Thoughts on the Koala

by Ostatic Staff - Nov. 06, 2009

It's been a week since Ubuntu 9.10, aka the Karmix Koala, was unleashed on the world. I wanted to post a general review after having used the special K since it went RC in late September and early October. In general, I've been very impressed, especially in comparison to another, recently released, operating system. This mini review will focus on using Ubuntu as a desktop system. When I drop it onto my Linode server, I'll provide commentary on server usage as well.

I have been a (mostly) happy Ubuntu desktop user since late 2005, when I finally ditched Fedora for what looked like a better desktop experience. For the most part, I have not been disappointed by that move, although I still check out Fedora and, to a lesser extent, OpenSUSE on occasion for comparison purposes. But there were always some niggling issues that popped up, whether it was a hanging update, bluetooth flakiness, a slow network connection that needed to be reconfigured, or not providing some bleeding edge library necessary for installing an "out of network" .deb. These were all minor annoyances, and were never enough to make me seriously look elsewhere. Imagine my surprise when I loaded up the most recent incarnation, 9.10, and could find nothing that particularly irked me. For the most part - and to me this is a great thing - Karmic Koala gets out of my way and lets me get stuff done.

After spending a few weeks on Karmic, I have found only one niggling issue - because I prefer to use wicd for network management, I apparently cannot use UbuntuOne, Canonical's hosted storage solution. But then, I haven't needed to use UbuntuOne, so it's been a moot point. 

The first thing I noticed is the speed of bootup, as seconds have been trimmed from previous versions. The second thing I noticed is that it looked more professional, although I recognize that's a matter of taste. Still, it's apparent that a lot of work went into the UI side of things. The next thing I found is that, in contrast to previous installments, I really didn't need to use a text editor to set configs. Being a Linux user since 1998, I do it anyway because I'm comfortable with it, but I had to remind myself to do it in this case - and that's a first. Previously, there was always something that didn't behave quite as I expected or wanted, and so moving into vi was necessary to improve productivity. Not this time. As I have done with every other Ubuntu install, I decided to ditch the default GNOME GUI for Kubuntu. This was a matter of simply typing "apt-get install kubuntu-desktop" and all was good.

Of course, most of my experience on any operating system is spent on web-centric things, whether via a traditional web browser, or some web services-capable utility, such as a twitter client. What this brings to mind is that much of my experience with an operating system is no longer about bells and whistles. As long as it gives me speedy access to the net and a selection of tools for operating on the net, I'm happy. it's utterly pointless for a platform vendor like Canonical to spend oodles of engineering resources on remaking the desktop experience, when the rewards of such will continue to diminish over time. And you can see them embrace this strategy with their work on UbuntuOne (ahem... it would be nice if that dependency issue were fixed soon) and a Eucalyptus-based set of cloud services. They get it - the future is about services delivered over the network, and future enhancements will probably focus on improving that experience.

Of course, it's also important that my laptop, a Lenovo Thinkpad T400, has a good set of hardware components that Linux works well with. The experience would be different were that not the case - although Ubuntu could hardly be blamed for that. 

One other pleasant surprise worth mentioning -  Karmic came with Amarok 2.2, which recognized my iPod with no fiddling around, something that had been broken ever since Amarok 2.0 was released. 

Next, I'll write up some of the tools available by default in Karmic, and some that you'll still need to get via a supplemental repository.