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Ubuntu 9.10 and GNOME 2.28: Advancing Past Meh - page 2

Eight Years Later: Are We There Yet?

  • February 8, 2010
  • By Carla Schroder
The GNOME panels have evolved into very useful tools, and I like the default of two, one on top of the screen and one on the bottom. The bottom panel holds the pager and the Windows List. I wish there were a nice Show All Windows button like in KDE3. The Window Selector panel application is close, but it only displays all running applications, it does not divide them by virtual desktop like KDE3 does. A small nit and I can live with that. KDE4 does not have this, and any minimized applications are hidden when you mouseover the pager.

The GNOME system monitor is one of my favorite GNOME utilities. It docks little monitors in the panel, and clicking on them opens a larger window showing system information, a processes list, colored graphs, and filesystems information. It's rather fun watching it graph my three CPU cores, which appear to rotate tasks.

<em>System Monitor graphs</em>
System Monitor graphs

The Sound Preferences icon in the panel has no About button, and no Help button. I really do want to know the proper name of this application. Is it Pulse Audio? Is it something else? Mysteries are bad. I greatly prefer the new system menu in KDE4, which has both descriptive names, like Word Processor, and the proper application names, like OpenOffice.org Writer. The Ubuntu menu is a mishmash of some descriptive names, and some application names.

The Nautilus file manager has finally become tolerable. Oldtimers recall how in the old days it was buggy, dog-slow, and lacking features, and then there was the famous Spatial View debacle, where the devs decided that it was better to open each directory in a new window. It took time and a lot of user pressure, but finally that was retired as the default. It does not offer split views, which is something I use a lot, there is no option to open a terminal, and there is no embedded document previewer, but otherwise it has a pretty nice feature set. The left pane supports several different views: Places, which is symlinks to various locations in the filesystem, Tree, which is the raw nekked filesystem, History, and a few others. Because it is only a file manager and not also a Web browser, Bookmarks and History don't mix up your local filesystem browsing with online browsing.

Package Managers

The Ubuntu Software Center may actually be a good reinvention of an old and vexing wheel. I stick with command-line package managers because they are fast, reliable, and I don't have to re-learn them because they get reinvented repeatedly. The biggest problems with package management are finding new applications when you don't already know what you want, and excluding the zillions of libraries from application searches. They cause clutter and confusion, and really should be in a separate category. Synaptic is pretty good, and I think a good case could be made for including both of them, since they have different strengths.

There is one odd omission from the default liveCD image, and that is any kind of a graphical image manager. No F-Spot, Eye of Gnome, GThumb, nothing. It does come with ImageMagick, which is a wonderful command-line application for manipulating images, but it is not an image viewer.

The Test of Time

I think the most important test of a distribution is how it performs over time. Does it improve? Do bugs get fixed? Does it handle changes competently? Will it upgrade gracefully to a new release? This is on my audio production computer, so it's going to get a serious workout. There is one comparison I cannot resist making: the default installation from the liveCD uses about 2.8GB of hard disk space, and in that 2.8GB you get a wealth of applications. Windows 7 clocks in at over 12GB, and what do you get? Um, Notepad?

Carla Schroder is the author of the Linux Cookbook and the Linux Networking Cookbook (O'Reilly Media), the upcoming "Book of Audacity" (NoStarch Press), a lifelong book lover, and the managing editor of LinuxPlanet and Linux Today.

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