I’ve recently come back to the Linux fold, after being away from it for two years.
For a time I used to run Ubuntu as my sole OS, eventually moving back to Windows due to becoming increasingly more frustrated with getting games to behave themselves under WINE and because of a problem with my old laptop whereby the CPU was constantly overheating. The only thing I could do to stop it from reaching critical temperature and powering down was to run it at half speed whenever I was doing anything particularly intensive, which was generally pretty frustrating as “intensive” in this case seemed to include watching videos on YouTube.
Recently, though, I decided that my current machine was long over due for a clean-up, so I decided that in the process I had may as well see what had changed in in the world of Ubuntu. I decided to set up a dual-boot system, since my need for Windows is still really only for gaming purposes, and have Ubuntu for my day-to-day stuff.
After playing around with Ubuntu 10.10 for a few days, I am seriously impressed by the progress that has been made in the past two years. Some of the highlights for me so far have been:
- The overhaul of the UI. I remember Ubuntu being a rather unseemly combination of brown and orange which, whilst still being prettier than Windows XP was then, had still left a lot to be desired. The new default UI now feels much more polished and professional looking. This may be a minor point, especially given how easy it is to install new themes in Ubuntu, but for a distribution which puts the user experience first this counts for a lot.
- The installation procedure in Ubuntu has now been simplified to the point where, providing all hardware is correctly detected, pretty much anybody could do it. The partitioning tool has been overhauled since I last encountered it and now makes things much more straightforward if you choose to manually edit your partitions, presenting you with a nice graphical representation of how your hard drives are to be divided up.
- It now boots FAST. My machine goes from GRUB to the log-in prompt in 10 seconds.
- Hardware support has improved considerably. It was pretty straightforward getting my wireless card up and working. I have a card with the Broadcom BCM-4306 chip set, and although the drivers themselves are now included in the kernel, the firmware necessary to make use of them isn’t due to licensing issues surrounding proprietary software. Thankfully a brief Google search provided me with a tutorial I could follow to install the firmware. I had expected an afternoon of loading drivers through ndiswrapper, which had been my experience in the past, but instead I had got it working in under 5 minutes. In fact, in all of my years of using Linux (which I have done so to varying degrees since 2004) this is the first time I have ever had a machine where all of my hardware is supported. Most of it out of the box and the rest of it after the briefest of Google searches.
All in all I have been extremely pleased to see the progress which has been made, and has even made me feel slightly guilty about abandoning it in frustration when I did. I understand that there is debate within the Linux community over Canonical, but I feel that ultimately the Ubuntu community should be congratulated for what it has managed to do for the desktop Linux experience.