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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Ubuntu 7.10 Desktop Linux on Steroids

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Ubuntu 7.10 was released a few days back and being an avid and passionate user of Ubuntu Linux i downloaded the distribution on my slow college internet connection , It took me over 30 hours to download the distribution [:(] So i was really looking forward to the new Ubuntu 7.10 and here is the review of the Linux distribution :-

Ubuntu is one of the better known Linux distribution , that is making mark on the desktop front from the deal with Dell to topping distrowatch there have been ominous sign that Ubuntu could actually challenge likes of Mac OS and Windows on the desktop . Ubuntu 7.10 is one step forward in this direction . It is probably one of the most polished Linux distribution that is very well supported by community on the internet . Ubuntu 7.10 builds on previous releases and adds new features , functionality, features ,customization that truly make it a interesting desktop Linux distribution to try.

Installation : -

I have been using a really old laptop (Cel 1.4Ghz , 256 MB etc etc) so as recommended on the Ubuntu website (they recommend not to use Live CD for installation on system with less than 320 MB of RAM) I downloaded alternate installation CD which is basically text mode installation cd for Ubuntu which provides a bit more customization of installation . Now initially the installation did go well , i didn't have any kind of problem but when actually it started copying files onto the system and configuring various devices on the computer for some strange reason entire installation screen looked garbled with all kind of strange text ( i guess it happened because of some bug in graphic card detection system because it was doing that when this happened on my system) anyways so since alternate installation CD didn't work out the way it should have i downloaded normal Live CD .
Some Clips of Installation using alternate installation CD


This is how alternate installion CD's installer froze

I booted into Live CD , now to my surprise Ubuntu 7.10 had automatically mounted swap partition unlike the previous Ubuntu distribution which for some strange reason had removed automatic mounting of swap drive making entire Live CD installation painful on my rickety old system .

Now because of mounting of swap partition , the Live CD and Installation was atleast responsive (unlike Ubuntu 7.04 :( ) and i was able to install Ubuntu on my computer in around 1 hour . The installation program hasn't changed a lot from the previous release of Ubuntu 7.04 . There is a migration assistant that could be of particular use to Linux newbies who would be using their computers as dual boot system , it basically allows one to have the same kind of desktop configuration (fonts , wallpaper , user account etc etc) as Windows on their newly installed Ubuntu Desktop . Also, since in the Live CD installation you are booted into a full fledged Linux desktop so if you have sufficient amount of RAM you could easily use other applications while installation is going on .

Over the past 8-9 years i had been using Linux , Linux installation has improved a lot from a time when it was the most difficult part for newbies to a time now when installation of certain flavor of Linux distribution like Ubuntu,Freespire,etc are even simpler than popular Windows operating system , things have surely changed a lot .

Booting into newly Installed Ubuntu System

After completing the installation on rebooting the system , i was presented with grub bootloader and to my relief it had configured my operating system properly ( i have Windows XP , Freespire , OpenSuse installed) . From selecting Ubuntu in grub bootloader to booting to Log in screen the entire thing took ----- minutes .

Ubuntu 7.10 Login Screen

After logging into , i was thrown into the familiar Ubuntu desktop with Human theme . Now the first thing you notice is that all your partition including NTFS windows partition are automatically mounted and even read /write support is automatically enabled unlike Ubuntu 7.04 .

Also , unlike previous releases of Ubuntu where one had to manually download and install Compiz Fusion (Compiz Fusion is composite window manager that provides best features of Compiz and Beryl) from Repositories if one wanted to have glitzy visual effects . In Ubuntu 7.10 Compiz Fusion comes pre-installed and on supported hardware offers a wide array of Visual Effect . Now depending on graphic hardware of computer one could chose from three level of Visual Effect (From System -> Preferences -> Appearance )

None : - This mode causes Ubuntu to use Metacity instead of Compiz Fusion , with no visual effect

Basic : - Has only simple visual effects like shadows , fading windows-menus etc

Advanced : - Recommended for PC with descent graphic hardware , enables effects like wobbly windows, transparency , animated workspace switching etc
Visual Effect Dialog Box
Now , the biggest advantage of Compiz Fusion is even on really slow hardware one can have descent set of visual effects even on my slow laptop i could use Extra graphics effects though it was painful while using application like OpenOffice because of my slow hardware.

Hardware Support

Hardware support is one area where desktop Linux has matured a lot over past few years most of the cameras,phones , ipod , printers ,graphic card etc all are very well supported out of box on Linux distribution these days , and Ubuntu has one of the best hardware support .

I Was able to use my phone Sony Erricson K750i and Nokia N73 ,Printer HP 1210 , Apple 30GB ipod , and few USB pen drives out of box without any hassle . Now besides this it recognized and configured almost all the peripherals on my laptop properly .

Another interesting addition to Ubuntu 7.10 is new Graphical Configuration Application (System -> Administration -> Screens and Graphics ), that simplifies configuration of things like graphics driver , resolution , monitor , dual screen , etc . Now this application is welcome addition as configuring via xorg.conf is really painful and difficult for Linux newbies . Also another interesting thing was support for wide screen monitor , in previous releases i had a significant trouble trying to configure widescreen monitor support using utility like 915resolution , Now in Ubuntu 7.10 it seems this application has done something to make it bit easier . Though because of unavailability of wide screen laptop i wasn't able to test this .
Screen and Graphic configuration application
Another interesting thing in this release of Ubuntu 7.10 is improved font support , the fonts look much better than previous release of Ubuntu and even in Firefox i must say fonts looked better than same web page rendered on Firefox running on Windows .

There is also significant improvement in printing .



Application Set

Since Ubuntu is a single CD Linux distribution , it comes with very basic set of applications . Some of the application included with Ubuntu 7.10 are : -

As a desktop environment Ubuntu uses Gnome 2.20 , if you are one of those who prefer KDE you could use Kubuntu .


As Email Client Ubuntu comes preloaded with Evolution, and for internet browsing Firefox Web Browser .
Application Menu in Ubuntu
Ubuntu comes loaded with OpenOffice 2.3 which is quite mature office productivity suite , with included applications for word processing , Spreadsheet ,Presentation , Database and Graphic designing . OpenOffice over years have matured a lot from it's StarOffice days , especially in terms of Microsoft Office compatibility . One should be able to open Microsoft Office documents easily in open office with little or no loss of formatting .

For instant messaging Ubuntu 7.10 has Pidgin 2.2.1(Which was previously called Gaim ) , now Pidgin supports all the major protocols including AIM,Jabber,MSN,Yahoo,IRC etc .
Pidgin Instant Messenger
Though , One area where Ubuntu lacks a bit is Multimedia support it comes with basic multimedia application and only limited codecs are installed by default because of Licensing issues .However Ubuntu 7.10 has made it really easy to install codecs with wizard based installation of codecs.

Wizard based Installation of codecs

For Music management it comes preinstalled with Rhythmbox which has good Ogg playback though mp3 support is lacking because of codec issues , For movie playing it comes pre installed with Totem which uses Gstreamer back end for playing video files . Though i would recommend installing of more mature and better multimedia application like MPlayer or Xine for playing video files .

For Photo management it comes preloaded with F-Spot and for graphics editing GIMP .


Desktop Search

One significant inclusion in Ubuntu 7.10 is inclusion of search tool called Tracker this tool coupled with search applet provides a very similar search functionality to Mac OS Spotlight . Now the application is still in early stage of development , but still it promises a lot . Now there have been similar tools available on Linux including Novell supported Beagle and Google Desktop but biggest advantage of Tracker over these tools is Tracker is extremely efficient and can perform well even on slow hardware .

Also one can easily adjust performance of Tracker from (System -> Preferences -> Indexing Preferences )

Tracker Performance Adjusting Dialog Box

Also Tracker is very well integrated with Gnome with Deskbar applet providing easy way of searching for files , Deskbar applet provides simple way of searching for files . Alt + F3 opens up Deskbar search box .

Tracker Deskbar Search Applet


Alternatively if you want to use Tracker search box , you could use (Applications -> Accessories -> Tracker Search Tool ) for searching for files .
Tracker Search Box

Conclusion

Overall Ubuntu 7.10 is extremely usable Desktop Linux distribution that could be ideal distribution for people making transition from Windows to Linux or Mac OS to Linux . Tracker search tool , Easy wizard based installation of codecs , Visual Effects using Compiz Fusion and easy installation of thousands of application in repositories all of this makes Ubuntu very appealing to linux newbies .


Brief of features in Ubuntu 7.10 : -
Kernel 2.6.22
Xorg 7.3
OpenOffice 2.3
Firefox 2.0.0.6
GNOME 2.20
Pidgin 2.2.1
GIMP 2.4.0-rc3
Tracker search tool
Compiz Fusion 3-D effects



Article Written by : -
Ambuj Varshney <>
For Linux On Desktop Blog (http://linuxondesktop.blogspot.com)
(C) 2007 , Ambuj Varshney

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Freespire 2.0 - Newbie Friendly Linux Distribution

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Freespire was released back in July 2006 as Linux Distribution that provided out of box support for Multimedia codecs , was user friendly , had a easy application installation system and best of all was free . Now Linspire has been in the Desktop Linux business for a number of years they even had to change their name from Lindows to Linspire after a lawsuit from Microsoft which was settled with Microsoft paying Lindows 20 Million US$ and now since Linspire has been in desktop Linux business for a number of years and Freespire is community open source version of Linspire so it's natural to expect freespire to be extremely user friendly and to a extent it's true too .


1. Installation : -

Freespire comes on a single cd (ISO 680 MB in size) and has an option for booting into Live CD mode as well as a straight forward installation . Now if you are unsure whether you really want to install Freespire you could try running Freespire in Live CD mode initially (which is highly recommended) . Now I have been using Linux for over 10 years now and i have tried almost all the popular Linux distribution now i have to admit Freespire/Linspire has one of the of the simplest installation routines/newbie friendly among all the popular Linux distributions .

The entire installation completes in few clicks and the installation doesn't take lot of time to complete as well . On my relatively old system (Cel 1.4Ghz laptop with 256 Megabytes of RAM ) entire installation took less than 17 Minutes to complete which was far better compared to other Linux distributions in fact i had a hell of difficulty installing Ubuntu since Ubuntu does not mount swap drives automatically so the entire installation and the Live CD mode was in operable and took almost an hour to install even after mounting my swap partition entire installation again took around 35 Minutes to complete which was still significantly greater than what Freespire took .

The entire installation is very user friendly with pop ups describing packages which are being installed and user friendly graphics making installation simpler .

Freespire Installation Under Progress


Though one thing i disliked about the installation routine was that during partitioning it had only two options either to take over entire hard disk or you could chose some already pre-existing Linux partition to install Freespire on . This could be bit difficult for Linux newbies who don't know much about partitioning and who are trying to install Freespire as a dual boot system . What Freespire team could have done was put an option in the installer where the installation program would make partition from free space in partition table or resize windows partition and create a Linux partition where Freespire could be installed easily (like the installer of many other linux distribution notably Ubuntu ) making life easier for Linux newbies .

Overall except for Partitioning entire installation process was extremely user friendly and very newbie friendly .

2. Booting Into Freespire

Freespire 2.0 is based on Ubuntu (7.04) as opposed to earlier version of Freespire which was based on Debian linux .

Now After rebooting i was pleasantly surprised to note that my windows and other linux distributions were correctly recognized in grub and grub configured Freespire as default operating system to boot into in case of no response from the user in stipulated time interval .

Freespire Loading


Now , right from the login screen to the actual desktop the first thing that strikes is extreme user friendliness of Freespire , from fonts to icons everything seems to be very user friendly or to say correctly newbie friendly . Colorful Icons , Properly Spaced fonts etc every thing adds to the user's experience .

Login Screen Freespire


Unlike Ubuntu on which Freespire is based on internally , Freespire uses KDE as it's default desktop . Now personally i like using Gnome , but in certain aspects KDE is better than Gnome and with upcoming KDE 4 which could revolutionize Desktop Linux things look bright for the KDE based Linux Distributions .

This is How Freespire's Desktop Looks

As i had mentioned before the entire desktop , icons , fonts are extremely user friendly . You would find all kind of user friendly icons in the task bar at the bottom including one for Trash , Power off , lock , Time , Date , Web Browser , IM , Email etc .


Desktop has ICONS for CNR (Which is a tool for installing applications easily ) , Browsing Network Share and Computer for accessing resources of the computer .

The first time you boot into Freespire , a wizard like tool is loaded that helps you configure your newly installed Freespire system .

Now, even though my system was running on 256 Megabytes of RAM i didn't notice any significant delay or performance lag while using freespire this is really good unlike operating systems like Vista which require ridiculously large amount of RAM to work properly atleast this is good for people like me who are stuck with old pc's .

3. Application Set

Even though the entire installation of Freespire comes on a single CD , it has a wide array of applications . There is entire Open Office Suite which is a very popular office productivity application and alternative to popular Microsoft Office on Windows platform , There are a number of simple games to help you fight your boredom ,then for Internet browsing there is Firefox loaded with all the plug-ins like flash and java etc, there is a tool for downloading torrent and making VoIP calls over the Internet and there are hosts of other open source applications as well. Freespire is based on 2.6.20-16 kernel .

Now besides all the popular common application which are found in most other Linux distributions , freespire is unique in the sense they support/have developed/developing a number of good desktop applications like LPhoto for Photo management , Lsongs which is a audio player , Nvu for web page development(Not included with Freespire 2.0) and inclusion of these friendly application is one thing that might tempt people to try freespire out .
LPhoto in Action


Besides these Freespire has included support for number of proprietary file formats (means ability to play different audio / video files and display different types of files ) , Java , Flash , Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) files , Windows Media FIles , MP3 files, RealPlayer 10 (for RealMedia files) etc are all supported out of the box and there is no need for installing any additional plug-in to play/use these file formats .


Lsongs in Action

Freespire also includes modified Firefox Web Browser and Thunderbird email client , it is modified in the sense that freespire team has customized it to increases it's over all friendliness .

Now , application installation is one thing which freespire/linspire from the initial days have stressed on and have wonderful tool called CNR(Click and Run) allowing users to easily install free/ closed source applications(after paying) from the Internet with few mouse clicks . Now because of some reason i wasn't able to start CNR on my test system (gave me Segmentation fault :( ) , but trust me i have used CNR before and it really makes application installation easy for Linux newbies .

Another thing which i particularly liked was i could easily browse all the computers on my LAN painlessly through "Network Share manager " , now in other distributions which i have tried it's bit difficult to share files with computers on the Lan running operating system other than Linux .
Windows Share being accessed in Freespire

Another important thing , since freespire is based on Ubuntu Linux so with a little bit of tweaking it's also possible to use the Ubuntu's repositories and synaptic tool to install applications on the freespire system .


Hardware Support

Overall i didn't have any kind of problems with any of my hardware , all my drivers on my IBM Thinkpad worked well under Freespire , i tried connecting in my Sony Erricson k750i phone and it was instantaneously recognized by freespire and mounted .Similarly my Video iPod was automatically mounted on connecting it . Overall hardware support seems quite satisfactory and infact freespire in their website claim that they have added proprietary drivers to improve overall freespire's usage experience .

From Freespire's Website : -
Proprietary drivers are added to expand hardware compatibility and provide optimum 3D graphic card support, better WiFi support, and more.
Here is the entire list of Proprietary codec's and Drivers supported by Freespire : - http://wiki.freespire.org/index.php/Summary_of_Proprietary_Components

What's Missing : -

Now overall freespire does seem to be promising but there are few things that they could work on , now even though Freespire is based on Ubuntu they have removed the Synaptic front-end now they could include Synaptic in the distribution too . Yes they are promoting their own subscription service CNR but there's no harm in including Synaptic as well .

Secondly as i have already mentioned before there should be more options during the partition stage of the installation

and finally they could include some sort of Wizard or an application to allow users to Sync their data with Windows and other Linux installation easily it could be wonderful addition to the distribution .

Conclusion :

Overall i have been highly impressed by the usability of the freespire linux distribution , it's extremely simple , installation of new application is just a click away and support for all proprietary formats is added out of the box , this distribution can just get better with every release . it's one linux distribution i would suggest to people who want to actually use Linux without spending too much of their energy learning how linux works .


Article Written by : -
Ambuj Varshney <>
For Linux on Desktop Blog
(http://linuxondesktop.blogspot.com)
(C) 2007, Ambuj Varshney