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New Ubuntu OS Features Create Good Karma

New Ubuntu OS Features Create Good Karma

Amidst the OS upgrades from Apple and Microsoft over the last few months, the Linux OS Ubuntu got a version bump of its own. Ubuntu 9.10, or Karmic Koala, is well worth the effort to upgrade, and its developers have made the process easier -- if you're using the full-sized desktop/notebook version. The Remix version, intended for netbooks, caused quite a few headaches.

By Jack M. Germain
11/13/09 4:00 AM PT

Canonical's Ubuntu 9.10, otherwise known as "Karmic Koala," could be for the Linux community what the recently released Windows 7 OS from Microsoft is to the Windows world. Of course, this latest release that replaced Ubuntu 9.04 did not have as much to do in bettering its predecessor as did Windows 7 had in overcoming Vista.

Still, no operating system is ever flawless. This latest Ubuntu release fixes some lingering problems and builds in several useful enhancements. Its eye candy is tasty. Its performance is like a sugar rush!

Ubuntu users with netbooks received a double benefit with the final release from Canonical. The Remix version not only contains the Karmic code upgrade, but it also has a revamped interface that better displays applications on 8-inch to 10-inch LCD screens.

However, netbook users had better love this new interface, because unlike the previous Remix versions, the desktop switch feature is gone. Unfortunately for me, I hate the Remix desktop, which is too much like navigating a smartphone or a PDA. I much prefer the standard Gnome desktop on the netbook screen.

Rave Reviews

Almost every review of the new Ubuntu desktop release has spoken praise for the upgrade. I too am mostly pleased with Karmic Koala. The few shortcomings it has will no doubt be resolved with patches.

Installation on my desktop computer was smooth and quick. This is a key accomplishment. Some previous Ubuntu upgrades required wiping and repartitioning the hard drive to do a virgin install. But this time, after the computer rebooted, the Gnome desktop was intact, along with all of my pre-existing system and application settings.

Of course, the tougher upgrade will still have to be done if the installed version is older than 9.04. From inserting the DVD to system reboot took three hours and 18 minutes. Not so with the netbook, however.

Klumsy Koala

The Canonical development team could well rename the Remix version of Ubuntu 9.10 "Klumsy Koala." The netbook, when new, was rated Ubuntu Certified. I had to reinstall that first Remix distribution to solve a system glitch. That reinstallation was filled with problems.

The upgrade to the previous Remix version, 9.04, required two attempts, so all of the settings were wiped out. The same thing happened on this latest upgrade. The netbook failed to reboot, issuing error messages that some libraries were corrupted.

It took me hours of manually installing and configuring settings and software downloads. But the result is that 9.10 Remix is finally working almost flawlessly.

Karmic Kudos

Much of the improvement built into Ubuntu 9.10 is found under the hood. For instance, it runs on version 2.6.31 of the Linux kernel and has the latest version of the Gnome desktop.

Happily, it also has the Firefox 3.5 Web browser. This temporarily resolves one of my lingering annoyances with the Ubuntu OS. The developers continue to block the Firefox upgrade feature, so I have to wait until a distant software upgrade provided by the Ubuntu community for newer Firefox versions.

The Ubuntu upgrade also includes version 3.1 of the OpenOffice.org suite as its default office software. But the same upgrade delay happens with this package. The Ubuntu folks seem overly protective about the integrity of some packages they don't control.

A big disappointment in the Ubuntu 9.04 was the way hibernation and suspend modes did not work. Depending on the hardware, you couldn't get the machine to resume. Or if it did resume, it did so without an Internet or network connection. So you had to restart the OS.

Version 9.10 has those problems solved -- now if only the code writers could only achieve that goal in the Remix version so the battery status icon did not show the battery as discharging when it was running on AC.

More Goodies

This version of the free Linux OS makes it quick and easy to join the cloud storage phenomenon. The Ubuntu One feature is a Web sync service that provides 2 GB of online disk space and lets you synchronize notes and contacts as well as share files between several computers. If more space is needed, 50 GB only costs US$10 per month.

A new package called "Empathy" integrates Yahoo, Gmail, MSN, Jabber, AOL, QQ and more. It also connects with email accounts and has an address book and a calendar that rivals Microsoft Outlook.

Boot time is much quicker in this new version. The OS is available in 23 languages; over 400 free, completely cool games that look fantastic are available as well.

Package Pickin's

Perhaps the most significant enhancement for the typical Ubuntu user is the new Software Center application. The previous software manager app, Add/Remove Applications, is still available. You can also find thousands of free and open source software packages using three or four other download engines once you add them.

However, the Software Center gives more details on thousands of free and open source applications. Clicking on a "next page" arrow opens an install or remove option. Categories include Education, Games, Sound and Video, Graphics, Programming and Office.

By far, the interface used in the Software Center is one of the easiest systems available in Linux to browse software titles and descriptions.

Worth It

Clearly, this latest Ubuntu distribution is well worth the upgrade. Long-time Ubuntu users will not be disappointed. The Karmic Koala is snazzy enough to make Mac and Windows users seriously consider switching.

So many more improvements are in the 9.10 code that the list is too lengthy to include here. So we will close with a brief highlighted accounting of what else is new:

  • Revamped audio for improved sound control across multiple applications
  • Disk encryption, stronger AppArmor system permissions, and cloud service integration
  • A home directory encryption option at installation that lays on top of the file system and targets specific system folders instead of encrypting everything
  • New video driver technology boosts performance for Intel-based graphics


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