Culture & Criticism Since 2003
Perhaps Ubuntu should have named their 11.04 version, released in April, after something a bit less endangered. In any event, it arrived to a mixed reception to the millions of people who have switched from Windows to Ubuntu in recent years.
I installed 11.04 on my system, but with some difficulty. There has been an ongoing problem with Linux and the very-widely-used Nvidia 6150LE video card, and installing it involved holding down the shift key as the Live CD booted, and then selecting F6 and “nomem” as options—none of which was readily apparent and quite beyond the grasp of a novice. Once in, I discovered that the native drivers couldn’t quite cope with a 1920×1280 setting and if you had more than three windows open at once, one would go blank. Annoying, but fixable.
The next big problem was the new desktop, Unity. It replaces Gnome2, (Gnome3 will be in the next release) and is a step back. Unity is awkward and slow, and I spent a frustrating half hour figuring out how to create desktop icons. Everything is on a sidebar in Unity, which is a sensible idea that accommodates the 15:9 ratio of newer monitors, but there isn’t much room for icons. They really need to use BOTH sides of the screen. After a day, I dumped Unity for Gnome2, which at least is fairly easy to do. (I tried Gnome3 from an Open-SUSE live CD, and it flat-out refused to run under Nvidia, reverting to a low-res trainwreck that would have looked right at home on a Commodore64.)
The other major problem is that the Search function doesn’t work, except for the Home directory. It will search there, and nowhere else. If you tell it to search somewhere else, it loses the search criteria. When you reenter the search criteria, it reverts to searching the home directory only.
Despite all this, 11.04 is still a good system. The sound and video capabilities, already strong, have improved, and on a 64-bit system, it’s lightning-fast. Most of the irritations in prior releases have been resolved.
If you are running Ubuntu 10, I recommend staying put for right now, until the bugs are sorted. If you are running Windows, try the Demo in Live CD first to make sure you won’t have problems before trying to install.
Once you have Narwhal up and running, it is a thing of beauty—a safe, efficient way to enjoy using a computer online, with enormous capacities. With LibreOffice (a Word suite open-source substitute) the Mozilla suite, GIMP and cognates for most major software out there, there is little you can do in Windows that you can’t do in Ubuntu. Only gamers, and people using high-end CAD or layout programs need keep Windows at all.
Ubuntu 11.10 (“Oneiric Ocelot”) is due out in October. Word is they will post release updates for Nvidia drivers. Hopefully by then the other problems listed above will be resolved, and Ubuntu will again be the best option for PC users out there.
Zepp Jamieson was born in Ottawa, Ontario, and spent his formative years living in various parts of Canada, the UK, South Africa and Australia before finally moving to the United States, where he has lived for over 40 years. Aside from writing, his interests include hiking, raising dogs and cats, and making computers jump through hoops. His wife of 25 years edits his copy, and bravely attempts to make him sound coherent. Reach him through The Electric Review.