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Ubuntu Popularity: Blessing or Curse? - page 3

Installation

  • September 24, 2007
  • By Bruce Byfield

Gutsy Gibbon contains some of the very latest software. The current pre-release includes a 2.6.22 kernel, Firefox 2.0.0.6, and the GIMP 2.3.18. Development versions of OpenOffice.org 2.3 and GNOME 2.20 are also installed. Presumably, these will be replaced by the actual releases as they become available. Pre-release versions of KDE4 packages are also available from the repositories, although they may not be in final form by the time Gutsy Gibbon is officially released. More likely, KDE users will have to settle for version 3.5.7.

Ubuntu's own unique contributions to the software selection have always been sleight compared to a distribution like Fedora. However, in Gutsy, Ubuntu is still one of the few distributions to include SCIM for loading custom keyboard layouts. In addition, it includes its own Restricted Drivers Manager, which assists users in handling non-free drivers. Purists might decry the tool, but, realistically, many users are more interested in functionality than software freedom, and are likely to appreciate it. Moreover, Gutsy's release is likely to include the first release of Gobuntu, a completely free version of Ubuntu, along with Kbuntu, Xubuntu, and Edubuntu.

Other software included in Gutsy are the desktop search engine Tracker, and the Deskbar applet, which searches for entries on both your drives and the Internet. At first, given the absence of the file manager from Gutsy's menus, these tools may seem unpleasantly reminiscent of Windows XP and Vista, in which the classic menus were replaced by a search field. However, open a folder, and you will find that Gutsy has replaced GNOME's default folder view with the file manager. In this way, Gutsy Gibbon accommodates both those who never venture beyond their personal folders and those who want to see a directory hierarchy. It's a balance between the basic and the advanced that other elements of Ubuntu could use as well.

Ubuntu inherits Debian's dpkg and apt-get package management system. However, like many modern distributions, Gutsy follows the growing habit of allowing package managers to proliferate for no apparent reason.

In addition to Synaptic, the most common graphical package manager in Debian-based distros and an update applet, Gutsy also includes the Add/Remove Applications tool at the bottom of the main menu. Grouping packages into general categories, the tool also includes a description of a highlighted package, and its rating in the Popularity Contest. However, why users should be interested in a package's popularity when they are looking to meet a specific need is puzzling--the tool was originally designed to help Debian developers know what to include on a basic installation CD. Nor are the results particularly useful, since packages installed by default naturally have a higher rating. At any rate, the only way to judge how useful a package might be is to use it yourself.

A version of the same tool has also been grafted on to Firefox for installing browser extensions, and a mention of "third party applications" in the help raises the possibility of commercial software being available through Add/Remove Applications some day--although the reference might just be to software developed by projects outside Ubuntu.

The trouble is, Add/Remove Applications remains basic. Even its help suggests that you use Synaptic "for more advanced needs." Yet even Synaptic is less flexible than the basic apt-get command, and not much easier to use. And, for all the care given to the layout of Synaptic, the updater, and Add/Remove applications, I have to wonder: does any distro really need three or four desktop applications for the same function? After all, apt-get serves the same purpose as all of them. For some reason, the thinking of Ubuntu's planners seems uncharacteristically muddy here.

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