Ubuntu Reviewed: Hands on With Lucid Lynx
A Completely New Look
Our main complaint about the new themes -- the darker default Ambiance and the lighter Radiance -- is that they're incomplete. There are several areas, including Firefox and Gwibber (the integrated social networking app) that are still using elements of older icon themes, and they simply look awkward relative to the otherwise polished interface. Other things about the default Ubuntu interface have remained the same, and that's not necessarily for the better. The standard desktop still sticks with two panels (similar to the task bar in Windows), and the space-wasting "Menu Bar" includes separate drop-down menus for applications, places and system settings. All of these things are easily customized, much more so than their counterparts in OS X and Windows, but many users may simply assume they're stuck with the default setup.
Social From the Start, But the Media Is Up to You
The Ubuntu One Music store is one of the major new upgrades to the Ubuntu ecosystem. The store is slickly designed, easy to navigate and completely DRM-free. The selection can't quite compete with iTunes (and there is no podcast library or videos available), but it's certainly not a disappointment; we found 95-percent of the music for which we searched.
The "Me Menu" is powered by Gwibber, an app that pulls in updates from Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. Unfortunately, it lacks support for Twitter lists, and can't insert or upload photos. Pictures from cameras and phones can be imported and uploaded to Flickr, Picasa and other services, though, through the adequate, if not entirely intuitive, F-Spot Photo Manager. Lucid Lynx is also the first Ubuntu release not to come preloaded with the Gimp image-editing app (easily installed form the Ubuntu Software Center). The developers felt that Gimp was too complex for the average user (as that would be similar to all PCs coming pre-loaded with Photoshop), and that it often went unused. The newly freed-up space was put to good use by making Lucid Lynx the first version of Ubuntu to come pre-packaged with a video-editing program. Pitivi is a basic video-editing tool similar Microsoft Movie Maker (included with Windows XP). It's simple to use, but don't expect it to win any awards.
However, there are a few areas where Ubuntu might prove cumbersome for newbies. For one, Flash and the proper codecs for MP3 playback still aren't installed by default -- largely due to licensing issues. Ubuntu makes installing them simple, but the fact that you can't listen to MP3s out of the box might turn off some.
The Good, the Bad and the Completely Risk-Free
Our quibbles with it are relatively minor, and we could easily find similar issues with both Windows and OS X. Besides, there are plenty of small features to love, like the virtual desktops, customizable keyboard shortcuts, and tabbed file manager.
Lucid Lynx is a "must upgrade" for current Ubuntu users. Everyone else should at least give the user-friendly Linux distribution a look. If you need access to specific apps, such as Photoshop or Microsoft Office, that aren't available for Linux, then Ubuntu probably isn't for you. (Although, they'll run with some limitations via Wine, and there are alternatives like Open Office.) You can try it without making any changes to your computer by downloading and burning the Live CD, so there is little excuse for not giving it a shot.
Oh, and unlike those other operating systems, Ubuntu is free, and always will be.