Ubuntu Linux 5.04
Cutting-edge GNOME desktop.
Outstanding package management system.
Free, as in beer and as in freedom.
Only available for x86, x86_64 and PowerPC architectures.
Six-month release cycle sometimes leaves rough edges.
The Ubuntu Linux distribution is produced by a company called Canonical, working together with the Debian Project. Its goal is to make a free Linux distribution that simply works and is localized for as many different languages as possible. You can read the Ubuntu Manifesto on the ubuntulinux.org Web site. The name Ubuntu is an ancient African word that means “humanity to others”.
This is the second release of Ubuntu, code-named Hoary Hedgehog. The previous release was Ubuntu 4.10. The version numbers are based on the year and month of the release; 5.04, therefore, was released in April 2005.
Ubuntu 5.04 provides cutting-edge Linux desktop features and easy administration with Debian's APT package management system. It also is available in a live CD version that runs without installing on the hard drive. Ubuntu is supported on x86, x86_64 and PowerPC architectures, and future plans call for releases to support additional architectures.
The usual way to get Ubuntu is to download a CD image either from the Ubuntu Web site or by using a BitTorrent client. Alternatively, you can order official Ubuntu CDs if you like; remarkably, they are free of charge. The hardware detection in the live CD is identical to the hardware detection in the Ubuntu installer, so if the live CD works, you can be confident that the installer will work as well.
A DVD image also is available for Bittorrent download. The DVD is suitable for installing Ubuntu on a computer without Internet access. It can be used as a live CD or as an install CD.
Installation is a straightforward process. Ubuntu 5.04 has a text-based installer, but it is easy to use and has excellent hardware detection. In the simplest case—installing to a blank hard disk—it handles partitioning and formatting automatically. Manual partitioning is possible as well, allowing you to delete and create partitions and format them as ext3, ext2, ReiserFS, JFS, XFS, FAT16 or FAT32 filesystems, all with LVM or RAID support. By pressing Alt-F2, you can access a second virtual terminal and use a root shell to set up your partitions by hand.
If the system has a connection to the Internet during the installation, the Ubuntu installer automatically finds and installs the latest package versions so your new Ubuntu system is fully up to date. And, thanks to the Kubuntu Project, an install CD that includes KDE also is available. Ubuntu 5.04 also offers support for network installs using Kickstart.
If you want to add additional desktop environments such as Xfce, after the initial install you can enable the universe component (see below) and install the necessary packages. In addition, you can choose the server install option to get a minimal Ubuntu system and then manually install exactly the packages you choose.
As is generally true of Debian-based systems, you need to run the installer only once. Even major releases can be updated using the standard package management tools. However, keep the install CD handy to use as a rescue disk.
If you have an NVIDIA or ATI graphics adapter and you want to use the vendor's proprietary binary drivers, with Ubuntu you can easily install the packages from the restricted package set. Furthermore, as updates to those drivers are released, your system can install them automatically.
Ubuntu Linux 5.04 is based on the GNOME 2.10 desktop environment. It features the latest slick GNOME features from the GNOME developers as well as a few new features added by the Ubuntu developers. It uses the X.org X server.
The theme, desktop art and applets shown in Figure 1 are all out-of-the-box Ubuntu defaults. I had the mouse pointer hovering over the red update icon in order to read the tool tip saying that two new packages are available; the screenshot tool does not capture the mouse pointer.
Ubuntu is developed on a six-month cycle, as is the GNOME desktop itself. Each Ubuntu release will include the latest GNOME release. Canonical has promised to provide security updates for each release for at least 18 months.
Ubuntu has a clean desktop philosophy, so your desktop initially is completely empty of icons and files. The Ubuntu developers wrote some GNOME applets, however, that allow all features of GNOME to be accessed from GNOME panels. For example, the Trash Can applet gives access to the Trash folder without needing to move any open windows to get to the desktop. Of course, you are free to put icons on your desktop if you prefer.
The GNOME menus are located on the top left of the default Ubuntu desktop, and as of GNOME 2.10, the menus are Applications, Places and System. The Applications menu includes icons to launch applications, filed into categories such as Games and Internet. The Places menu includes icons to open a file manager window for the user's home directory, the user's Desktop and a place called Computer, with all storage devices available on the computer. The Places menu also includes any locations the user has bookmarked from the file manager, as well as a few icons for accessing network servers, searching for files or viewing the most recently used documents list. The System menu is used for setting GNOME preferences, system administration, getting GNOME help and closing a GNOME session. Overall, these three menus are an excellent way to organize the system menus; it's easy to remember where to look for things.
The GNOME 2.10 desktop in Ubuntu is an excellent choice for beginning computer users. Thanks to the GNOME Volume Manager, GNOME does sensible things when a user works with storage devices. For example, when the user inserts a CD audio disk into a CD drive, the GNOME CD player automatically runs.
When the user plugs in a USB Flash drive, it is recognized, mounted and a file manager window opens that shows the mounted device. In addition, an icon appears on the desktop with a name such as 256M Removable Media, and an identical icon appears in the Places menu. Users coming from other OSes should learn to use the Unmount Volume command before unplugging the USB device, but as long as they don't unplug the device while it actually is writing data, nothing bad happens if they simply unplug it. The system simply removes the icon from the desktop and the Places menu.
Other removable devices are handled in similarly slick fashion. Plugging in a device with photos, such as a digital camera, results in a pop-up dialog offering to import the photos.
The GNOME file manager, by default, runs in a spatial mode where each place you can visit with the file manager opens in its own window, and the location and size of each of these windows are remembered. A browser window mode also is available, and a check box in the file manager preferences—Always open in browser windows—can be used to set the browser window mode as the default.
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