Ubuntu 8.04 - truly desktop Linux

Published Friday, May 2nd 2008

A 4 minute read 940 words

I'm quite an Ubuntu fan, having followed the project since more or less it's original inception. Given the general lack of problems with it thus far you'll notice very few entries on this blog about it.

Indeed various clients of mine are running Ubuntu servers that are easily maintained, easily managed and just generally easy and have been for several years. It's not necessarily an industrial strength OS - see Fedora for example - but for quick deployment, great security and stability and a modifiable tool (thanks to its Debian base) that just gets the job done you don't really need to look much further.

But I think that's about to change. You see Ubuntu 8.04 (the latest version that also happens to be a Long Term Support version) has markedly shifted the goalposts of what I expect from a Linux distribution.

I've been wanting to be convinced to move to a complete Linux desktop for the better part of 10 years but there's always something holding it back - lack of support for a media type, lack of drivers for particular bit of hardware, issues to do with wireless, no power management for my laptop, I can't run some third party apps like Skype... but that has all now changed - and changed in a massive way.

As I'm want to do, every time a new version of Ubuntu comes out it is duly installed on my Acer Travelmate notebook - a very good test of whether an upstart OS "just works" or not. The machine is about 2 years old but it has some quirks such as it has an ATI 3D card embedded on it's motherboard that was difficult to get working properly even on XP, it also has an inbuilt webcam - again with proprietary Acer drivers and it has gigabit Ethernet. Oh and it's widescreen.

About 9 times in 10 I don't even get to a working desktop without some hackery of graphics drivers, x.org files and I've even had a couple of "bomb-proof" distros just not even boot up to a command line.

I've been around Linux for a long time and I know what to expect, I'm an enthusiast and advocate so none of this surprises me at all and I'm prepared to work through the issuses. Most of the time I get to a working desktop with some sort of graphical interface that is mostly not widescreen, with no 3d support, sometimes wireless and without the use of the webcam. Linux isn't aimed at desktop use - it's just a side effect of people using it for development who wanted some creature comforts whilst working - notably the Gnome and KDE bods.

Imagine my surprise when I booted Ubuntu 8.04 and I logged into a graphical desktop that detected wireless and gigabit ethernet, properly displayed my screen in widescreen mode, gave me the option to run my ATI drivers easily and then configured the 3D in a few seconds and on top of that gave me a working webcam that I'd never had running under Linux and you could tell from the whoops of joy that here was something worth formatting my hard drive for.

Every device I threw at it was auto detected and installed in moments, flash drives, USB devices, a weather station, even an old MP3 player than needed proprietary Sony software to synch on XP. All handled with aplomb and with scarcely a pause by the processor.

What the hell was going on? How did we go from solid and okay 7.10 to this awe inspiring 8.04 in just six months? Had Mark Shuttleworth finally given his soul to Beelzebub in exchange for the most promising distro to date?

Then the answer came to me in a word: Vista.

Vista - that problematic and misbegotten child of Redmond that has been causing havoc in the IT world for nearly a year now. I haven't installed it on a work machine, neither has any other techie I know that wants to "Get Things Done". My dad had it and tried it daily for 6 months - he's now back on XP. I know corporate users who've had it on new machines and reverted to XP in order to decrease the amount of support required for users.

Shuttleworth and his cabal of Elite Ubuntu coders have recognised a change is in the air - particularly in Europe that is Linux's stronghold - we have an opportunity to put Linux on the desktop of millions of users who might upgrade to Vista but are worried about its impact. Couple this with a slight economic downturn and people are worried their existing hardware just won't work with Vista thus leading to a higher upgrade cost.

This latest LTS version gives novice and power users alike the ability to do anything they want with their desktop and it just works. It gives corporate users the knowledge that they have the security of support for 5 years without the rug being pulled out from under them.

We bit the bullet this week and put all our support team onto this version exclusively - WinXP was nuked off their machines. The development team are all dual booting but the number of XP desktops seem to be fading from view at a very fast rate as the requirement to just "drop in" on Windows becomes less necessary.

We've been saying it for nearly a decade but "this year is the year for desktop Linux" and with 8.04 Ubuntu the excuses for moving OS can now be left at the door thanks.

"Ubuntu 8.04 - truly desktop Linux" by ajfisher is licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 International License.

Source for citation: ajfisher.me/2008/05/02/ubuntu-8-04-truly-desktop-linux.