Prior to Precise Pangolin(12.04) my last Ubuntu upgrade was from Jaunty(9.04) to Lucid(10.04). That was the hard way to do it. It was a double install having to install Karmic(9.10) for a few minutes along the way and never using it. Lucid worked fine and since my primary desktop machine was a Mac, I decided to wait for the next LTS release before attempting another upgrade. Of course, in the intervening two years I read about the new “Unity” desktop. Using VirtualBox I installed Oneiric(11.10) on my Mac in a VM just to see what it looked liked. I was less than impressed and seriously thought that the next upgrade on my Linux box would be to Linux Mint. Upgrade day finally arrived and I stuck with my loyalty to Ubuntu. The upgrade went well up to the point where the computer boots into the new OS. I could not boot. The MBR had been corrupted. Now someone geekier than myself might have worked this out but I decided to make a clean install from a live CD. Wisely, all of my personal data was backed up on other media. A clean install was just a matter of software. I burned the CD on my Mac but I could not help but thinking that it was these kinds of problems that Linux developers would have to overcome before they could seriously increase their share of the desktop market.
In any event, having taken the plunge, I soon had Precise up and running. I was staring at that butt ugly Unity launchbar that I had first seen in the VM. And where the hell was everything? My friendly GNOME desktop was gone. It was clear that I needed to “bone up” on what had developed over the last two years. I moved over to my Mac, did some googling and got three valuable insights.
First, with a few commands I could install the GNOME desktop as well as a new CINNAMON desktop developed for Linux Mint. It’s interesting that a desktop developed for one distro could run on another, but as Mint is built on Ubuntu it was not surprising. Second, I learned that the ugly launcher could be hidden via a System Setting that could accessed through a little gear icon in the corner of the display. This was a clue as to where Precise was hiding things. Third, I learned that Precise was implementing something called Heads Up Display(HUD). Query boxes could be brought up by hitting the ALT key on the keyboard, whatever that meant.
I returned to the Linux box, managed to find a terminal and quickly installed the alternative desktops. With little delay I was soon enjoying the CINNAMON desktop. I really like this but unfortunately it’s not completely developed. I tried, without success, to install my wireless network printer. I thought that maybe if I figured out how to install the printer in Unity, it might work in CINNAMON. Logging back into Unity and following the instructions I quickly had the launchbar hidden and the printer installed. Then the light bulb in my brain suddenly clicked ON. Unity was trying to act like a Mac! The HUD thing was the equivalent of the Mac spotlight, the lauchbar was a dock! I didn’t need menus! Just type a few letters into the HUD box and you get what you want! I typed in “syn”, the built-in word completion showed Synaptic Package Manager and bingo, there it was. Yes, after a few more entries into the HUD I was convinced that this was a truly remarkable milestone in Ubuntu’s development.
The somewhat unintuitive task of software installation and removal has long been a criticism of Linux distros. Those of us comfortable on the command line do not represent the general population. The task has now been given to the Uuntu Software Center, accessed via a button in the launchbar. After finding the disired package(app) in the Ubuntu repository there are two simple buttons labelled “Install” and “Remove”. It can’t get any simpler than that. Now some of us, being the geeks that we are, will still insist on using the command line with its powerful options, however, it is clear that the Ubuntu delopers are striving for a Mac-like OS, OS X being famous for its ease of use. The terminal will not disappear but the need for its use will diminish over time. The need for exploring menus also diminishes as the query language becomes more intelligent. Precise already seems to be pretty smart.
OS X on the Mac is excellent but Mac hardware is expensive. Unlike versions of Windows from Microsoft, OS X can be installed without a license key. There is no “Apple Genuine Advantage” and if you are successful in its installation you will not encounter anti-theft booby traps. Find compatible hardware and you can have a “Hackintosh” desktop computer. In reality it’s much easier said then done. Windows is the most stolen and counterfeited OS in the world because it will run on so many hardware configurations. OS X will not. Apple does attack flagrant violators of its copyrights but does not seem to be concerned about individual hobbyists. Ubuntu is FREE open source software. It cannot be stolen. It will run on most any hardware that can support Windows. It behaves a lot like a Mac.
Yes, the launchbar is butt ugly, but I’m sticking with Precise until my next upgrade.