Back in the early part of 2008 we decided that we wanted to take a fresh look at Linux on the desktop. To do so we would start with a “switcher” article, giving us the chance to start anew and talk about some important topics while gauging the usability of Linux.

That article was supposed to take a month. As I have been continuously reminded, it has been more than a month. So oft delayed but never forgotten, we have finally finished our look at Ubuntu 8.04, and we hope it has been worth the wait.

There are many places I could have started this article, but the best place to start is why this article exists at all. Obviously some consideration comes from the fact that this is my job, but I have been wanting to seriously try a Linux distribution for quite some time. The fact that so much time has transpired between the last desktop Linux article here at AnandTech and my desire to try Linux makes for an excellent opportunity to give it a shot and do something about our Linux coverage at the same time.

After I threw this idea at Anand, the immediate question was what distribution of Linux should we use. As Linux is just an operating system kernel, and more colloquially it is the combination of the Linux kernel and the GNU toolset (hence the less common name GNU/Linux), this leaves a wide variation of actual distributions out there. Each distribution is its own combination of GNU/Linux, applications, window managers, and more, to get a complete operating system.

Since our target was a desktop distribution with a focus on home usage (rather than being exclusively enterprise focused) the decision was Ubuntu, which has established a strong track record of being easy to install, easy to use, and well supported by its user community. The Linux community has a reputation of being hard to get into for new users, particularly when it comes to getting useful help that doesn’t involve being told to read some esoteric manual (the RTFA mindset), and this is something I wanted to avoid. Ubuntu also has a reputation for not relying on the CLI (Command-Line Interface) as much as some other distributions, which is another element I was shooting for – I may like the CLI, but only when it easily allows me to do a task faster. Otherwise I’d like to avoid the CLI when a GUI is a better way to go about things.

I should add that while we were fishing for suggestions for the first Linux distro to take a look at, we got a lot of suggestions for PCLinuxOS. On any given day I don’t get a lot of email, so I’m still not sure what that was about. Regardless, while the decision was to use Ubuntu, it wasn’t made in absence of considering any other distributions. Depending on the reception of this article, we may take a look at other distros.

But with that said, this article serves two purposes for us. It’s first and foremost a review of Ubuntu 8.04. And with 9.04 being out, I’m sure many of you are wondering why we’re reviewing anything other than the latest version of Ubuntu. The short answer is that Ubuntu subscribes to the “publish early, publish often” mantra of development, which means there are many versions, not all of which are necessarily big changes. 8.04 is a Long Term Support release; it’s the most comparable kind of release to a Windows or Mac OS X release. This doesn’t mean 9.04 is not important (which is why we’ll get to it in Part 2), but we wanted to start with a stable release, regardless of age. We’ll talk more about this when we discuss support.

The other purpose for this article is that it’s also our baseline “introduction to Linux” article. Many components of desktop distributions do not vary wildly for the most part, so much of what we talk about here is going to be applicable in future Linux articles. Linux isn’t Ubuntu, but matters of security, some of the applications, and certain performance elements are going to apply to more than just Ubuntu.

Background
POST A COMMENT

197 Comments

View All Comments

  • viciki123 - Monday, February 22, 2010 - link

    I have a new website!wedding dresses uk:http://www.weddingdressonlineshop.co.uk">http://www.weddingdressonlineshop.co.uk Reply
  • Jillian - Thursday, December 29, 2011 - link

    YOu are spamer .For this, you could pick up some popular open source and proprietary (or their free equivalents) application that can run both Linux and W7. and compare the price, time and power consumption for retrieving, saving, processing, compiling, encrypting,decrypting compacting, extracting, encoding, decoding, backup, restore, nº of frames,etc, with machines in a range of different CPU and memory capacities. http://www.idresses.co.uk Reply
  • zerobug - Monday, February 01, 2010 - link

    Regarding benchmarks and Linux-focused hardware roundups, one thing worth of consideration is that while Microsoft places strong resources on O/S development to create features that will require the end users the need to get the latest and greatest powerful hardware, Linux places their efforts in order that the end user will still be able to use their old hardware and get the best user experience while running the latest and greatest software.
    So,the benchmarks could compare the user experience when running popular software on Microsoft and Linux O/S's, with different powerful machines.
    For this, you could pick up some popular open source and proprietary (or their free equivalents) application that can run both Linux and W7. and compare the price, time and power consumption for retrieving, saving, processing, compiling, encrypting,decrypting compacting, extracting, encoding, decoding, backup, restore, nº of frames,etc, with machines in a range of different CPU and memory capacities.
    Reply
  • MarcusAsleep - Thursday, December 17, 2009 - link

    Quick Startup: OK, Windows is fast - at first, well let's say that is if you install it yourself without all the bloatware that come standard on Windows store-bought PS's (we bought a Toshiba laptop for work with Vista that took 12 minutes after boot-up for it to respond to a click on the start menu - even on the third time booting.)

    Windows startup is often burdened by auto-updates from Microsoft, anti-virus, Sun-Java, Acrobat Reader, etc. etc. that slow down the computer on boot-up to where your original idea of "hey I just want to start my computer and check my email for a minute before work" can take at least 5. I can do this reliably on Linux in 1. Yes, if you know a lot about Windows, you can stop all the auto-updates and maintain them yourself but 99% of Windows users don't have time/or know how to do this.

    Trouble-free: E.G. I installed Linux on a computer for my wife's parents (Mepis Linux) 7 years ago for email, pictures, games, web, letter use and haven't had to touch it since then. This is typical.

    For Windows, often I have done fresh installs on trojan/virus infected computers - installed working antivirus and all Windows Updates (not to mention this process takes about 2-4 hours of updates upon updates + downloads of the proper drives from the manufacturers websites vs about 1 hour for an Ubuntu install with all updates done including any extra work for codecs and graphic drivers) - only to have to come back a couple months later to a slow again computer from users installing adware, infected games, etc.

    Free: Nearly every Windows reinstall I've had to do starts with a computer loaded with MS Office, games, etc. but upon reinstall nobody has the disks for these. There is a lot of "sharing" of computer programs in the Windows world that is not very honest

    With Linux, you can have the operating system plus pretty much anything else you would need, without having to cheat.

    Adaptable Performance: You can get a well-performing Linux installation (LXDE Desktop) on a PIII computer with 256MB of ram. The only thing that will seem slow to an average mom/pop user would be surfing on flash loaded web pages, but with adblock on Firefox, it's not too bad. With Vista loaded on this computer, it would be annoyingly slow. You can often continue to use/re-use computer hardware with Linux for years after it would be unsuitable for Windows.

    I think these features are of high value to the average user -- maybe not the average Anandtech computer user -- but the average surf/email/do homework/look at photos/play solitaire/balance my checkbook user.

    Cheers!

    Mark.
    Reply
  • SwedishPenguin - Wednesday, October 28, 2009 - link

    Using SMB for network performance is extremely biased. It's a proprietary Microsoft protocol, of course Microsoft is going to win that one. Use NFS, HTTP, FTP, SSH or some other open protocol for network performance benchmarking. Alot of NASes do support these, as they are Linux-based.

    Furthermore, using a Windows server with SMB with the argument that most consumer NAS use SMB is pretty ridiculous, these NASes are most likely going to use Samba, not native SMB, the Samba which is implemented in GNU/Linux distributions and Mac OS X, not to mention that most of the NASes that I've seen offer at least one of these protocols as an alternative.
    Reply
  • SwedishPenguin - Wednesday, October 28, 2009 - link

    The ISO thing is pretty ridiculous, creating a simple GUI in both GTK and Qt and integrating them into Gnome and KDE should be pretty damn easy, though I suppose integration with the respective virtual file systems would be in order, in which case it might get slightly more complex for those (like me) not familiar with the code. There's even a FUSE (userspace filesystem) module now, so you wouldn't even need to be root to mount it.

    About the command-line support, IMO that's a good thing. It's a lot easier both for the person helping and the guy needing help to write/copy-paste a few commands than it is to tell the person to click that button, then that one then another one, etc. It's also alot easier for the guy needing help to simply paste the result if it didn't help, and it makes it much easier to diagnose the problem than if the user would attempt to describe the output. And you usually get much more useful information from the command-line utilities than you do from GUIs, the GUI simplifies the information so anyone can understand it, but at the price of making debugging a hell of a lot more difficult.
    Reply
  • nillbug - Wednesday, September 30, 2009 - link

    It must be said that Ubuntu and the major Linux distributors all have 64bit O/S versions since a long time. The reason behind is to allow users to benefit from memory (+4MB) and 64bit CPUs (almost all today) gaining a better computing experience.

    If this article was a private work of the author to provide him an answer on whether he may or may not move to Linux, people should advise him the above mentioned. As for an article intended to be read by thousands it must be pointed out that it's conclusion is a miss lead.

    In face of today's reality (and not the author reality) why did he never mentioned the 64bit Ubuntu systems? I guess he's final thoughts then would've been much more in favor of Linux.
    Reply
  • nillbug - Wednesday, September 30, 2009 - link

    It must be said that Ubuntu and the major Linux distributors all have 64bit O/S versions since a long time. The reason behind is to allow users to benefit from memory (+4MB) and 64bit CPUs (almost all today) gaining a better computing experience.

    If this article was a private work of the author to provide him an answer on whether he may or may not move to Linux, people should advise him the above mentioned. As for an article intended to be read by thousands it must be pointed out that it's conclusion is a miss lead.

    In face of today's reality (and not the author reality) why did he never mentioned the 64bit Ubuntu systems? I guess he's final thoughts then would've been much more in favor of Linux.
    Reply
  • seanlee - Tuesday, September 15, 2009 - link

    I have read all 17 pages of comments…a lot of Linux lovers out there… and they all purposely ignore few important things that make Windows successful, which in term, makes most Linux distribution marking failures, I have used Linux on my net book and my ps3, and I absolutely hate it.
    1. User friendly. No, CLI is not user friendly no matter what you say; no matter what excuse you use; no matter how blind you are. NOT ONE COMPANY dare to provide their mainstream products to be CLI only, from things as simply as ATM, ipod, to things as complicate as cellphone, cars, airplane. That ought to tell you something--- CLI is not intuitive, not intuitive=sucks, so CLI = sucks. You command line fan boys are more than welcome to program punched cards, expect no one use punched cards and machine language anymore because they are counter-intuitive. Having to do CLI is a pain for average user, and having to do CLI every time to install a new program/driver is a nightmare. GUI is a big selling point, and a gapless computer-human user experience is what every software company looking to achieve.
    2. There is NOTHING a Linux can do that windows cannot. On the contrary, there are a lot of things windows can do that Linux cannot. I’d like to challenge any Linux user to find engineering software alternatives on Linux, like matlab, simulink, xilinx, orcad, labview, CAD… you cannot. For people who actually user their computer for productive means (not saying typing documents are not productive, but you can type document using type writer with no CPU required whatsoever), there is nothing, again, I repeat, NOTHING that Linux can offer me.
    3. Security issues. I disagree with the security issues that windows has. I can set up a vista machines, turn it on, luck it into a cage, and it will be as security as any Linux machine out there. Hell. If I bought a piece of rock, pretend it was a computer and stare it all day, it would be the most secure system known to the man-kind. Linux’s security is largely due to one of the two reasons: 1. Not popular, not enough software to support and to play with. 2. Not popular, un user-friendly. Either of them is not a good title to have. It is like you are free from the increase of the tax not because you have your business set up to write off all your expense, but because you don’t make any money thus you don’t have to pay tax.
    4. There is nothing revolutionary about Linux for an average user, other than it is free. If free is your biggest selling point, you are in serious trouble. Most people, if not all, would pay for quality product than a free stuff, unless it is just as good. Obviously Ubuntu is never going to be as good as windows because they don’t have the money that MS has. So what does Ubuntu have that really makes me want to switch and take few weeks of class to understand those commands?

    Be honest, people. If you only have ONE O/S to use, most of you guys will chose windows.
    Reply
  • kensolar - Monday, October 26, 2009 - link


    I hope you realize that your hated is showing so strongly that absolutely no one cares what you say.
    That said, I don't know how to use a cli and have been successfully using Linux for 3 years. I found the article to be a fairly fair one even though the author is so unfamiliar with Linux/Ubuntu. As he does not use the default app's in windows, linux users don't use the defaults only in linux. K3B is far superior to Brassaro and so on. In addition, I don't think he let on very well as to the extent of the software available in the repositories (with addition repositories easy to add). Several hundred app's, 20,000 programs, even security app's and programs ranging from easy as pie to complicated. (for those of us how have a computer that is more than a rock) I personally do audio mixing, video transcoding, advanced printing....all with graphic interfaces.
    BTW, I learned how to turn on a computer for the 1st time 3 1/2 years ago, I stopped using windows a little over 3 years ago and have no reason to go back. I find it too hard, limiting and frustrating to use. Plus, I can't live w/o multiple desktops, the author didn't get it yet, but once you get used to them you can't go back.
    Well, I've said enough for now, can't wait for your next article.

    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now