With companies and individuals everywhere failing to find the wow in Windows Vista, Apples OS X riding iPod sales and snarky commercials to steady growth, and long-time Microsoft partner Dell announcing plans to market a Linux desktop to the mainstream, it seems certain that the days of Microsofts desktop monopoly are numbered.
Granted, that number is probably a large one, but as evidenced by eWEEK Labs tests of Ubuntu Linux 7.04, the state of the Linux desktop—not to mention that of other Windows alternatives—is too strong to hold off heterogeneity forever.
Ubuntu Linux 7.04, which Dell has chosen to headline its desktop Linux foray, has made impressive strides toward claiming a spot on mainstream desktop and server machines, both by piling up advances made across the Linux and open source community, and by building in advances of its own.
For instance, were glad to see that in Ubuntu 7.04—also known as Feisty Fawn—the NetworkManager application, which we like for the way it handles switching among wired and wireless networks and managing VPN connections, has gone from being an optional add-on to a part of the default install.
As implemented in Feisty, however, NetworkManager boasts much improved handling of static connections, which earlier incarnations of NetworkManager didnt adequately address.
Ubuntus best features remain its excellent software management tools, its well-organized community and its large catalog of ready-to-install free software applications. Were also impressed with the steps that Ubuntu has taken to work with proprietary software, which, while more tricky to distribute, is in many cases whats needed to fit the bill.
We installed the freely available (but not open-source) VMware Server on one of our test machines by browsing for and selecting it in Ubuntus Add/Remove Applications tool. We did have to visit VMwares Web site to register and generate a serial number for the product, but we did not have to compile drivers for our kernel—as were accustomed to doing on other Linux platforms. Instead, Feistys software management system pulled down the appropriate drivers for us, making it fast and easy for us to enable virtualization on our test machine.
Ubuntu 7.04 is available in desktop and server flavors. The server variant is solid, but, aside from its suitability as a platform for VMware Server, Feisty doesnt do much to rise above the pack of other free Linux server operating system options.
As a desktop option, Ubuntu 7.04 is an excellent fit, and is worthy of consideration as a Windows replacement. Most ISVs do still target Windows exclusively, and even though the Linux-supporting alternatives are getting better all the time, this is still a troublesome issue for potential migrators. Once users become acquainted with the Linux applications they require, however, its much easier to install and update these applications on Ubuntu than it is on Windows.
Ubuntu 7.04 is available for free download at www.ubuntu.com/products/GetUbuntu. In addition to the standard Live CD Ubuntu install disk, an alternative installation disk that features a text-mode version of the installer is available. The text-mode installer loads faster than the Live CD and offers expanded installation options, such as the ability to install Ubuntu in an LVM (logical volume manager) configuration.
Feistys Live CD install disk now ships with a interesting-looking migration tool that will attempt to find user accounts and related data on the hard drives of machines slated for upgrade. We tried it out on a Windows XP Service Pack 2 instance we maintain in a virtual machine for running Windows software on our Linux clients, but the installer failed to find our user information.