That seems to be the response from desktop users and reviewers of Ubuntu’s latest and greatest, 15.04 or Vivid Vervet. The server and cloud crowd are all abuzz, tearing this baby down to see what it can do. But for the desktop folks — not so much. About all you read is that the new desktop is mainly cosmetic changes: that Unity’s color scheme is now purple, which isn’t quite true — to my eyes, there’s some orange in there too — and that a few things have been moved back to where they used to be. Other than that, everyone complains that this vervet is nothing more than lipstick on a unicorn, as Utopic Unicorn was Ubuntu’s last release.
What this means, of course, is absolutely nothing. The folks at Ubuntu have made it clear that this is mostly a server/cloud release, so it’s not surprising that it offers desktop users little reason to upgrade. Besides, except for those few users who insist on living on the bleeding edge, most desktop users should be using 14.04, Trusty Tahr, anyway, because it’ll be supported until 2019, and our vervet friend will only see support through January.
A couple of days ago, I downloaded the newborn Ubuntu primate to evaluate all the fuss. I figured that since I have no practical experience with Ubuntu, I’d bring no expectations and fresh eyes to the release. I did the installation on our Symple PC, which came preinstalled with Ubuntu 14.04, my only other experience with the distro-that-Shuttleworth-built, and has a 2.8 GHz dual core processor and 2 GB RAM. Since many home users install Linux on old metal, I figured these specs would be perfect for seeing how the operating system handles under real world situations.
I installed after booting to a “live DVD,” which was actually an image on a USB drive I created with Unetbootin’. I created a 20 GB partition for the test installation, which was as easy as pi (and much easier than Raspberry Pi), as was the entire installation process. After a few clicks, I was ready to reboot to see how Ubuntu 15.04 would handle running natively from the hard drive.
First up, of course, was Unity, the Ubuntu desktop environment. According to who’s talking, Unity is either Ubuntu’s biggest boondoggle or it’s greatest strength. In my FOSS folk filled circles, people generally despise it with a passion and think it to be the worst thing to happen to open source since GNOME 3. Only systemd elicits more passion.
Quite frankly, I don’t understand all the brouhaha. For new-to-Linux users, fresh from the world of Windows, Macintosh or even Android, it’s an easy to learn and use interface. While it’s certainly not my mug of coffee (despite my British ancestry, I don’t do tea), I don’t find myself cursing out loud or anything while using it, as I do sometimes with Windows.
However, there is much about Unity to not like. For starters, as Windows users like to say: Where’s the damn “Start” button? Or the big “K” or any other sane and simple way to get to a menu.
Then there’s the launch bar (or whatever Ubuntu calls it) running down the left side of the screen, taking up way to much screen real estate. I understand that it gives Ubuntu easily recognizable branding, but it plays hell with how web sites display on the screen, especially when using an old square monitor, which I was for this review.
Dashboard, which should be called “Billboard,” is Unity’s idea of a menu replacement and more. It’s accessed through a little round icon at the top of the launch bar, which looks a bit like a stylized version of the Ubuntu logo and a bit like one of those gee whiz round locks that are often seen on elevator panels. It’s used to look for installed programs in Unity, since there’s no handy and easy-to-reach menu available. It’s also the “find” function for…well, finding stuff.
Clicking on it brings up an interface which pretty much looks like the Google Play Store on Android — except in this case it might be more appropriately called the Amazon Play Store. Type in the name of an application that’s already installed and it’ll serve up a link to that app — while trying to sell you tons of stuff, presumably from Amazon. If it’s an app not installed, it’ll give you some suggestions, then try to sell you more stuff — again, presumably from Amazon. I say “presumably,” because I didn’t click. I have a lot of sales resistance.
The old GNOME favorite, Nautilus, is the default file manager, which makes sense as Unity is a graphical shell for GNOME. Just as GNOME nor Unity would be my choice in the desktop department, neither would I choose Nautilus as my file manager.
However, there’s nothing wrong with it and in a pinch, it’ll do. It’s a file manager (shrug). Nothing special. If I were sitting at your Ubuntu box, I wouldn’t mind using it if necessary. I wouldn’t belittle you, call you an idiot or anything like that.
Clicking on the gear and wrench icon brings up the settings screen, which looks pretty much like the Control Panel on early versions of Windows. It probably works just fine, but I don’t want or need the reminder of my Windows days, which elicits memories of the Blue Screen of Death and computers so frozen they wouldn’t reboot, which is how you fix everything in Windows. I’ve spent enough time and money trying to deal with my early childhood issues; I don’t need to revisit early computer traumas as well.
However, I’d suspect that everything here works just fine, as Ubuntu’s underlying tech is best of breed.
So far that’s been true. Within an hour or so of installing this vivid monkey, I opened the Settings screen to turn off the “Lock” function, so I wouldn’t have to enter a password every time I returned after walking away from the computer for a few minutes. That went just fine. Now I can go get a mug ‘o coffee without having to put my short term memory into overdrive.
Still, it looks way too much like Windows’ Control Panel.
Ubuntu Software Center
This is sort of a dumbed-down version of Synaptic, requiring very little from the user, and with a look and feel that’ll be familiar to anyone who’s ever looked for an app on Android. That being said, it seems to work very well. I used it to download and install GIMP, so I could edit the screenshots for this review. Easy peasy. Maybe the easiest install ever. I didn’t even have to click through a “we will make these additional changes” dependency screen. One click: Install. That was it. As easy as WordPress.
The trouble is, a visit to this package manager offers an experience very much like a visit to Netflix. Right away the user is greeted with suggestions based on metrics such as popularity, newness, etc. I’m a little surprised that there wasn’t a message that began: “Based on your recent downloads, we recommend…”
Something tells me that Ubuntu’s planning on monetizing apps when they get Ubuntu Phone off the ground.
So what do I think about Ubuntu 15.04?
As I know from using Ubuntu derivative’s like Mint and Bodhi, that the hard working coders in Canonical’s employ have worked long and hard to produce what is possibly the definitive implementation of GNU/Linux under the hood. This is an operating system that works, and works well. That’s one of the reasons why the distros I use on a daily basis are derivatives of Ubuntu.
But there’s a reason why I stick with the derivatives instead of going with what Mark Shuttleworth would like for me to think of as the “real thing.” You see, Ubuntu is like a car company that makes great engines but lousy cars.
That’s, perhaps, a bit unfair.
Let’s just leave it at this: Ubuntu 15.04, like previous versions I imagine, is a hybrid which attempts to be part Windows and part Android. Folks moving to Linux from either of those two operating systems will probably feel right at home with any supported version of Ubuntu, but only until they learn that they can have an even better computing experience with another Linux distro.