Feisty And Like A Fawn: Ubuntu 7.04

Author
Aron Schatz
Posted
June 20, 2007
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14880
Feisty And Like A Fawn: Ubuntu 7.04
Ubuntu 7.04, codenamed Feisty Fawn, is the latest release of the fast and upcoming distribution from Canonical. Who says Linux is not ready for the desktop?

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Background Information

When Fedora Linux was first released back in 2003, I found that many technology writers were enthusiastically trying to convince their readers of something that was not yet true - that Linux was finally ready for the big time. Unfortunately, Linux was not yet mature enough to compete seriously against Apple or Microsoft for a share of the home computer market. And this remained true until the April 2007 release of Ubuntu Linux, version 7.04.

Ubuntu


Codenamed Feisty Fawn, something about this operating system is different than any Linux I have previously tried. Less than two months since its release, this energetic young deer of an OS has already managed to leap over a hurdle that no other Linux distribution has yet been able to overcome. Technology industry powerhouse DELL (http://www.dell.com/open) is now offering several home computers with Ubuntu 7.04 preinstalled, instead of Microsoft Windows XP/Vista. Never before has a Linux operating system been preinstalled on home PCs by such a major brand. To quote Jane Silber, Director of Operations at Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu), "Canonical is honored to play a leading role in making Linux more widely available to everyone."

Desktop


Ubuntu 7.04 eliminates many of the obstacles to user base expansion that have plagued Linux operating systems for years. But no operating system, even a great one like Feisty Fawn, is without its flaws.

Just The Facts

In my experience as a computer teacher and tutor, I have discovered that the majority of computer users are most concerned with three aspects of their personal computing experience: a functional office suite, a rich online experience, and good security. I address each of these topics in the following paragraphs, as they relate to the GNOME variant of Ubuntu 7.04.

A Functional Office Suite

OO Writer OO Calc OO Impress


Many individuals, businesses, and government institutions around the world are currently switching from Microsoft Office to a free alternative called OpenOffice. Included in the default installation of Feisty Fawn is the OpenOffice suite of programs. What this means is that Ubuntu 7.04 users are able to view and create documents that are compatible with the very latest Microsoft Office files. In the case of word processing, Microsoft Word formatted documents containing pictures, text boxes, lists, and balloon-style comments are easy to open, edit, and even create from within OpenOffice Writer. Indeed, Writer also opens word processing documents that are in the Microsoft Works file format – a useful feature for some home users. Similarly, OpenOffice Calc shines as a substitute for Microsoft Excel in most home situations. In business environments however, Calc's power is somewhat limited by its lack of seamless support for Excel macros. The OpenOffice analog to Microsoft PowerPoint, Impress, becomes very functional when the proper multimedia codecs are installed. And while Impress' selection of included templates is admittedly scarce, additional templates can be downloaded from the OpenOffice website. Additional clipart images for the entire OpenOffice suite can easily be downloaded and installed via Ubuntu's Synaptic Package Manager. For home and most business users, OpenOffice is indeed a fully functional office suite.

A Rich Online Experience

Firefox


To most people, Microsoft's “blue e” Internet Explorer is synonymous with the internet. But in reality, there are many programs capable of browsing the internet. Ubuntu 7.04's default internet browser, Firefox, is capable of accessing just about every webpage on the planet. And in addition to a superb popup blocker, Firefox also enables users to choose from an extensive array of add-on applications to enhance the internet experience. These add-ons are able to do almost anything, from grabbing the latest weather forecasts to downloading videos that are embedded in webpages. Feisty Fawn's default browser also provides users the ability to spellcheck their work on blogs, forums, and in webmail. And with the proper packages installed, Firefox can open: Windows Media, RealPlayer, QuickTime, PDF, MP3, Java, and Flash content directly in the browser. Information on how to install all of these codecs with just a few commands can be found in Ubuntu's community documentation (https://help.ubuntu.com/community). The Ubuntu Community Documentation is also a great source of answers to other setup and configuration questions for the Feisty Fawn operating system.

While not the default email client in Ubuntu 7.04, Thunderbirdis easily added to the system via the Add/Remove utility, which can be found in the Applications menu. Users who are familiar with Microsoft's Outlook Express should feel most comfortable using Thunderbird because of its friendly user interface. Thunderbird is also able to import address books from Windows that have been saved in the .csv format. People who depend on the additional functionality provided by Microsoft Outlook – the ability to synchronize emails, contacts, and calendars with portable devices like PDAs - may be happier with the default email client in Ubuntu, Evolution.

Many people, from teenagers to grandparents, enjoy chatting with loved ones online. For those users who think of typing on a keyboard as the preferred method for instant messaging, Ubuntu 7.04 provides an exceptionally pleasing experience with its Gaim Internet Messenger (recently renamed pidgin due to a legal dispute with AOL). However, audio chats on major chat networks like AOL, Windows Live, and Yahoo are almost impossible to establish in any version of Linux. This is not the fault of Linux programmers so much as it is a result of the major networks' unwillingness to share information with the open source community. There is hope in sight for Ubuntu users, however, as recent releases of a program called Mercury Messenger demonstrate some legitimate progress towards successfully establishing audio chats with members of the major chat networks. aMSN and Kopete also have plans to add audio chat support for one or more of the major networks in future versions of their software.

Good Security

Tux


There is no doubt that Ubuntu, and Linux in general, is more secure that Microsoft Windows. There are thousands upon thousands of viruses that can infect Windows XP/Vista. Even the most cautious Windows users can fall prey to infection. The situation that Ubuntu users face is different. Of the documented Linux viruses “in the wild”, none of them can infect a modern version of Linux. Some informed Linux fans say that this lack of Linux viruses negates the need for antivirus or firewall software. Others, like me, tend to believe that such software is important because it helps to prevent the inadvertent infection of Windows computers.

Firestarter, Ubuntu's graphical interface for firewall management, is painless to install and configure. Antivirus solutions for Feisty Fawn are a different story. Free antivirus software for Linux is often difficult to install and configure, while most commercially available virus protection for Linux is targeted at business server administrators and the like. This makes it difficult for users who are new to Ubuntu to protect their Windows friends and colleagues.

Final Thoughts

In my opinion, Feisty Fawn is a triumph of the open source community's attempts to reach out to average computer users around the world. Thanks largely to the information provided at Ubuntu's community documentation, most people who are using Ubuntu for the first time can find answers to their questions in a single place. This in contrast to many other Linux distributions, which force users to search far across the internet for solutions to common issues. And if existing instructions fail to help, users can also participate in discussions at the official Ubuntu forums as well as the »forums here at ASE Labs.

But with that said, I suggest that the open source community not spend too much time celebrating. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done in order to take a serious slice of the proverbial operating system pie. Audio instant messaging for the major networks, for example, needs to be addressed before some Windows users will even consider switching to Linux. Maybe that is why Feisty Fawn is such an appropriate nickname for Ubuntu 7.04. Ubuntu has spunk. But the Linux movement upon which it depends needs to continue maturing rapidly in order for Ubuntu to remain a true contender in the home PC battle.

This article was written by Robert Biondini for ASE Labs.
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