Ubuntu Linux—Breezy is a Breeze!

It turns out I don’t hate Linux as much as I did in 2005, which was unquestionably a year of trial and error. I’d been wanting to shift from Windows to Linux, and had subsequently tried SuSE, Fedora, Yoper, and Ubuntu 5.04—all of which stank in one way or another. When I got around to downloading the Ubuntu Linux 5.10 (Breezy) ISO, I was cautiously hopeful: Ubuntu 5.04 had been the least-painful of my Linux experiences, and while it hadn’t been that bad, it hadn’t been that good either. Well, it was good, it just seemed more a sort of bridge between Warty and the (then) forthcoming Breezy—which is, in my opinion, the closest thing to Linux Zen I’ve ever experienced.

The installation process went smoothly. Though it’s all done in text mode, most of it is automatic, with only a few questions regarding username and password, keyboard layout, date / time, etc. On my somewhat ancient 1.33ghz Athlon, the whole process took about 20 minutes, at which point I was presented with a warm, cheery log-in screen.

Yep. No restart. All ready to go, just like that.

With the exception of a DVD-ROM drive DMA issue, Ubuntu detected and set up all of my hardware without a hitch. According to my xorg.conf file, my ATI All-in-Wonder 128 Pro has 3D acceleration enabled; installing and getting my ass raped in Quake 3 Arena has confirmed this. My Creative SoundBlaster Live! card sounds crisp and clear, no pops or crackles. My Internet connection was a no-brainer—DHCP was all ready to go upon first log-in; all I had to do was start Firefox and I was online. Even the screen size, refresh-rate, and color depth of my LCD monitor was dead-correct (unlike other distros, which tend to leave too little or too much space at the edges of the screen). Now, all of this is probably due to the fact that my hardware is almost 5 years old—old enough for appropriate drivers to have trickled down through the open source hierarchy.

I can’t complain.

The two things that strike me the most about Ubuntu: the simplicity of the desktop, and, well, the color scheme. I’m a minimalist, so naturally the more recent incarnations of the GNOME desktop have appealed to me. I’ve used KDE many, many times before, and each release just seems more and more cluttered with features that, while useful, are more often distracting. GNOME in Ubuntu is simple, elegant. And as for the rather bold step of defaulting to warm, earthy colors (instead of standard grays and blues), I was turned off at first, but as I went along, it grew on me. It might be a psychological placebo, but I’ve found that my mood, while doing day-to-day work with Ubuntu, has been more positive, overall. There may be something to this…

Let’s talk about GNOME. This time around, thank God, Ubuntu’s developers have decided to discard the “spatial” Nautilus element and revert to a more familiar (and more effective, in my opinion) file-browsing style where all your navigational needs take place in a single window. Also helpful (and also missing from Ubuntu 5.04) are the “breadcrumbs” in the location bar. You can can check your directory location with a quick glance instead of having to click a menu at the bottom of the window.

Something new (at least, for those of us coming from the Red Hat camp) to get used to is the “sudo” command. By default, Ubuntu creates a single user during installation time and uses that person’s password as the root password. Supposedly this adds a layer of security so that adventurous newbies don’t go logging in as root and accidentally deleting a precious system folder or three. Most of the time, this works just fine, and when you do need to gain some administrator privileges, a dialog box conveniently pops up.

Surprisingly, with this release, I can’t say a damned thing against Ubuntu’s font rendering. Put simply: They’re beautiful. TrueType fonts are also supported, and they look darned tootin’. Really.

Seeing as this is a Windows world in which Linux lives (and not the other way around), I must point out some pet peeves.

Firstly, by default, DMA wasn’t enabled for my Sony DRU-710A optical drive. Granted, DMA can be dangerous for drives that don’t support it, but these days the overwhelming majority of optical drives do, and, well, I guess I’ve gotten used to Windows XP’s daring tendencies when it comes to enabling DMA by default.

Getting my drive to use DMA involved using the

sudo hdparm /dev/hdc

command to get information on my DVD drive. Then I had to edit my hdparm.conf file

sudo gedit /etc/hdparm.conf

and add the following lines at the bottom:

/dev/hdc { dma = on }

This is a less-than-eloquent way to go, but upon reboot my optical drive was using DMA and I was able to perform a little happy-dance.

If you’ve ever had trouble using Kino before, I’m sorry to report that it won’t work any better this time around—especially in the video capture department. I’m able to plug in my Mini-DV camcorder via Firewire and capture using dvgrab (a command-line app), but Kino crashes every time I try to capture with it. My Logitech webcam works perfectly though. Go figure.

Other annoyances are small, such as Nautilus’ file properties dialog. When working with folders that contain other folders and files, there’s still no way to choose between single and recursive permission changes. And even though I love how good Ubuntu renders fonts, it’s not readily apparent, out of the box, how to install your own fonts. This can be done simply by copying the fonts you want to install into the “.fonts” folder (press CTRL+H in Nautilus to show hidden files) in your home directory, but it would be nice to have a little graphical installer accessible, say, via the System or Applications menus. And what’s up with Nautilus not being able to remember if you had it maximized upon closure? Ah, well….

Ubuntu Linux 5.10 is a slick distribution that, despite the usual small inconsistencies, works very well out of the box—as long as your hardware is supported, and as long as you stick with GNOME (KDE for Ubuntu is available, but it’s a minefield of frozen windows and crashed apps—beware!). If you want KDE, go with Kubuntu. If you’re willing to work with that gnomish foot we’ve all come to know and love, Ubuntu will serve you well.

Now then, Windows users: I can feel your anger…it makes you stronger. Come to the dark side.

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About jesse

Book designer and formatter based in southern California. Supreme overlord of the SuperMegaNet pseudoverse.
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