Saturday, 25 September 2010

Testing the Maverick Meerkat


Mark Shuttleworth pinned his colours to the mast and declared the aim of a "perfect 10" with the delivery of Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick Meerkat.

Having just upgraded the Alpha-3 release to the Beta, we're struggling to get the numbers that high, not because it's broken or wrong... it's just not very exciting for a "10"...

There is a distinct lack of drama. Which is good (it works) and bad (where's the 'wow'?)

Installer
the installation procedure has completely revamped. It now has the ability to multi-task while the installation is being carried out, so put your login details in at the start and it will find wireless card and connections.

Maverick still uses EXT4 as its' default file system. The highly anticipated Btrfs filesystem can now be safely used on new installs, if you opt for manual partitioning but you MUST create an EXT3 or EXT4 /boot partition.

Desktop
The desktop was very familiar. We still have Gnome 2 ( 2.31.6) as Gnome 3 is running late. No Gnome-Shell, then. After the installation completes and you are booted into your system, you will notice a new wallpaper.  The Alpha release sported a splodgy blurry wallpaper that's been called a rust spot. Replaced in the Beta, by some blurry spot-lights. I got rid of it in favour of Maverick Dunes by J Baer.  The updated Radiance/Ambiance themes are much sharper.

The Deleted Items folder or Trash is now called Rubbish Bin in my UK localised install.

Applications
  • Evolution gets updated to the 2.30 version, which is faster compared to the version in Ubuntu 10.04 LTS, just not that much faster.  
  • Shotwell has replaced F-Spot as the default photo manager.  
  • Gwibber in Ubuntu Maverick is now compliant with the Twitter Oauth protocol, so Twitter updates ought to work again, however with the switch to SQLite  database, albeit faster and more stable, you can't sync your profile across multiple computers now.
  • The Sound Indicator has been enhanced to include music player controls.  
  • Nautilus gets a new context menu. When you right click on a file, all the options that are not available/functional are blacked-out by default. This give the users a quick view of what you can/cannot do with the file. After that you get enhancements for managing folder sync preferences. Faster file sync speed is promised but I've yet to see it. Apparently you can share links to music within the Ubuntu One Music Store.  
  • Calculator gets a major cosmetic make-over
  • Chromium briwser comes installed by default
  • The Alpha came with the F-Spot photo-manager, when I upgraded to the Beta I got Shotwell.

Software Center
This may make new user's lives much easier to find and install the linux equivalents of needed programs.

Take a look at the divisions in the tree menu:
  • Get Software is split into 'Provided by Ubuntu' and 'Canonical partners' and 'For Purchase'. There are only two purchase entries in Beta – Fluendo player and Test Wallpaper, but you get the idea.
  • Other divisions are 'Installed Software:' 'Provided by Ubuntu' and 'Canonical Partners' and 'Others'.
  • The History tab is highly useful for looking over package history, what installed when.
  • Software Center includes two new sections; Featured  and What's New.
  • 'Featured' is Canonical's pick; there's an additional filter of 'hide (1) technical item'.

Ubuntu One
This is the biggy for Canonical. This is the drive for the personal cloud.

Ubuntu One is installed by default, awaiting only the configuration before it is ready to begin synchronizing files. It appears to be more deeply implemented in 10.10 than previously as many of the folders in the “home” folder have a synchronization option for that folder.

The list of new features include:
  • Music streaming to iPhone and Android phones, allowing users to store their music in the cloud and access it easily from mobile devices. This supposedly will make the Ubuntu One Music Store more attractive.
  • Streamlined Web interface
  • Support for Windows file syncing in order to make Ubuntu One an essential cross-platform tool to compete with the likes of Dropbox.
  • Customer-support options. Canonical wants this to be a flagship cloud service and generate some future revenue, so it has to be well supported for mass-market adoption.
As m'colleague Ed has pulled Ubuntu One to pieces already, you can read his arguments against. Dropbox is a better file storage tool, Ubuntu One wants to go much further in providing addtional services. Trobule is it's still not fast enough or stable enough.

Verdict
It's not arresting. It may be cleaner under the hood, but the whole of the Maverick release feels like a curtain raiser to 11.04. We're looking forward to the future features such as window transparency and Windicators. Maybe I'm missing the point. There's clearly a lot of work going into this and it looks like a decent step in the incremental development of Ubuntu. As long as the code-base is clean and Maverick is stable and fast, maybe that's enough for this release?  RC

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