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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