What to say about Ubuntu Hardy Heron?

I installed Ubuntu Hardy Heron, a “long term support” release which went final yesterday.

It’s a tricky thing to assess. There are in general two things to say about Linux. First, you can take the line that it is a wonderful thing: free, fast, responsive and capable. You can do your work on this, even run a business on it. You can write applications in Java, C# or any number of other languages. You can have fun with it too – it’s great for multimedia, just a shame that few games support it. Finally, it is nice to know that most of the world’s malware is targetting someone else’s operating system.

Alternatively, you can argue that Linux is fiddly, perplexing, over-complicated, inconsistent, and still not ready for the general public.

It is tempting to give Ubuntu an easy ride because it is free and because we so much want it to succeed; we need an alternative to the Microsoft tax or the Apple tax. Unfortunately you never have to look far to find little problems or things that should be easy but end up consuming considerable effort.

Here’s one thing I noticed today. Close FireFox. Open  the Help Centre, and click a web link. The Help Centre opens FireFox with the link you requested, but then cannot be used until you close the FireFox instance. Trying to close it brings up a “Not responding” message. If FireFox was already running when you clicked the link, it is fine.

Here is another. Open Help Centre, click Playing Music, then Listen to online audio streams. It says I can install Real Player 10 and that it is available from the “commercial respository”. What is the “commercial” repository? This page describes four Ubuntu repositories: main, restricted, universe and multiverse. Real Player is not in any of them. Further, if you try and install it using apt get, the following message appears:

Package realplayer is not available, but is referred to by another package. This may mean that the package is missing, has been obsoleted, or is only available from another source
E: Package realplayer has no installation candidate

Hey, it’s Linux. Just Google and you’ll find a way. Who needs Real Player anyway? But that’s not the point … the point is that these little issues crop up and make running Linux less fun for non-geeks.

Here’s another one: I tried GNU Chess. I poked around in Preferences and chose the 3D view. It said:

You are unable to play in 3D mode due to the following problems:
No Python OpenGL support
No Python GTKGLExt support

Please contact your system administrator to resolve these problems, until then you will be able to play chess in 2D mode.

Fair enough; it is a clear, accurate and informative message – aside from the bit about “contacting your system administrator” which sounds like it was borrowed from Windows. You can just about forgive it in business software, but this is a game.

I still love Ubuntu. This one installed easily and updates nicely; the fancy graphics effects work smoothly; and most important, the same machine which felt slow with Vista now seems more like a high-performance workstation.

In other words, it it easy to support either line of argument. Personally I veer towards the favourable view; but I doubt fear of Ubuntu is keeping anyone in Redmond awake at nights.

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2 comments to What to say about Ubuntu Hardy Heron?

  • Tom

    The RealPlayer issue has been going on for a long time, and the fact that it is not easily available in Hardy is proof to me that Real Com does not want to play with Linux. It can be done, but it’s not easy.

  • Al

    I think it’s only a matter of time before Linux does start causing MS trouble.

    I’m not a Linux fanboy in particular, but every time a new Ubuntu comes out I DL and try the live version out of interest. As soon as I boot up usually I find something that doesn’t work but should work, and I don’t feel it’s worth my time solving it because I shouldn’t have to be a techie to be able to use this software, so these trials normally last for about 45 minutes. (It doesn’t help that the thing which doesn’t work is usually the wifi, preventing google-diagnosis.)

    With Heron, nearly everything worked. It was days before I realised where my problem was going to be (USB mass storage) and by that stage I was nearly motivated enough to try and troubleshoot it myself. By that time I had actually installed Ubuntu on a partition on one of my laptops, and configured firefox to my liking, got Wine working (can’t be without Foobar2000 for music!) and started to feel … if not at home, then quite settled down.

    The main reason I’ve now got that laptop booted into Windows is that I’ve been using it for work, requiring a particular Windows app to run. There’s no reason why I won’t call up Ubuntu when I’ve finished the exercise in a few weeks.

    My (subjective) impression is that Ubuntu very nearly works now. There’s still more improvement to do on it ( if nothing else, please change that horrid default font!), but it’s becoming a case of sweeping out the dust from the nooks and crannies, to move from a 90% smooth experience to a 98% smoothe one!

    The strength of Ubuntu is its ability to be repackaged. We already have Kubuntu and Ubuntu Studio and BabelDisc and that Walmart OS – where next? Once we get to version 9 or 10 then yes, Microsoft should be scared. More and more techies will start to like it. They’ll feel confident to recommend it to their aunties and grannies because it’s cheap and installs by itself and you can get it running without ruining their current windows install.

    I think we haven’t seen Ubuntu’s full potential to catch on yet. One fine day, we will.