The next version of Ubuntu's free Linux operating system, dubbed "Intrepid Ibex," is due out Oct. 30, but the beta release is up for grabs. Although the desktop hasn't been reshaped, the features tweaked just a little bit, and most of the work focused on compatibility and usability (not that those are bad things, by any means), there are still some neat new tools and tweaks that are worth checking out. Read on for our picture-filled take on the new Ubuntu.
Installation and boot-up
The basics of putting a live CD in your drive, trying the desktop or installing the system are basically the same as with Hardy Heron, with a few welcome differences. The most confusing/imposing part of the process, the partition editor, shows you a graphical view of what you're doing, thereby explaining what each option does a lot better.
Ibex also supports importing browser data, backgrounds, music and pictures from Windows XP and, new to this version, Vista. Once you've installed the system and booted up, you might notice a new setting in the multi-boot menu: "Last successful boot." That's an indication that Ubuntu keeps track of which Linux kernels actually work for your system, and lets it delete old ones and prevent them from cluttering up the boot menu.
There's a chance, however small, that Ubuntu 8.10 might just get the graphical overhaul that was promised for 8.04. Ibex uses a slightly updated version of the brown/orange-centered "Human" theme—status bars glow, a few icons were changed, and buttons have a warm glow. Other than that, the desktop is a pretty familiar affair:
What you will notice around your desktop are the improvements to Nautilus, the baked-in file browser and desktop manager. Tabbed browsing is the biggie, but there's also easy-eject icons placed in the sidebar for hot-plugged drives and partitions, and the built-in encrypted private directory.
A lot of tweaks have been made to Ubuntu's network manager, which was more than a little finicky with certain wireless cards and non-standard set-ups. It now handles 3G and cellular connections better, doesn't freak out at having multiple connections (e.g. wireless and wired), and contains many other fixes. I particularly like the "Auto Linksys" mode, which is great for travelling or setting up at less-tech-inclined spots.
External monitors and graphics in general have gotten a good bit of attention, and, at least in the case of my ThinkPad/LCD combo, I got a kind-of-working setup right from boot-up. In general, Ubuntu has worked at killing off the need to ever have to manually hack around in the archaic
xorg.conf file—the entirety of my Ibex file is thumbnailed at right (Edit: Taken from the VirtualBox install I did for boot-up screenshots, but the copy on my hard-installed Ibex is nearly identical). Having said that, I still had to manually tweak the resolution on my LCD monitor, and a logout/reboot messed my taskbars some, but I could easily drag and drop windows between screens. Unfortunately, that's only just below par for a modern OS, so let's hope a great settings tool gets written or revamped soon.
Finally, the administration window for enabling proprietary devices—NVidia graphics cards, wireless chips without open-source drivers and the like—has gotten a bit more explanatory as to what it's doing, and offers a choice of drivers for those experiencing bugs. Not sure if I enjoy seeing this much imposing text to just get 3D desktop effects working.
Other good things
Here's a few of Ubuntu 8.10's other highlights:
- "Guest" log-in: If a friend/significant other/shoulder-peeker wants to check their Facebook page, and you're afraid of what curious hands can do to your system, you can log out, boot into "Guest," and the user can't change any settings or alter/access files. (So, why wasn't this here before?)
- Better SAMBA: With support for IPv6, clustered server support, and other wonky improvements.
- Persistent permissions: If you get asked for your password by, say, Synaptic file manager, you can have your system remember that you're the head honcho by checking a box. That way, it doesn't ask again when you need to
sudosomething or make another change.
- Built-in BBC player: This is really cool but, unfortunately, busted in my beta build. Totem, the built-in media player that can already access YouTube videos natively, will get access to the BBC's free content.
If you've been using the 8.10 alphas all along, or were hoping for more, we'd like to hear your take. Tell us what's good and still not quite gravy in Intrepid Ibex in the comments.