"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." - Mark Twain

Ubuntu 6.06

Ubuntu 6.06

Sunday 16th July 2006

Categories: Reviews, GNU/Linux, FLOSS

Package Management

This crucial aspect of Ubuntu has normally been very good, and Ubuntu 6.06 is no exception.

One of the first things I noticed after logging in was the fact that 98 updates were available for me to download. Using the specially designed program, downloading them was relatively straightforward. My only slight complaint is that there is no way to select or deselect all packages - rather, you have to go through each update individually. This probably doesn't affect the vast majority of people, but can be annoying if you only want certain updates (in which case, you'd be better off using Synaptic).

In the default repositories, you can find many of the common packages that you may want, such as Abiword, Gnumeric or even KDE in its entirety. Adding the extra repositories (e.g. Universe, Multiverse) is easy in Synaptic - just a case of selecting Repositories from the Settings menu, choosing the appropriate entry, clicking the Edit button, and then ticking the right boxes. You can also access this dialog from the Administration menu, by selecting Software Preferences. In the tab Internet Updates, you can select whether to automatically check for and/or download updates, as well as whether to automatically install security updates. However, one area where Synaptic might fall down is that inexperienced users may have no idea what packages to install - you might want to install Abiword, but searching for abiword brings up six packages beginning with abiword, and a handful of others. Also, browsing through all the packages can be confusing due to the presence of multiple packages for one program, along with countless libraries. As such, there exists Add/Remove Applications, available through the Applications menu.

This utility lets you select programs rather than packages, making for a much easier selection for newcomers. For example, there is just the one entry for Abiword. Just as with Synaptic, all the packages have also been put into groupings down the left hand side, such as Graphics, although the groupings in Add/Remove Applications are better suited for the 'ordinary user'. You can also access the Universe repository simply by clicking the checkbox "Show unsupported applications", while Multiverse can be browsed via the checkbox "Show commercial applications". The advantage of this setup is that you can have the power of Synaptic while novice users get the simplicity of Add/Remove Applications. Having tried all three package management utilities, they all work without incident and as you'd expect. I can't think of any significant ways, apart from that already mentioned, to improve their design.

However, there were a couple of minor bugs. The first was that, if a search results returns nothing, it says, "Check the 'Show unsupported applications' and "Show proprietary applications' buttons to extend the search." The problem with this is the latter button doesn't exist - it is called "Show commercial applications". Not a huge fault, but perhaps enough to throw some users off. The next bug is that every time I started Add/Remove Applications, I get told that my data is out of date, and I need to reload it. Fair enough if this popped up every few days, but it always appears, even if I reloaded the information two minutes ago. Although this seemed to stop after a couple of days, it was annoying during that time.

One particularly nice touch in Ubuntu is that after applications have been installed, a little light bulb appears in the top corner next to the time. Clicking on this will tell you information about the newly installed packages - for example, after updating Firefox, I was told that I should restart it.

A quick note about installing the SSH server - I searched for SSH in Add/Remove Applications, but couldn't find the server, meaning I had to use Synaptic. A minor gripe, perhaps, but surely novice users should be able to install SSH servers as well?

Next thing to try is Apache, PHP and MySQL. To see just how user friendly Ubuntu is, I'm going to try and get working through Add/Remove Applications rather than Synaptic. That fell flat on its face pretty quickly owing to the fact that none of those three things exist in Add/Remove Applications. While this is understandable (an ordinary user probably won't want a fully working server), it would have been useful. After all, you could be a skilled web developer, but a complete beginner to GNU/Linux. So, off to Synaptic and apache2, php5 and mysql-server. Not installed by default was php5-mysql, but that is a sensible move - after all, it shouldn't be assumed that MySQL will definitely be used with PHP. Fortunately, and unlike many other distributions, phpMyAdmin is in the repositories, making setting a webpages easy as pie.

Following that, it's time to try Flash. Installing it should have been easy through Add/Remove Applications, but you have to enable the Multiverse repository yourself in Software Preferences - as relatively straightforward as this is, it would be nice if it could add the relevant repositories itself (or provide a one click method for adding them). After all, it is not immediately obvious to somebody unfamiliar with Ubuntu how to enable the repository. Especially off-putting is that the error message simply states that the package is not in any of the available channels, and suggest that the package is not available for your architecture, instead of suggesting that you add another repository. This means that a new user could be completely stumped by the problem.

Azureus is always fun to try due to its dependency on Java. It was a pleasant surprise in Fedora to see Azureus running on a free implementation of Java, so lets see how Ubuntu behaves when installing Azureus. Oddly, installing Azureus had the side effect of installing Mozilla (the browser component of the application suite, not to be confused with Seamonkey, it's successor, or Mozilla Firefox, the standalone browser). However, I am happy to report that Ubuntu uses a free Java implementation - in fact, just like Fedora it uses GIJ/GCJ. While the actual use of torrents works fine, I couldn't get rid of the warning popup in the bottom right of the screen until I closed Azureus, obscuring the interface.

The final test is for programs outside of Ubuntu's repositories - namely, Seamonkey and Realplayer. This time around, there's no need to install any extra packages - they both installed flawlessly without any preparation.

Closing Remarks

There are only a few more things I can say about Ubuntu. Firstly, one of Ubuntu's touted strengths is its community. If you look at its forums, you can see the sheer volume of users, along with helpful and friendly posts. The Ubuntu Wiki is a fantastic resource - for example, showing how to install nVidia graphics drivers, or restricted formats. Through this, you can easily install these proprietary components, such as Flash.

Ubuntu has been the easiest distribution to set up as a web server (i.e. with Apache, PHP and MySQL all working in perfect harmony) for a long time... in fact, the only other time it has been this easy was with Debian. Package management in general is excellent with Ubuntu, with the trio of utilities filling all the corners.

One question I meant to answer from the beginning is: how does Ubuntu 6.06 compare to Fedora Core 5? The answer? Very well. There is very little new or innovative in this release of Ubuntu, but there are plenty of small touches that make it easy to use - the tips for newly installed applications, the ease of setting up shared folders or accessing other machines' shares, the update notifier, and so on. Coupled with the huge repository of packages, inherited from Debian, Ubuntu just comes out on top. Fedora Core 5 is still an excellent distribution, which isn't exactly hard to use - but Ubuntu is even less hard to use, and could fill the role of any distribution in a pinch. The only real mar is the GUI installation of Ubuntu - I had to resort to text mode, while Fedora Core 5's installation was smooth sailing. While there are some points Ubuntu can still improve upon, it is, on the whole, very polished.

To sum it up - Dapper Drake is Ubuntu's best release to date, where just about everything just works. The massive array of packages, with the user friendliness bolted on, mean that I can recommend Ubuntu to anybody that wants a nice, simple distribution. Just make sure you download the alternate CD.

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