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Oct
19

Ubuntu 12.10 Review – Linux User’s biggest ever super test

by Gareth Halfacree

In our definitive review, we pit Ubuntu up against eight other distributions to see whether or not it’s still the best around

Appearance

A contentious and subjective issue, but is Ubuntu the fairest of them all?

Before we start ranking the latest release of Ubuntu, version 12.10, on its aesthetics, let’s get one thing out of the way: the appearance of a desktop environment is incredibly subjective, and the source of almost as many bitter flame wars as Vim versus Emacs. What follows is by no means an attempt to state that any given distribution is objectively prettier than another, but simply a subjective analysis of recent changes in Ubuntu and how other distributions have reacted.

With that out of the way – and on the understanding that a distribution isn’t tied to its desktop environment, with replacements often a single package manager command away – we can start looking at the newest Ubuntu release.

Ubuntu Unity Cinnamon MATE
While Unity has some impressive visual effects, it has struggled to gain acceptance over alternative desktop environments

Ubuntu’s appearance is dominated by Unity, the icon-heavy user interface first developed for Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Remix. Now Unity is the default for both accelerated and non-accelerated hardware, following the development of a software-rendered version, it’s clear that Canonical has thought hard about making Ubuntu attractive to newcomers. The Unity Launcher – a series of icons found at the left-hand side of the screen which hide when applications are launched – uses a smooth, rounded style for its icons that presents uniformity and brings Apple’s OS X Dock and iOS design to mind.

Graphical flourishes abound, with animations – the Launcher sliding in and out, for example, or the Dash fading into view – and some effects that previously would have required add-in software like Compiz (including a neat blurring effect to the background of the find-your-files- and-applications Dash which ensures you can still see your last app without it making the text hard to read) adding a particular visual panache.

Unity isn’t for everyone, however pretty its visual niceties may be. Ignoring criticisms regarding its usability on a desktop – which we’ll get into later – the layout is rigid and inflexible, with the Launcher locked to the left-hand side of the screen unless you’re willing to install unsupported third-party hacks. Unlike the old GNOME-based Ubuntus, it’s difficult to tweak Ubuntu 12.10 to your individual requirements – instead leaving you with how Canonical boss Mark Shuttleworth feels a modern desktop OS should appear.

The Competition – Linux Mint

For those who find Unity a turn-off, the most obvious choice is a switch to Linux Mint. An Ubuntu derivative, it’s the closest you’re likely to find to the old, GNOME-based Ubuntus without trying to hack GNOME 2 into Ubuntu 12.10. Offering a choice of the GNOME 2 fork MATE or the GNOME Shell fork Cinnamon – along with the usual alternatives including LXDE, Xfce and KDE – it provides plenty of scope for customisation and more advanced effects while providing a familiar-looking platform for those who are coming from a GNOME 2-based Ubuntu.

Usability

Once the go-to choice for newcomers, have others surpassed Ubuntu’s famed usability?

For years, Ubuntu has been lauded as the Linux for newcomers. Its combination of simple graphical package management – and there’s certainly no doubting that the Ubuntu Software Centre is a major achievement, having directly ‘inspired’ the launch of both Apple’s Mac App Store and Microsoft’s Windows Store – and a clever installation program, Wubi, which allows it to be installed from within a Windows environment without having to repartition the drive, mean that many Linux virgins have taken the plunge into Canonical’s waters.

From an installation standpoint, little has changed: Ubuntu is still offered as a bootable CD or DVD image which includes the clever Wubi installer. As before, those just trying things out can use the live CD to test-drive the operating system, or to create a bootable USB with persistent storage – something Microsoft has caught onto, offering a similar feature for the enterprise-centric version of Windows 8.

Ubuntu Unity Cinnamon MATE Linux Mint
For those coming from other operating systems, Ubuntu’s Unity can be hard to follow

From a first-use standpoint, however, Ubuntu 12.10 is something of a mixed bag. The changes wrought by Canonical’s move to Unity from GNOME 2 have given the entire OS a major reshuffle, with the result that Windows users may find themselves lost. By contrast, those who use OS X as their daily operating system are likely to find themselves more immediately at home: the location of the window controls on the left-hand side, the icon-centric ‘dock’ and the moving of the window menu to a bar across the very top of the screen are all reminiscent of Apple’s desktop design ethos.

The loss of the Applications menu, the full-screen nature of applications – with the GNOME 2 taskbar vanished in favour of adding icons for running applications to the Launcher in among all the existing shortcuts – and a sometimes flaky search system conspire to make it difficult to get things done when you’re new to the Unity experience.

With time, Unity can begin to show its true colours: the full-screen experience makes the most of your display’s available real estate and shines on low-resolution laptops and netbooks, and many of the more hidden features – including some very clever ‘Lenses’ for the search system and handy mouse-over hot-spots – can speed your multitasking.

The Competition – MEPIS

Warren Woodford’s MEPIS, based on a combination of Ubuntu-derived binaries running on a Debian Stable base with backported applications, is considered by its fans to be extremely well suited to first-time Linux users. Designed to ‘just work,’ its KDE-based user interface places menus and icons in roughly the same location as Windows, providing an easy means for emigrants from that OS to click and explore. Coupled with good documentation and a friendly community, those who are looking for a distribution to recommend to less technologically-literate friends and family could do significantly worse.

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    • Jason

      Haha, did you recommend Gentoo as an alternative to Ubuntu for software? That seems like a very odd choice.

    • tecla

      “recommend Gentoo as an alternative to Ubuntu for software” is like recommended a horse to fly..

    • Left4Mint

      I used to run all Ubuntu 10.04 boxes (about 40). Now they are all Mint. Why?

      Left Close Box – Why would I want the close dialog right next to the file menu? It is too easy to unintentionally close a program.

      Unity – A tablet interface is not very useful for a desktop or a laptop. I went from click-moveup-moveright-click to click-wait-clickinbox-typenameofprogram-movemouse-click. Boot times slowed considerably. Graphics lagged considerably. Crash reports occured every time Unity was started – even when nothing actually crashed.

      Mono – Replacing working programs with less polished Microsoft-Novell encumbered alternatives was a huge turn off. It also created an unneccessary lawsuit risk.

      Ubuntu One – I have no use for it. Like Dropbox, it uses valuable network resources.

      Zeitgeist – If I wanted a program that logs my activites, I would use a keylogger. If I want a personal assistant, I’ll use Microsoft Clippy.

      Amazon – Aligning with one of the most agressive patent trolls, “one click to buy” was the last straw. http://www.infoworld.com/d/open-source-software/numbers-dont-lie-patent-trolls-are-plague-205192

      Mint is a derivitive, so why would I bother using it? Thanks to the work of Canonical and others, wireless drivers now work. Binary blobs for ATI and NVidia are easy to install. PPA’s open up a whole new world of software. Mint has all of these benefits without most of the baggage. It just works – something that I used to say about Ubuntu. I remain in charge and my data is not the product for sale.

    • JohnB

      Well, after trying Windows 8, at least I can find the shutdown button! Actually, compared to Win 8, Unity is much more intuitive to use (IMHO, of course). I found I was able to find my way around Unity much faster and I’ve been a Windows user exclusively since the early ’90s. If course, Mint with Cinnamon is even easier to navigage and to find the apps I need to use as well as the settings.

    • alisonken1

      Interesting – the heading is slightly misleading since it says it compares ubuntu to other distros – but it only compares ubuntu against other debian derivatives. Color me surprised. Not.

    • Pingback: Links 20/10/2012: Chromebooks in the News, Ubuntu GNOME Remix 12.10 | Techrights

    • http://ashish-yadav.blogspot.com/ Ashish Yadav

      I tried installing quantal but after booting from usb it just kept blinking. nomodeset didn’t worked. Any ideas?

    • geoff

      I’d like to offer Ubuntu a massive thank you for such a fabulous OS and providing a route to equally fab free software. I’m also delighted that there’s another Ubuntu long term release. However, I have an even bigger thank you to those Ubuntu base Distros and for my personal favorite Mint. Mainly for replacing that awful Unity front end and giving us Mate and Cinnamon. Something I’m happy to work with.

      That’s not the whole story as I love new toys too. So to all the flavours Linux out there, keep’em coming. As for Windows 8; what the f*** is Microtwits thinking of!

    • john

      I’ve been playing with 12.10 and the first thing I did was remove the shopping lens. Unity is a totally pointless user interface for desktops. It take too many steps to start a program.

    • Pingback: Installing KDE Desktop Environment On Ubuntu 12.10 | EssayBoard

    • http://ubuntubrisbane.wordpress.com chtfn

      @John:
      Have you tried Super Key + *beginning of the name of the app* + Return ?
      It’s actually the quickest way to find an app I’ve ever experienced!
      If you want to judge Unity, you have to use it to it’s full capacity!

    • jesse B R

      Hello, i started with Ubuntu years ago, as time went on i found that it was harder to customize than i would have liked..

      So of course i went down the long road of looking over about 300 different Linux distributions..

      after a long search i settled for Linux Mint Debian … althou there are some ruff edges … I think it is a perfect distribution for people that want to learn Linux admin…. I say this because it works out of the box, and you can still be the root user, which in my option is a good place to learn Linux, as you have to know what your doing, or bad things can happen…

      IF i were to vote on Linux distros my top 3 would be

      1 Linux mint
      2 Ubuntu
      3 Debian

    • nick

      sorry but its like comparing apples and oranges….
      either the distros are too similar or too different but mainly the big problem is…. distros dont matter.

      Most distros that have the same desktop look almost identical and comparing two distros with different desktops is more about the desktop than the distro.

      Desktop is the choice that you make that you can see and feel.

      I can show a Gnome desktop on every distro, if the user doesnt like it on one, he aint gonna like it on another.

      So when a new Linux user is born, you dont ask him what distro but rather show him KDE, GNome and XCFE.
      They then tell you which they prefer and if you really have an obsession with a distro, THEN you choose the distro.

      Desktop is the choice for users.
      And I have yet to find anyone who wants me to install Unity when I show them my quadruple boot of Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu and Gnome desktop.

      Mty parents, inlaws and other family members use Buntu…. but none use the U version. Most of them are windows users and Kubuntu is the one they chose.

      But that is hard for Linux users to do: offer choice.
      THey feel that if they dont force THEIR desktop/distro that somehow they are ‘cheating’ on it.
      To actually give a user choice is something many Linux users cant seem to do.

      Personally, I think that Unity is retarded but I still offer it as a choice because its NOT what I like that matters to Joe User, its what THEY want.

    • http://localhost.localdomain Techgs

      It a nice review.

      I am unsing Ubuntu since 2006.. – Off course updated time to time. [ Not even once system is hanged - No Malware - No virus ]

      Never thought of turning back to Windows…

      Ubuntu keep it up…

    • Alexis

      I agree with you Nick. but I think that sometimes choosing a distro comes first. Yes,it is mostly the desktop environment that defines the user experience. But, the packages offered, the default packages for a certain task and their default location.

      For example, whenever I tried to use Fedora, installing mp3 or flash support was a pain and I believe it remains the same.
      Then for example, lets say you want to install a web server, most distros will offer Apache by default, but some other distros will offer Hiawatha, etc. It doesn`t seem like a big deal because all distros will offer both software packages, the problem is that the configuration files and sometimes their location will change depending on the distro and trying to configure a non default app can prove a real challenge even for advanced users.
      Lastly, and it is sort or related to the previous one. The default install location will also change. Apache’s home location in Ubuntu is located at /var/www while in Opensuse and some other distros it is located at /srv/www/htdocs Personally I dislike the latter, there is supposed to be an standard as to the default directory structure and it exists for a pretty darn good reason!.

      All that being said, yes I agree that desktops are very important in the decision and even though I dislike Unity, I recognize that Ubunty is working hard to bring a complete new user experience to the desktop environment world. It takes a lot to make these changes when they could play safe and stick to the tried and true. It sort of reminds me of the beginnings of KDE4.

    • syncdram

      I think 12.10 “Crappy Crocodile” is the best release ever LOL……

    • http://tendata.com Thomas

      I like debian but after a few hors trying to get my laptop to suspend or hybernate an 18 minute ubuntu install solved everything. I use gnome classic which I had to install after that.
      On my mdell xps fan noise and other power features which all work in ubuntu.
      I am going to be installing this in my classroom as well. Will see how unity goes for middle school students.

    • BetterDistros

      If you want a communitary–based distro.. why not to choose Mageia? Or Arch instead of Gentoo? Or Chakra instead of Mepis?.. I don’t get it the chosen distros for Competition at all.

    • Kaczus

      Waiting for luna os, mint 13 till then… or mybe mint 14 if thers’s an eclipse

    • Tom O’Connell

      I switched to ubuntu gnome 8.10-11.10, tried 12.04 tnen went to mint 13 mate with ubuntu software and ubuntu tweak. I see no reason to return to ubuntu.

    • Mitchell

      There’s a bug in 12.04 whereby NFS shares will not automount during bootup. Does this issue still exist in 12.10?

    • http://www.openplus.in/seo/ Adroit Seo

      Ubuntu 12.10 is little bit slower than 12.04 on my test, I will recommend opensuse gnome 12.2 or linux mint over ubuntu 12.10,

    • NickN.

      Meh. Sticking with Mint until someone suggests a good reason not to.

    • Gyffes

      Ok, gotta say, having read an insane number of linux- and related tech blogs, this may be the most well-written tech article (in terms of use of language, sentence structure, etc) I’ve ever read. Thrilled the English major in me to the core.

      I think you did a good job with a difficult task; bringing in snippets on various options to the myriad issues that piss is off vis Ubuntu was a nice touch. I certainly shall give Fuduntu a closer look, now.

      Thanks.

    • Colin

      I still cannot believe that you rated Gentoo against Ubuntu for available software. Yes, lets just compile everything from source!*! (ok there may be an awesome source compiler for Gentoo somewhere.. This is not really package management though).

      But more to the point. Linux mint has taken over Ubuntu’s role because it is far more friendly to use. This is not just a Unity thing, it is a considered focus on the user.

      Ubuntu has totally missed it’s core aims. It should be the most “Humane” distro to use. Instead it is the “here is the latest and greatest newest way to do XYZ on linux…. oh that dosent work… Here is the latest support page to do this…..”. We need a Windows killer, not an LAG version of Linux.

    • Charlie

      To each its own, but I’m new and for the last year or so I’ve been playing with everything.
      A lot of linux distros, taken the time to download almost all distros in the distrowatch main, visible page and have installed and reinstalled and live and many other ways including virtual and usb. I’ve just gone nuts as I’ said playing but testing also many ways and methods with Mint all flavors and Mageia, fedora.debian. gentoo. arch, pclinux, zorin and frankly almost all including BSD and just almost all of them.

      To be honest most are not needed and many the result of people’s nature of wanting things there way or the highway and these same people (some) do not contribute with resources to any of the major players, they just want to be a creator and feel special about it, I’m the creator Linus BS and so on.

      After a year (some will say. well I’m been with Linux since mepis or fedora 1 or some like that), a year is plenty of time for a new linux user to understand, I’ don’t like KDE and I’ do not hate Windows, I know why many do, but its there problem, the world is as it is, money rules, I. hate that but I don’t fantasize about it getting better without the coming change that’s been announce , and it will come. Back to the subject at hand, In this subject of OS’s Windows XP whats not ready when it came out, Vista was XP damage some how, Seven was the best Windows ever so far and 8 is future I’m getting use to it, Would like better control of the tiles, well what is my opinion of Linus circa 2012.

      Ubuntu with Amazon (as long as I ‘can turn it off) and with Unity is by far the other big player in computing along side with Windows and apple (all other don’t count: Android, Web os, google and just others period), so we have three Linux, Windows and Mac. When it comes to Linux:

      1) Its Ubuntu = as is = the best,

      2) Zorin = simple logic- should have tile version

      3) Mint (all) not needed

      4) Pear 6 and future = needed

      5) BSD = needed because we must have choice in order to promote better stuff.

      6) all with basic windows like desktop example Mint = needed but not so many, its just plain stupid, so my choice is Zorin.

      7) The best: A combo of Zorin with tiles and unity and reg; desktop the likes of Win 7 and Mac, so what did I ‘ just said (a newbie):

      Ubuntu should have the change the look function that Zorin have, be the Linux that people with no desire for new things can recognize as Windows, Apple and Linux (Ubuntu) and if they ever try it let them change it to look like Mint cinnamon, Unity, have apps like tiles but not like android and don’t allow them to have Windows look alike at all, so for now zorin should get rid of the Win 2000 look but keep XP and 7 , Unity and and add Win 8 with menu just try without windows colors at all, also Ubuntu should have the ability to change colors, the color it has now (I’ like it), but have the ability and no fancy desktop effects like compiz, just to put girly or manly tweeks, you know make pink with little things like options for cuter arrows for girls and just the ability that Windows XP had to make it your way, Ubuntu should do this . If Ubuntu does not have the ablity that Zorin or Mint have to play DVD’s and yes I’ know why and all, but it keeps that policy which is ok with me and another Distro wants to take the chance again like Zorin or Mint have then have two major Linux Distros one that does have the ability lets say Zorin or Ubuntu that doesn’t. Why the hate for Mint, there is no hate, just another distro like so many others in my humble opinion Why? All future distros should be very different one from another, I’ mean look at Win 8 Mac’s or androd and even Joli all very different but look alikes just a waste,

      In conclusion Ubuntu Unity with Amazon best Linux Distro (should have ability to play DVD’s)
      Zorin not needed but to make with tiles like Win 8, (Ubuntu never will) would make truly the best and
      Mint should crow into more.

      My opinion it sucks, but hay its my opinion.