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Ubuntu 10.04: The Perfect Consumer Operating System?

The upcoming release of Ubuntu 10.04 is on the way and with its new theme, looks simply stunning. With an online music store built in, integrated cloud backup services and a strong focus on social networking, could this finally be the release consumers have been waiting for?

The Complete Package (almost)

So Mark Shuttleworth’s benchmark for Ubuntu is OS X. This is what he wants to surpass and with 10.04 he’s definitely getting close. Commercial application support is still missing and while the Cloud Service is nice, an integrated backup solution like Apple’s Time Machine would be a great addition.

You can see the focus on this goal all over the distribution. It really is perfectly aimed at the consumer, with carefully chosen applications. The Ubuntu desktop is not designed for the power user, not by default anyway. All of the applications are specifically designed for simplicity and functionality. This new release drops GIMP, which has also caused a lot of controversy. Remember though that Ubuntu has a specific set of goals, focusing on simplicity. What do consumer end users actually want? Something simple. They want to be able to remove red eye from their photos, crop them, rotate them, enhance them and use them elsewhere. If GIMP doesn’t suit that, then out it goes. Simple as that.

Of course, if you still want GIMP then it’s a snap to install. You could even use the new Software Centre, which is starting to take shape very nicely. Once again, you can see here Ubuntu has clearly included the possibility of applications direct from third party vendors. This is nothing new, the partner repository has been around since the beginning, but now it’s plain as day, right there on the desktop. Currently, it only includes Adobe products like Flash, but who knows, perhaps Canonical will strike a deal to create native Linux versions of programs like Photoshop, delivered for a fee directly via Ubuntu’s Software Centre.

Lucid Software Centre
Lucid Software Centre

A perfect example of this desire to simplify the desktop is Simple Scan, a new program to Lucid. While Sane certainly made Scanner Access Now Easy, the user interface left a lot to be desired. Actually using X Sane to scan something is not the prettiest nor easiest of tasks. Simple Scan on the other hand, makes the act of scanning simple (you might have deduced that from the name). It’s a neat little app, that helps make using the desktop that much nicer.

The social networking client Gwibber is now built right into the desktop. Yes, users can connect directly with a myriad of social networking providers right from the comfort of a single user interface. Empathy is there too, integrated into the taskbar and ready to let you chat away on any network you please.

Lucid built in social networking with Gwibber
Lucid built in social networking with Gwibber

What else does OS X have out of the box, that Linux doesn’t? A video editor. That’s right, making its debut in this release also, is PiTiVi, a non-linear video editing program. This is one major application which has been sorely missing from the Linux desktop for far too long.

Over the last year or so, we have seen dozens of these suddenly spring up, and thankfully some are now at the point of inclusion in major distributions. Once again, the fact that Ubuntu includes this by default really shows the market they are going after.

Video editor in Lucid, PiTiVi
Video editor in Lucid, PiTiVi

Also making its debut in this release is the Ubuntu Music store. Tied into the default music player, Rhythmbox, users can purchase MP3 music and synchronise it directly to not only their iPod, but their cloud based account on Ubuntu One. This has been one major feature sorely lacking on the Linux desktop, something that OS X has had well and truly sewn up for far too long.

Unfortunately, only MP3 files are available at present, but hopefully this will be extended to Ogg and more importantly, FLAC, down the road. Still, the ability for Ubuntu to satisfy this important component is crucial to its success in the consumer market. It’s certainly one less barrier to adoption, “Yeah, Ubuntu can sync your iPod and you can even purchase Music. You don’t need iTunes!”

Lucid Online Music Store, available via Rhythmbox
Lucid Online Music Store, available via Rhythmbox

For the first time ever, it looks like a very attractive overall package. It’s focus on simple, useful applications is bound to please consumers (and possibly disappoint power users). All the modern tasks that users perform are integrated right into the desktop, and it’s all done really well. If this was on offer in the computer shops, I’m confident it would be turning heads and making sales (although some might dismiss it as an OS X rip off).

Quality Assurance

My biggest gripe about Ubuntu in the past is its lack of quality. Things break far too often, more often than they should (and more often than they do in other distros), for some reason. We’ve discussed this a lot in the past and I don’t wish to re-hash the same old arguments (but if you’ve only ever used Ubuntu, then you have nothing to compare it to). Still, I have much higher hopes for this release. Why? It’s a Long Term Support release. That means that people who pay Canonical money for support will be looking to upgrade to this stable version. Canonical has to get it right, or it’s really, really going to hurt.

The non-LTS releases are considered stable, but they certainly aren’t given the same attention as those of LTS status. They are built from Debian unstable for a start, whereas LTS is from testing. Still, that’s no excuse for some of the major bugs that have entered the distro, whether they come from upstream or not. This release should be great, but it’s still one month away and its final quality still remains to be seen. At least, we should get better treatment of bugs in this release as it has to be stable for a much longer period. Time will tell, but things should be much improved.

I’m certain that with 10.10, Ubuntu will go back to their old habits. For now at least, it looks like we’ll have a phenomenal release.

With the Lot, Please

This version really looks to have the lot – stable packages, a new look and feel, all the apps that count and near perfect integration. From a consumer perspective, it’s almost the perfect desktop. It includes most things they might want out of the box – browser, social networking applications, multimedia applications, full blown office suite and cloud based synchronisation services. There are lots of bits that Apple doesn’t offer for free and this runs on any computer. Ubuntu has a reputation for being the distribution you give to friends new to Linux when you want it all to just work. Hopefully it will be able to do just that.

If the final quality stands up to the test, this will be one hell of a release. Massive. It’s just the sort of thing you would expect to see for sale on computers at your local department store, and hopefully we will soon see just that. If so, this could be the real beginning of a great new battle with Apple.

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