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Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon) first impressions

I'm typing this in a freshly downloaded version of Opera running on the LiveCD version of Kubuntu, the KDE version of Ubuntu, release no. 7.10, Gutsy Gibbon, on my home machine.

That's the good news, in many ways. I've always liked having LiveCD distros around because they're very useful for testing stuff, staying abreast of the state of linux technology without having to risk buggering up your computer, and as rescue systems with which to access your computer after you've buggered it up. But in my experience, the actual performance of LiveCD distros has often left a lot to be desired. Some of them haven't worked at all; some others worked on one machine but not another. None of them could ever connect to the Internet on my home machine. Not one. Until this one. That's a big step ahead, because it makes the things I want to do with it (testing software and troubleshooting my main installation when it isn't working) that much easier.

Scanning and sound all work, which is great, and the OS is even dimly aware of my TV card, though I didn't get around to configuring it and finally getting some TV signal out of it. It correctly guessed the size of my display, though it did smoosh the desktop picture horizontally a bit, another thing I didn't get round to fixing, because software-based display configuration didn't work and I can never remember what happens after I adjust the screen itself - whether it automatically resets itself whenever I boot into a new system or if it keeps the new settings between OSes - so I didn't.

A lot of other things, however, haven't got that much easier, and some of the supposedly easy things don't work. For example, Amarok currently plays any music file I ask it to, as long as it's an Ogg Vorbis file. No worries, most of my music is in Ogg anyway, and besides, the first time it encountered an mp3 file, it prompted me to download the MP3 support libraries. Lovely, except that after downloading and installing said libraries and prompting me to restart the application, it still doesn't play MP3 files, and prompts me again to install the MP3 support.

The idea is nice though, and I'd have liked a similar feature (except functional, ha ha) for the movie player, which plays even fewer codec formats out of the box than SuSE does. Open source zealotry has its advantages, but it's disastrous for linux as a multimedia platform. This is one thing Knoppix definitely does better.

Likewise, the new software package management front-end, Adept, makes software installation as easy as falling off a log, and every bit as pointless. On my first try, it reported completing the installation of all the newnew softwarem then proceeded not to show the new apps anywhere at all. Strangely, when I had another go, it did install Firefox but still didn't show me the apps I'd installed in my first attempt. Something strange is going on here. Luckily the Debian installer clearly works, so Opera got running on the first try and a whole list of possible causes could be ruled out.

Adept, by the way, is fairly slow. I'm guessing this is because what it does is download the source code and its dependent libraries, then compiles it behind the user's back, thus rendering moot the distinction between source and binary installation. But I can't be sure, because it doesn't give a whole lot of feedback on what it's doing.

The same problem of non-install installs may or may not apply to the desktop eye-candy that was promised- it may simply be that my hardware doesn't support it, or it may be that the nVidia driver only claims to have been installed without actually running in any meaningful sense, or ... well, whatever it is, it'll take some time to find out. It doesn't take a lot of trouble to tell me the reason, anyway.

And that brings me to the biggest problem. I recall that previous versions of Ubuntu had an obvious way to save any changes I made to it between sessions. Or was I thinking of Knoppix? Anyway, that way, I could at least build on what I already knew, in the knowledge that whenever I called it quits and switched off, the work wouldn't be lost. So what if installing software and configuring system functions was a bit more complicated than promised? I wouldn't have to do it often, and I'd learn stuff on the way. But I'm not going to dig into the bowels of my OS if my changes are going to be wiped out anyway.

When it comes to actually using the OS, getting online, playing music, accessing the drives, etcetera, Kubuntu 7.10 does seem to be running smoothly enough. and what is actually on the CD is easy to use. The System control panel should be instantly familiar to OS X users, and there's potentially nifty stuff in there like preconfigured zeroconf networking (useless to me right now but I'm thinking of building a home network). Kubuntu is also backed up by speedy bug reporting from the community, and has a nifty, immediate approach to allowing users to contribute to internationalisation, which I want to investigate further. At the very least I'll try it out again to familiarise myself with its workings, and maybe I'll look into installing it on a separate partition once I'm sure it doesn't brutally overwrite my current bootloader. In short, not quite there, for my purposes, but closer than the last version I tried.

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