Experienced Ubuntu users know what to expect from this Thursday's release of Gutsy Gibbon, the love-it-or-hate-it code name for version 7.10 of the popular Linux distribution. It's not a major "Long Term Support" release, it's not a radical re-thinking of the system, but it is another step toward a Linux system that "just works."
Still, there's a lot that's new (or at least now included by default) and very cool here—native support for dual-monitor setups, integrated Firefox tweaks and extensions, instant printer configuration and, of course, more of the Compiz eye candy that's helping Ubuntu look less like the dowdy younger brother of Windows and Mac. I downloaded, burned and installed the Gutsy release candidate over the weekend and took a few pictures along the way.
Click to enlarge all the images in this post.
Most users will opt for the live CD installation route, which gives you a working (if a little slow) desktop and a quick way to check what hardware works and what might need a little tweaking after install. After a minute or two of loading, here's where you land:
Pretty nice background, with a darker take on the familiar brown/orange/yellow Ubuntu scheme. There are a few new taskbar additions, but we'll get to those later. Double-click "Install" and you're on your way. After a few simple questions about language and keyboard type, we reach one of the toughest barriers for newcomers to Linux world:
"Guided" has been pointed out as somewhat misleading, as once you hit "Forward," the installer will carve up whatever space you offer and use it. Ubuntu normally offers up a sliding bar to determine how much space it should use, but I used VMware to grab these installation screens, hence it gets a specific disk section. As for "Manual," it would help to be familiar with a partition editor before accidentally tanking another OS. However you carve up your disk space, you'll be asked to name your system, and then you hit the "migration assistant":
Those planning on setting up multi-user systems could see a lot of time-saving here, but since I sync my bookmarks with del.icio.us and store my pictures and music on an OS-neutral drive, I tend to skip this step.
After two more clicks, a restart and a removal of the live CD, it's time to boot into your system, log in and start tweaking. The first thing I check out were the new toolbar additions—an indicator for which user is currently logged in (wish it were graphical or less redundant-looking) and a quick-launch icon for the Beagle-driven deskbar search. A quick test brought back useful results quickly, and I re-assigned the search to a more Spotlight-like alt-spacebar keyboard shortcut.
Firefox users should find more to love in 7.10, as certain extensions can be installed in a more system-friendly way, such as incorporating previous Web pages into Beagle searches, multimedia plug-ins and one-click theme integration.
One really smart move for 7.10 was consolidating all the basic ways of tweaking the desktop into one menu item: Appearance. The "Fonts" tab offers a simple way of choosing the best-looking fonts for your system, but "Visual Effects" is where you get the good stuff—windows that fade in and out, reduce with the "genie" effect, and other stuff that makes Ubuntu look modern. "Normal" will be fine for most, "Extra" gets up to the "wobbly window" level, but those who want multiple desktops on a cube, flaming windows and other effects will need to install the extensive Compiz settings manager:
sudo apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager
Unfortunately, I lack the space (or at least the disposable cash) to have a dual-monitor setup in my office, but support for multiple monitors is a highly-touted feature of Gutsy Gibbon. Here's the setup window:
Totem, the default Gnome media player, has gotten a lot of polish since its last update. Along with a more slick look, the player has improved its assistance in finding and downloading the right codecs for "restricted" (i.e. not open source) media files, like MP3s and DivX. Two clicks got me from an error message to rocking.
Lest I leave the impression that Ubuntu has forsaken its free software roots, Firefox now gives users a choice of Adobe Flash players: the standard, proprietary Adobe plug-in, or Gnash, an open source model which, thankfully, also supports 64-bit, PowerPC and other hardware not supported by Adobe's player, albeit only up to the Flash 7 level.
Finally, here's a short list of the features and additions that have also been announced (or just didn't make for great screenshots):
- Native support for WPA-protected wifi networks. Even my troublesome Ralink wireless PCI card found its router and connected, and hasn't yet asked for the password again.
- Printers are surprisingly, actually one-step setup, almost to the point of hidden. I plugged in my HP DeskJet 825c, hit "Print" on an OpenOffice document, and, lo and behold, my printer was available -- without a single pop-up message or hardware "wizard."
- NTFS-formatted drives are automatically detected and mounted for both reading and writing.
- The Tomboy note-taking feature now allows synchronization across platforms through WebDAV or SSH.
- Printing to PDF is now a default option, with the output landing in a "PDF" folder inside your home directory.
- Power management is supposedly improved as the result of an updated kernel incorporation, although that appears to be up for debate.
- It might not seem like a revolutionary feature, but users can now change their screen resolutions and refresh rates without having to log out or hack around in terminal.
Overall, I'm impressed with Gutsy's new features, and if I had to choose a system to impress a Linux n00b, this would be it. Wi-Fi support, printing and graphics set-up are common complaints on any system, and Ubuntu's team has made healthy strides in this area. Still, the partition/install process, the almost-guaranteed quirks of Compiz and the handful of extra steps to get every kind of media playing nicely remain understandable frustration points for new users.
Questions, comments or Gutsy-wrangling tips to share? Send them our way in the comments or to tips at lifehacker.com.
Kevin Purdy, guest editor at Lifehacker, is amazed he didn't have to use the command line once to install and configure Gutsy Gibbon.