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Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick Meerkat Released: Netbook Review

Its been a little while since my last post and some might be wondering whats been going on in technology here at the PMC, especially since the last post promised insight into some of our production software.

Well, thats all still coming. We DID get in our new desktop for our Media Center, and I am working on compiling a few videos showing its construction. I’ve also been working on updating and testing the production software to give everyone a better picture of what can be done with our Open Source resources. All that is coming, and you can now receive shorter updates and info through the PMC Tech Blog Twitter and Identi.ca feed (For those of you unaware, Identi.ca is an Open Source microblogging service, similar to twitter). Follow me and get much more frequent updates about things going on here at the PMC and in the Open Source world in general.

Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Edition

With those loose ends left slightly less loose, lets move on to today’s subject: the release of Ubuntu 10.10. On Sunday, October 10th, Ubuntu released the stable version of its latest OS, Ubuntu 10.10. For those of you who are new to the Ubuntu GNU/Linux project, Ubuntu releases a new version of its operating system about once every 6 months (compared to Windows once every 3-5 years, and Mac OS KINDA every 2 years). The previous release, 10.04 is considered a Long Term Service (LTS) release, meaning Canonical and the Ubuntu Community will keep supporting that specific version for several years for those who would like longevity with their OS. An LTS version is released about every 2 years.

While its still very new, I’ve had a chance to fiddle around with 10.10 on one of our spare netbooks for the fellows. On the Netbook Edition side, I can say that there have been much greater changes, at least to the visual layout, than I expected.

Layout

The 10.04 Netbook edition came with large, catergorized, text filled tabs that largely mirrored the Applications menu organization in standard Ubuntu, and populated your desktop for at all times with applications to choose from. 10.10 has uncluttered the first view and opted for the quick application launch pane populated primarily by internet and light use oriented programs like Firefox and Empathy.

Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Edition Desktop

Now you can really see that fancy wallpaper you love without sacrificing your view at your applications.

You still have a nice applications menu filled with all your applications and organized by type, including an system that puts your most used applications at the top, and a search bar at the top.

I would give you a screenshot of what the new application browser looks like, but it seems there is a limitation (bug?) in the screen capture software that comes pre-installed as I am unable to take screenshots of the application viewer, nor the files and folders desktop viewer, nor the workspace selector. Which brings me to the next change:

Workspaces!

For a very long time now multiple desktop workspaces has been standard in linux, including Ubuntu and its variants. Sadly, at least by default there was only one real workspace in Ubuntu Netbook Edition 10.04 (almost 2 if had a dual monitor/projector setup). Well, that has changed with a rather sleek new workspace viewer, by default in your left hand application tab, which allows you to smoothly view 4 workspaces and switch between them. It has an added feature (which I’m not sure how I feel about yet) that whenever you select the workspace application, it pulls all your currently open other applications into the bottom left workspace and spreads them out. From the viewer, you can then drag and drop any application into any workspace you’d like before selecting which workspace you would like to switch to. On the other hand, you can press ctrl+alt+ any directional button to switch between workspaces without altering what applications are where. By default these workspaces are arranged in a 2×2 grid.

Rhythmbox and Integration

10.10 also features better integration with Rhythmbox for all your music needs. The default version of Rhythmbox in 10.10 now features the new Ubuntu One music store, in addition to Magnatune and Jamundo music stores which were already available (note: you can easily get the Ubuntu One music store plugin for Rhythmbox in 10.04 as well).

In addition, the sound applet used in 10.10 better integrates your Rythmbox player.

Rhtymbox

Screen shot of Rhythmbox and Rhythmbox integration into sound applet

Downpoints?

Well, honestly the new style is a matter of preference. Personally, I think its more aesthetically pleasing, but right now I’d still prefer the old layout for efficiency of use with many applications. As I use this more that is becoming less of an issue. I’m sure there’s a way to change back to the old style, but so far I haven’t found how, and it would likely be a bit tedious.

No longer, by default you can no longer open up multiple versions of the same application by clicking its launch button, even on different workspaces. Instead, if you click on the launch button for FireFox  in the left hand panel it will call up the current open one, even if you are in a different workspace. You can still click on file->New Window in FireFox and get a new window but then you find that this does not create a new left tab icon for FireFox. Instead, when you click on the FireFox icon, it seems to randomly select one of your FireFox windows (maybe the most recently viewed?) and pull that up. If you are already looking at a Firefox window when you hit the icon, it will spread the two windows before you and let you select whichever one you want (like with the workspaces).  Aesthetically this keeps things looking nice, and it isn’t a big burden, but again it comes down to taste. I would prefer to see tabs or icons of all my open applications along a panel, but some may prefer this view which cuts down on clutter.

On the HP Mini 210:

The blue “webcam on” light seems to turn on now (which I don’t think it did before), but it stays on all the time. This can get a bit annoying and render it about as useful as when it was always off (except maybe as an extra small flashlight?)

The battery indicator can’t seem to estimate how much battery life I have left, nor how much time till charged. It just continually says “Laptop Battery (estimating…). This seems like an issue that will likely get a fix soon enough, but for now its a bit bothersome. On the other hand, it still graphically changes the battery fill bar and gives you the red warning when it thinks the battery is low.

Remember I mentioned trackpad issues before? Yea, they’re still there. They seem a bit less noticeable, but still existent. I haven’t tried the trackpad driver fix that exists on the forums yet to see if it still works for 10.10.

There is, of course, the screenshot issue I mentioned above too.

Bottom Line:

So far, I like the new release, but am not sure how much better the new setup is over the 10.04 version. I usually recommend waiting a couple weeks after official launch of a new version to upgrade to allow some bug fixes and updates to come in, and allow the Ubuntu Community time to figure out solutions to diverse problems. The release of 10.10 is no exception to that rule, though the initial bugs I’ve encountered are rather minor.

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