30 April 2012

Ubuntu 12.04 LTS

Ubuntu 12.04 was released on Thursday, 26 April 2012. Since I’ve been using this version every day since the first beta release, it’s hard to keep track of all the great changes!

First of all, Unity is still the graphical user interface (GUI). With this release (Unity 5.10), I’ve seen more people coming back to Ubuntu. Unity configuration and speed are some of the biggest determining factors for this. I’ve found that Unity will spoil you once you start using it! I’ve gotten so used to the way things work in Unity, that when I’m on my Mac at work (or my wife’s laptop running Kubuntu - Ubuntu with KDE), I instinctively hit the keys to get the Launcher or the Dash to come up! Then I get frustrated because they don’t work like Unity! For some really good knowledge base (KB) articles on Unity, I recommend The Power User’s Guide to Unity. There are links to videos and walkthroughs that will be very helpful for those just now coming to Ubuntu and Unity. There’s a great overlay within Unity that shows the keyboard shortcut for various things. Just hold down the Super key (aka, the “Windows” key).

However, some people (that is, those who have used Ubuntu in the past) like a “classic” Gnome environment. You can search for “gnome-session-fallback” in the Software Center. After it’s installed, you can just choose it from the Unity Greeter (the log in screen).

Speaking of the Software Center, I showed this to a friend of mine and he said, “That looks like Apple’s App Store.” What funny about that is that Ubuntu had this before Apple! So I think that’s the other way around. The Software Center has thousands of apps to choose from. As can be seen from the screenshot, they’re categorized. So you can browse through each category looking for things to install.

Also, if you know what to look for, you can search for it and the Software Center will automatically find it.

Some of the default apps have changed since the last release. Ubuntu went back to Rhythmbox for its music player. The reasoning for this is because Rhythmbox has a smaller footprint than Banshee. But I like the fact that Banshee has a plugin for the Amazon MP3 store. So, I opened up the Software Center, searched for Banshee and installed it. Now it can be accessed from the sound menu.

Another change was from OpenOffice.org to LibreOffice. LibreOffice is an offshoot of OpenOffice.org. For the most part, it works just like OpenOffice.org and from what I’ve read, it has better support and continued development.

One of the other new features of Ubuntu 12.04 is the introduction of HUD (Heads Up Display). When you are in an app, you can press the “Alt” key and the HUD is displayed. The HUD is an alternative for the Menus in applications. It doesn’t replace the menus, but is addition to the menus. It’s actually pretty cool. As can be seen in the screenshot, we can see all of the different things that “open” brings up.

For those people who use keyboard shortcuts, HUD will be a huge integration. I have found it to be a really cool feature. It will take some getting used to, but once we get the hang of it, it can change the way we think about accessing menus.

There are some shortcomings with this release. However, these shortcomings are not the fault of Ubuntu or Linux in general. They fall fully to the developers of other technologies. For example, we would like to use Netflix. However, Netflix refuses to support Linux. This really doesn’t make sense to me because it supports Android. And Android, as any Geek worth her salt will tell you, is Linux (as you’ll see later). It really can’t be that difficult to support Ubuntu. I haven’t actually discovered a workaround for this yet. I know that other devices, such PS3, Wii, and Blueray players all work with Netflix (and some of those even use a Linux OS!), but there isn’t a native solution for Ubuntu.

The other limitation is in the form of iTunes. While someone can use Wine, CrossoverOffice, or PlayonLinux to install and run iTunes, it really doesn’t work well in those environments. This is an issue if someone has a large iTunes library. The reason this is an issue is Apple refuses to release a Linux version of iTunes. And to make matters more complicated, Apple uses a proprietary codec for default purchases within iTunes. This means that the music purchased within iTunes will only play in iTunes (or an iOS device). This could be fixed with either releasing a Linux version of iTunes or using an open source codec. Unlike Netflix, there is a work around for music purchased through iTunes. One will need to burn all of their music on to CD and then import them as a different codec (mp3 for example). If one has an extensive library, this will take a while (just converting my wife’s collection took days). However, in my opinion, it’s worth it. Not only will your iDevice still play the music in mp3 format, but so will every your computer. And let me be clear, one can still use an iOS device with Ubuntu. We do it all of the time. It just takes a little bit of hoop jumping.

Again, let me stress that these limitations are not with Ubuntu (per say). The fault lies squarely with the developers of the other technologies. There are alternatives that work flawlessly well with Ubuntu. Banshee, which I mentioned previously, is a perfect example. It has a plugin for the AmazonMP3 store. And Rhythmbox has a plugin for the UbuntuOne Music store. Both of these stores offer music at the same or lower price point as iTunes, use the “universally” accepted mp3 format, and are at better bit rates.

A couple of other features that are worth mentioning (but don’t really have anything to do with this release) are Ubuntu TV and Ubuntu for Android. Both of these technologies are based on Ubuntu and use the Unity interface. Check out these videos that can show you these technologies:

Ubuntu for Android

Ubuntu TV

So, apart from those caveats mentioned above, I would highly recommend Ubuntu 12.04 for anyone wanting a very fast, virus free, 5 year supported system (that’s what the LTS stands for), that just plain works with (almost) all of your gadgets and will (probably) do everything you’re needing a computer for. If you would like a tour of Ubuntu 12.04, go here.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br Jack+, LC

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