15th Jun 2010 | 09:00
Ubuntu 10 tries its best to chase the big cats, but can a leopard change its spots?
After five years of faithful service, Brown is out – and that goes for Ubuntu too. That earthen, muddy hue that was supposed to remind us of our shared humanity and the real meaning of 'ubuntu' has been consigned to Linux history.
Or at least, it has unless you click on the Appearance icon and switch back to the Human theme.
The World's Most Popular Linux Distribution has found a replacement, and it's all aurora purple and slate grey. In our opinion, it's a big improvement. This new appearance is also a big indication of where Ubuntu wants to take itself, as there's more than one aesthetic nod in Apple's direction.
Controversially, the window control buttons have moved from the top right to the top left, with the close button indented slightly above what is normally the Edit menu. It can be changed back with a hack, but we had no problems with the transition, and Canonical says it intends to use the freed space on the right for new features, which sounds good to us.
The group of monochrome icons in the top right of the display are now used to access various social networks, as well as your email and messaging status in something called the MeMenu.
Simplicity is also taking over in the Applications menu, with overbearing opensource giants like GIMP dropped from the default desktop, and the Synaptic package manager sidestepped in favour of the new Software Center, an application with its sights firmly set on a future that includes paid content.
Head in the clouds
Canonical is also taking its first tentative steps towards monetising the desktop through its Ubuntu One cloud storage service. You get 2GB of storage for free when you create an account, and when it's enabled, you can synchronise the contents of the desktop Ubuntu One folder with your online storage space – which will, in turn, re-sync with any other Ubuntu desktop connected to your cloud account.
It also works with your Evolution contacts, your Tomboy notes and Firefox bookmarks, along with your mobile phone if you pay.
In concert with your Ubuntu One account, you can now purchase music through the Gnome-based Rhythmbox media player. This software sits alongside the two Creative Commons-based services from Jamendo and Magnatune. There's an impressive selection of mainstream music on offer through Ubuntu, all sub-licensed from 7 Media.
While it's great to see such a development on the Linux desktop, it's disappointing to find that music is predominantly only available in MP3 format, but at least the files are high quality at 256kbps and free of any pesky DRM.
Moving music to an external device may prove tricky, though, and we had some serious issues with the much-touted iPod Touch and iPhone support. We have serious doubts over how effective Canonical's unofficial Apple device support will be, and how it can possibly expect to keep abreast of iPhone firmware updates.
We experienced other problems too. 10.04 behaves poorly as a virtual machine. It quickly adds superfluous kernel entries to the Boot menu, and the installer failed to detect our dual-boot system and launch the migration assistant.
If you're a KDE user, you'll find little difference in Kubuntu from the vanilla packages provided by the official KDE release, and you'll also lose out on much of the Ubuntu One integration, at least in the short-term.
UNR, the netbook version, benefits most from the new theme and more efficient use of screen space, but we're waiting for Canonical's Unity and Gnome 3.0 for any real taste of revolution on the small screen.
What we're left with is a division. If you're not a current Linux user then Ubuntu offers the best Linux experience you can have. The desktop looks ultra-modern and the package manager is slick, expansive and easy to use.
But if you're a Linux user looking for a spring break from your current distribution, this release doesn't do enough to warrant the upgrade. While it looks nice, there's no real innovation and nothing we can get too excited about.
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