Friday, August 24, 2007

Nano-review of Ubuntu 7.10 alpha 5

Downloaded, burned, and booted into Ubuntu 7.10 alpha 5 just to kick the virtual tires. Impressed over all with the quality of this alpha release, and I can see (and appreciate) where Canonical is going with Ubuntu. Looks like lots of work under the hood, with subtle but very important changes to the desktop. Tools are also beginning to show maturity. I am truly glad that there is now an Appearance Preferences application that combines Theme, Background, Fonts, Interface, and Desktop Effects all in one spot. After using it for five minutes all I can say is why did it take so long? It might seem insignificant but it sure helps to quickly tweak and tune the look of the desktop.

The screen shot above shows both promise and a problem. First, the promise. Europa, the system on which this live CD is running, has an aging ATI 9700 Pro video card. The free version of the ATI video driver as delivered was able to enable graphical effects previously associated with Compiz and Beryl. In fact the idea of Compiz or Beryl is noticeably absent. Which is as it should be. The effects should just be quietly and reliably working away.

With the open driver included, OpenGL is enabled by default. That's the whole point of firing up glxgears. But glxgears illustrates a minor problem. You see two sets of gears not because two glxgears instances are running, but because the one instance was moved across the desktop. For whatever reason glxgears' drawing canvas is not properly synchronized with the rest of the application's window. Drag it around and it leaves artifacts on the desktop. It's certainly no show stopper, but it should be looked at and fixed before release. Oh, and glxinfo states that direct rendering is enabled ('yes'). And the frame rate from glxgears is an order of magnitude faster than when running on openSuse with the ATI binary-only drivers. I don't know how well Google Earth would operate, but in the past you needed to install ATI's and nVidia's binary-only drivers to get decent performance out of Google Earth. Which paradoxically killed glxgears' performance compared to the open version of the ATI driver.

Other little things I noticed are the jumping windows. Click on a window behind another, and the top-level window(s) jump up and then behind the window you clicked. It's cute, but the cuteness wears off real fast. Like the wobbly windows, which mercifully are only enabled when you select the Extra effects radio button on the Desktop Effects tab of Appearance Preferences. If I may offer a suggestion to the developers, would you please add the jumping windows to the Extra effects selection. The shadows and translucency are more than enough for normal effects, and produce a truly lovely desktop experience. Or better yet, allow the end user the ability to fine tune (select) individual effects in the Normal and Extra effects categories.

I believe Ubuntu's next release will once again raise the standard towards an excellent user experience on the Linux desktop. I look forward to updating rhea's current Ubuntu 7.04 installation with the next release, 7.10.

Oh. This post was made in the live session. It's slow when starting an application off the CDROM, but otherwise the experience is indistinguishable from an installed instance of any other distribution.