Ubuntu's Karmic Koala bares fangs at Windows 7
Review Ubuntu 9.10 - aka Karmic Koala - is taking the fight to Microsoft and its new Windows 7 operating system.
The Koala - due for its official release today - brings faster boot times, a revamped software installer, better disk encryption, online services, and quite a bit more to the popular Linux desktop.
We took the release candidate for a spin and are happy to report that while work remains, Ubuntu 9.10 has plenty of improvements and that it's well worth upgrading your current system.
For long-time Ubuntu fans, the most immediately noticeable change in Karmic Koala will likely be the new Software Center, the graphical utility for package management which replaces the traditional GNOME Add/Remove tool.
As it stands with the 9.10 release Software Center doesn't really do anything Add/Remove didn't, but the interface is considerably cleaner and will likely be easier for Linux newbies to navigate.
More interesting is where Canonical plans to go with Software Center in future releases. The goal is to eventually replace Synaptic, gdebi, some parts of the Computer Janitor, and possibly the Update Manager as well, with the all-in-one Software Center. Ubuntu also plans to offer commercial software through Software Center, though that won't likely happen until version 3.0 - currently Software Center is a 1.0 release.
Software Center: considerably cleaner and likely easier for Linux newbies
While Software Center looks great as is, and Canonical's plans call for an even brighter future, at the moment Software Center is essentially a prettier version of the familiar old Add/Remove.
Another bright spot in Karmic Koala is significantly faster boot times. This is an issue that goes beyond Ubuntu, with Microsoft making much of the improvements in Windows to make its latest operating system - Widows 7 - start faster than Windows Vista.
Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth has been looking forward to a scrap with Windows 7 on netbooks and, earlier this year, his company Canonical announced plans to optimize Ubuntu's boot performance. The goal being to get the system up and running much faster.
Unfortunately, you won't get to enjoy the fruits in Karmic Koala, but the eventual goal is to deliver 10-second startups by the time Ubuntu 10.04 is released in 2010.
The boot time tests for the final release of Ubuntu 9.10 mirrored our earlier experience with the beta release - the average startup time was 26 seconds, with the Xorg starting around the 15-second mark.
The times are a little disappointing given that the eventual goal is ten seconds. But of course it's worth asking how often the average user actually boots up Ubuntu. Given its stability, most Linux users tend to just leave the system running indefinitely, making the faster boot time of dubious benefit.
Perhaps the most common use case for faster boot times are netbooks, where Solid-State hard drives are becoming increasingly common. Netbooks are an area Microsoft hopes Windows 7 will do well, compared to Windows Vista. Given that SSDs boot faster anyway, coupling them with Ubuntu's boot optimizations will likely make for some very fast boot times.
Under the hood of Ubuntu 9.10 there are some nice improvements including GRUB2, which is now the default bootloader, along with an improved AppArmor and disk encryption utilities.
Ubuntu has included the AppArmor enhanced access control framework ever since the 7.10 release. However, Ubuntu has never surfaced or promoted AppArmor as much as other distros like Fedora. That continues with Karmic Koala where, for example, there's a new Firefox sandbox policy, but it's disabled by default.
Still, AppArmor does get some love in Karmic Koala with new support for cache files. AppArmor gives you more access control to grant or deny system privileges on a much more granular level than is possible with Linux's default access scheme. The new cache element means that AppArmor is a bit faster to initialize on boot.
Also on the security front is a much improved disk encryption tool. Ubuntu has had block-level encryption for some time, but did not include the option on the LiveCD. More granular encryption arrived in Ubuntu 9.04, which allowed users to encrypt their entire home directory, but the option still wasn't part of the LiveCD installer.
However, this time around, the Ubuntu LiveCD installer will offer the option to encrypt your home directory - also configuring the swap partition for encryption.
BittLocker minus the up-sell
As for working out of the box...
...I have just had an experience. Old box threw a wobbler and killed a disk dead, dead, dead. Sad, sad, sad. Doing it while backing up said disk and thereby scrunching the backup set too is just icing on the cake - plenty of backup survived and I could rebuild the machine in a day or so, I figured. New box arrived, destined for Windows-XP-hood. But guess what - XP Pro didn't recognize the NIC on the motherboard. No amount of badgering made it understand that yes, there's a NIC down there and it's perfectly capable of contacting the router for an IP address. Ubuntu did it right the first time. And everything else in the machine too. XP never quite got the hang of the old box either, with several pieces of hardware sporting yellow question marks in the device manager and no relief to be found anywhere. Not that I was missing anything (I'm not into gadgets so I'll survive not having a card reader, teevee card etc.), it was just a bit weird.
Now I know I've taken a few shots at Linux in the past for being not quite good enough, but even I have to admit that Ubuntu's nearly there. A few issues (mainly with off-mainstream software like VMWare Server (which sux - now using Sun VirtualBox instead, great little tool)) notwithstanding, it's doing a marvellous job. Now if just IBM could manage to get out Domino Designer and Admin clients for Linux I'd be happy never to see a Windows box again.
Ubuntu One is pants though. Overpriced and underperforming. Where's the ability to link in backup software, for example? And it's not as if the incentive isn't there, 2 Gb is going to disappear in a flash once backups start rolling in and people will then probably be happy to dump a load of money on the service. Try again. Please. It's a good idea, just do it right next time around.
The Karmic Koala is nice, not without its issues, Intel chipsets amongst others. But Ubuntu 9.10 has not made any steps towards resolving the real Linux issue, which is not really a Linus issue. There are not enough workplace ready apps for Linux. Developers make money in the M$ platform and are not porting to Linux. What a shame.
Also, unless apps are installed from the repository, not all install properly, without tinkering and googling. Get all teh Linux flavours to standardise on file location and a single installer. That would go a very long way to eatup M$ market...
Mark Shuttleworth's Vista moment
If I wasn't such a reasonable bloke I could be a Linux fanboy, and I really like Ubuntu. I've an old P4 box running an SiS chipset that runs Ubuntu 9.10 and Mythbuntu 9.10 superbly. There are so many improvements, particularly from the Myth team.
Unfortunately my laptop and my main desktop (both Dells) are based on Intel chip-sets with integrated video, and on those 9.10 is unusable. There are fanbois in denial about the disaster, but the issues are repeatable on fresh clean installs on bog-standard hardware on multiple Intel chipset platforms.
Problems include black screen boot hangs, 3 frames per second live video performance, slow keyboard response in Myth (MINUTES!) and incompletely rendered 2D windows.
Canonical obviously can't have done even elementary testing. Maybe they think Intel video is a niche market. At a time when MS is getting its OS act together, Canonical needed to be on the ball - but instead they have dropped the ball. It's so bad it's embarrassing. How could you do this, Canonical?
Bares its fangs? I think its dentures just slipped out.