driver that will not be released, and its surrounded by code that interface it to the kernel. Every time there’s a kernel update, this part of the driver needs to be recompiled. Well, this doesn’t have to happen anymore. DKMS lets Ubuntu ship out new kernels as soon as they can, and they no longer have to wait for a updated ATI or Nvidia driver. DKMS will dynamically recompile these kernel drivers that ATI and Nvidia use, whenever a new kernel is installed. This allows the Ubuntu team to be extremely responsive to security issues and bugs in their kernels, and this is all thanks to Dell. I never thought I would say it, but thank you Dell for opening this code!
Samba is the open source reverse engineering of the SMB spec that Windows uses for its network drive shares. The new version promises to add clustered file server support, encrypted network transport, ipv6 support and better integration with Microsoft Windows clients and servers. What this means to you is that if you have Ubuntu on your laptop, but still run windows on your desktop, then you will still be able to use your home network to grab files from Windows. Samba has been in Linux for a while, but as Microsoft keeps making updates, so must the Samba developers. I hope this makes it easier for me to grab files from my wife’s Windows XP machine.
A while back, the BBC started putting free content on the web for those who live in the UK. Well Ubuntu now has a plugin to the media player called Totem, that has been in Ubuntu from the start. This now allows those that live in the UK to view content from the BBC on their Linux computers.
Now on to Kubuntu! Kubuntu is for those who do not like the Gnome desktop. It uses KDE as its primary desktop, but there’s nothing stopping you from installing GTK or Gnome appes while using KDE.
My Kubuntu Desktop Running Virtual Box and some other Apps.
By far the most important update to Kubuntu is now the default interface is KDE 4.1, instead of KDE 3.51. KDE 4.1 is a very shiny and streamlined update to KDE. It also includes what the KDE project calls plasmoids; the rest of the world calls them widgets. My favorite widget in the default install of Kubuntu has to be the Folder View widget. Instead of dropping icons and files all over the desktop when you put something in your desktop folder, it puts the icon in the Desktop widget. The great thing with this is that if I want the icons gone, I can close the widget and they will go away. This widget is transparent and resizeable as well. This helps you keep your desktop looking nice and clean. The best part is you can use the Folder View widget to look at any other folder as well. You can have multiple Folder View Widgets. Plasmoids are very functional and I love the way they integrate into the desktop.
Next up us Adept. The updates to Adept make it usable. The version on the 8.04 Kubuntu remix that included KDE 4 was very confusing and I am a GEEK! The new version is much easier to understand. Mad props to the KDE guys who put this together.
Of course there’s the K version of Network Manager 0.7 and it does everything the Gnome version does. This is great!
Kubuntu new enables all of it’s desktop effects by default. This provides a tone of glitz to dazzle those who still use closed source Windows software.
Amarok, the default media player in Kubuntu, is very good and supports Last.fm, Jamendo and Magnatune. It also doesn’t lock you into storing your media in only one location; I simply point Amarok to a new folder or a external drive and I can start building playlists and having fun in general.
As a whole, I think the Ubuntu and Kubuntu teams deserve a giant pat on the back. While I was only looking at a beta here, I think I will be making the jump over the weekend to Kubuntu. I am a longtime Ubuntu user and I still like Ubuntu a lot, but I think it’s time to give the latest KDE a shot!
Note: This article was written between the Beta and the release of RC1. The official release date is October 31, 2008.