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Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon and Linux on the Desktop

I’ve been using Ubuntu Feisty and waiting to get Gutsy when the release comes out. However my curiosity got the better of me and I could not resist upgrading from the beta repositories. The first thing I noticed after upgrade was the amount of polish and attention to detail. Everything looks slick (thanks to Compiz).

Instructions to upgrade from feisty.

Ubuntu 7.10 - Coming

Compiz Fusion

After trying one of the earlier versions of Compiz and then Beryl, I came away quite unimpressed. It looked like eye-candy for the sake of eye-candy. “Wobbly Windows” was touted as an exciting feature. I did not want to burn CPU cycles for something as worthless as that!

Come Gutsy, come Compiz Fusion and its legion of plugins, the true potential of XGL has come out. The “Wall plugin” is better than “Desktop Cube” IMHO because it gives a better sense of spatial arrangement of the windows. This coupled with the “expo” plugin is plain brilliant.

Another effect I found useful was the ability to group windows. I am working on a website and have three windows open (HTML Editor (Screem), GVim for editing a cgi and firefox for preview). These windows belong to one logical group. So I grouped them using the “expo” plugin and marked them as “Tabbed windows” and voila - Super+Tab key now flips through the group back-to-back, very much like the ‘i’ button on a MacOS X Dashboard widget to edit the widget details. This is a great way to reduce window clutter.

Negative” plugin helps to invert colors of a window which makes reading syntax colored text files sometimes. “Annotate” plugin lets you write on the screen, perfect for product demonstration.

If you are a fan of iPhone’s / iTunes’ “CoverFlow”, then the “Shift Switcher” plugin is your friend.

Compiz Fusion screenshots

Where is the freaking printer?

I have a bad bad memory. I tend to forget things [period]! I just cannot remember the ip of the damned network printer at work and usually have to hunt the Admin down for it. Having heard about improved printer support, I fired up the printer config and asked Ubuntu to find all the printers on the network and bang pops up a list of found printers. This is great and if you are like me, you will love it. I agree this is a small thing but attention to detail is always good.

No more jumping through hoops to play videos

Many a person I had recommended Ubuntu to, came back disappointed because videos would not play. What is the point of an operating system if the videos don’t play?, I get asked. Hmmm…. It was not Ubuntu’s fault that the video did not play. The codecs to play “MPEG4” videos have to be licensed and that is why Ubuntu cannot ship them. People have been using a nifty app called Automatix to get the codecs. In Gutsy even this is not necessary. Click on the video - Totem opens - finds codecs - asks you - you say yes - downloads - installs - play!

Is linux ready for the desktop then?

The answer to this depends on who you are. Linux (through Ubuntu) is great for me. I don’t have a Windows machine at home. But if you want to use Photoshop, play the latest games, Linux is not there yet. But …. It sure is getting there very fast. Dell’s offering of Ubuntu pre-installed computers is heaven-sent for Linux. Finally hardware vendors are paying attention. This means that the road to mainstream adoption is open and that hardware support will continue to improve fast.

The “Linux Driver Project” is a great idea. Basically companies interested in getting drivers written for their hardware put in a request and Linux developers contribute their time for writing them. One of the biggest problems Linux has been facing is hardware support. If this initiative works out Linux hardware support will at least rival Windows if not surpass it. The Linux driver project has the official backing of Novell now.

Most of the computer users know Linux as a hard-to-use, geeky operating system. This image is changing thanks to recent advances in Desktop Linux. Recently New York Times featured Dell/Ubuntu combination on it’s front page helping to drive this image to more minds.

As the hardware prices fall, the cost of the operating system (say Windows) begins to stand out more and people will start wondering why they have to pay so much. Linux is free and the equation changes. This coupled with the disappointment of Windows users over Vista will help drive more users towards Desktop Linux.

I am looking forward to the exciting times ahead.

Try Ubuntu now

If you are a Windows user and are frustrated about it’s limitations, give Ubuntu Linux a try. Ubuntu has a service called “ShipIt” through which you can request a free copy of Ubuntu Linux. Just pop the cd and reboot. Ubuntu will boot right from the CD without installation. If you like it, you can safely install it beside your existing Windows installation.

While you wait for the CD to arrive, you can check out this excellent collection of screencasts about Ubuntu.

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