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At Work with Linux: In Praise of Ubuntu 11.10 and Unity

Criticizing Ubuntu and Unity has become something of a blood sport, especially at that solipsistic cesspool of lopsided criticism known as TM Repository. To read any number of recent forum comments you'd think Canonical had been hit with mass stupidity to even consider replacing Gnome (2) with Unity, especially a desktop environment that hews more towards tablets than the classic desktop. Well, I'm here to tell you, that after installing Ubuntu 11.10 on a Dell 690 workstation in our lab, that Ubuntu and Unity are a pretty slick combination.

It took two attempts for a completely successful installation of Ubuntu 11.10 on the Dell 690. The first time I failed to configure the proxy server on the live desktop. I went on ahead and installed Ubuntu, and then assumed that if I missed any updates they'd come through after first boot. Unfortunately that first install left certain parts of Ubuntu in an "unknown" state that impacted some functionality. Rather than hack the system and look for the holes, I simply re-installed Ubuntu a second time, making sure to configure the proxy, and it performed a clean install.

This innate need to attach to the network is bothersome for those environments that may be closed. Closed environments might be a small part of the overall Ubuntu userbase, but those closed environments are important, whether Ubuntu realizes it or not. I expect that when I download a DVD ISO that it has everything I need for a complete installation, negating any need to have to attach to the internet. It would also be quite nice to have a clear way to access the network configuration applet during the installation process, rather than having to go hunt it down explicitly. But I can be thankful that the network configuration tools are available and that they work as intended.


Once the second installation was finished I fired up the environment and started to explore. And what a wonderful experience it turned out to be. Up to this point my only installation experience has been on a virtual machine. Installing on bare metal gives the distribution full and direct access to the underlying hardware and thus enhances the Unity experience considerably.

The compositing effects that Compiz hit us all over the head with a few years back have been toned down considerably so that they enhance the overall experience, not vie with one another and the applications. Subtle shadows, subtle transparency effects, subtle animations such as appear and disappear all go to create a very attractive and engaging desktop environment. It is, for all practical purposes, as good as anything you can find on any device, and is as good as Mac OS X. And yes, I have a few of those around to use and compare to.

We've installed this version of Ubuntu because we're going to install OpenStack and begin some research and development with building a private cloud. Ubuntu 11.10 was one of the recommended operating systems. I can't speak to any project specifics, but as time and the project progresses I'll write what I can in general about Ubuntu, Unity, and OpenStack, both good and bad. Right now, during this initial honeymoon period, it's all good.


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