The guys at canonical have been working hard on the latest incantation of Ubuntu, this time its Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick MeerKat. Its looking very smooth and polished even though at the time of writing I’m currently running the release candiate and not the full version.
The first thing to note is the installer is looking VERY flash now days and installation is extremely easy and professional. If you take time to read some of the extra tick boxes you’ll find some useful options for installing third party sources, such as MP3 support out of the box. You can also choose to download any updates that might be available online but didn’t make it to CD, this will ensure you have all the latest packages when you first boot!
Now there has been some controversy lately regarding included packages such as the gimp photo editor and which will be the official browser that ships with Ubuntu. Well firefox fans will be pleased to hear the current default browser is indeed still firefox v3.6.10. The gimp photo editing suite is no longer installed by default, but it is one of the featured apps in the software centre, and its only a couple of clicks to install the software, if you use it, its easy to add if not you’ve just saved some disk space Being highlighted as a featured application makes for a good compromise in my humble opinion, and whilst lots of people in the community will miss the default install the statistics say more people never use it than do.
The software centre has, since Ubuntu 10.04 been looking more and more polished also, I’m still a big fan of the command line (apt-get) myself being a old skool debian user, however I can appreciate that less seasoned users will love the ease of searching and installing new applications without having to memorise all the command line options and fire up a shell. The software centre displays all the information you need, a quickly glance to decide if this is the software you require is all you need, its easy its fast, its simple.
You’ll also find adobe flash installed out of box (I’m assuming only if you ticked the 3rd party sources) which means setup time is even less, there is now no scrabbling about after install looking for all the plugins, a lot of sites use flash somewhere so its handy to have from the start. I was also very pleased to see this installed on a 64bit machine also without having to do anything special. This is the kind of fluid integration that linux as a whole needs to attract desktop users.
I was a little disappointed to not see in the software centre a easy way to pick from a predefined list of extra repositories. By this I mean I’d like to be able to tick a box to add the google chrome, oracle java or playdeb.nets repo’s without having to load up a browser download a package then install it. However saying that when you do download a .deb package from the web the installation is now handled by software centre so users are faced with a familiar interface and the standard information about the package.
Another addtion to 10.10 is the Ubuntu font family. Its a very nice looking font and should be the default font by release. It adds to the overall highly polished looks that 10.10 is bring to the desktop.
The kernel installed by default is 2.6.35-22 which should bring more support for newer hardware such as webcams, displays and improved graphic drivers. On the topic of graphics the default compiz (fancy desktop effects) settings on my box where just right, not too much but enough to make me think ooo this is pretty, you can easily turn on/off extra effects by visiting System -> Preferences -> Appearance -> Visual Effects.
Another updated and much anticipated feature is the sound menu bar. You’ve got your regular volume controls but now via an API applications can link into bar and provide information about the current playing track and allowing you to skip the song from the ease of a drop down located in the menu bar. Of course the default bundled Ubuntu applications come with support for this, so for example Rhythm Box works from the word go. Other applications are starting to adopt this via plugins which can be found via the software centre or just google it.
All in all if your going to try Linux for the first time Ubuntu 10.10 is easy and looks good. If your upgrading from a older version its well worth it. If your upgrading I’d recommend doing a apt-get dist-upgrade from 10.04 to 10.10. You’ll find this a lot faster as you can imagine on release day the world and his wife will be trying to download the iso.