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First Look: Ubuntu 8.10 Beta

Every six months, I personally download and test the newest upcoming version of Ubuntu Linux to see how well it compares with previous versions. Ubuntu 8.04 "Hardy Heron" had some significant shortcomings, so I was eager to see if 8.10 "Intrepid Ibex" would be any different.

Since the software included with 8.10 is very similar to what was included with 8.04, this review will be mostly based around performance and the general experience of 8.10.

I chose to test a late beta and a release candidate (RC) on two different computers, which I designated as "core" and "laptop." Core is my new computer which I bought back in June, and Laptop is my HP Pavilion dv2000 laptop which I bought two years ago.

The beta performed abysmally on Core. The most significant setback was a display problem which caused the screen to stretch vertically, causing text to be distorted to the point of near illegibility. Hardy Heron also had this problem, and I was hoping that 8.10 would have fixed it, but no luck. The problem seems to be related to the GNOME desktop environment, since KDE displays properly with the same configuration. Several other distributions based on Ubuntu also inherited this problem, as I noticed in my review of gOS several months ago. I tried to fix this problem by loading other display drivers, but the restricted drivers module refused to work properly on Core.

On Laptop, the 8.10 beta worked much better -- no display problems. The restricted driver module allowed me to load firmware for my wireless device.

However, 8.10 did not boot properly the first time I tested it with either Core or Laptop. This problem was the most serious on Core; it took several tries to get the OS to boot from the live CD without hanging. I finally got it to work by disconnecting an external hard drive that was plugged into Core. On Laptop, this only happened once. Also, the beta would not shut down properly on either computer.

I was expecting the beta to be buggy and rough around the edges, but I was hoping that at this point, the RC would be much more polished. As with the beta, I tested the RC on both Core and Laptop. The display problems I experienced on Core with the beta persisted with the RC, and the restricted drivers module would not work in this release, either.

However, the boot reliability was improved; both Core and Laptop booted properly on the first attempt. I also noticed that battery efficiency had been increased significantly from earlier Ubuntu releases. I was hoping that the new OpenOffice.org 3.0 would be included in 8.10, but thus far, the RC still includes OpenOffice.org 2.4.

One new thing I noticed is the ability to create a new USB boot drive; this can be useful for booting your system in an emergency if you have an old, low-capacity flash drive available.

Several small things were also improved in 8.10; the vivid orange-and-brown theme has been toned down to a more gray tone, and the startup sound is much more subtle and pleasant. (The jungle-like sound on previous releases made me cringe whenever it played in public places, and got me in the habit of disabling the startup sound on my laptop.) However, the original startup sound was restored in the RC. As far as aesthetics go, I liked the artwork on the beta much more; the default wallpaper on the RC reminded me of a dirty cement wall.

Ubuntu has always been a solid operating system -- and it still is. However, hardware support is still hit-and-miss (especially on newer computers) and should definitely be improved. Hardware support is particularly bad on Core, but I've previously had better success using Kubuntu, Ubuntu's KDE environment, which will now start including KDE4 by default.

I guess I'll still have to file a bug report to get my problems fixed!

About the Author

Will Kraft is a Web designer, technical consultant and freelance writer. He can be reached at will@willkraftblog.com. Also, check out his blog at http://www.willkraftblog.com.

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