April 29, 2010

Seven Reasons to Upgrade to Ubuntu Lucid Lynx

The final release of Ubuntu's Lucid Lynx (Ubuntu 10.4) has finally arrived. Wondering what's in store? We've got seven reasons for Ubuntu users to make the leap to Lucid.

Unless you really enjoy being on the cutting edge of open source software, there's usually very little reason to upgrade with every release. This hasn't always been true. When I first started using Linux, each new release was chock full of major new features and better hardware support. Linux has evolved to the point now where you'll still find lots of new stuff, but it's generally in smaller increments. And Lucid Lynx is full of those types of improvements. You'll find the latest release of GNOME, Firefox and OpenOffice.org; improvements that come with the newer Linux kernel; and whatnot. But Lucid also brings several really noteworthy features that make it a good choice for a long term desktop OS.

I still get an itch to upgrade after a few months on any distro, but if you're more conservative in your habits, here's seven reasons why you'll want to move to Lucid Lynx.

Long Term Support

Ironically, my first reason is for users who don't like doing upgrades. Why upgrade if you hate upgrading? The Lucid release is a Long Term Support (LTS), meaning that it's going to be supported for three years on the desktop and for five years on the server. Typical Ubuntu releases have a shelf life of 18 months, which means that they run out of support in under two years. If you prefer to stick with the same install for a long period of time, Lucid is the one to choose.

But there's a bit more to it than that. The LTS releases tend to be just a bit more polished, and features and packages are picked with an eye towards long term support. Some Ubuntu releases are slightly more experimental and may have some rougher edges, but the LTSes are solid releases for folks who want to install once and not think about having to do a fresh install for a very long time.

Sharp Looks

I've never really been a fan of Ubuntu's color schemes. The orange and brown reminded me too much of 70s carpet styles, and that's just not a good thing. With Lucid, the Ubuntu folks have finally moved beyond brown and have embraced Light. The latest theme from Ubuntu may not appeal to everybody but it has gotten pretty good reviews for the most part.

Lucid introduces new wallpapers, logos and two new GNOME themes — Radiance and Ambiance. They're, at least in my opinion, much easier on the eyes than previous releases. Mac fans will also approve of the decision to move the window buttons to the left-hand side of the title bar.

Quickly Does It

Ever had a hankering to do a little bit of software development, but had no idea where to start? Take a look at Quickly, a rapid application development kit for Python apps on Ubuntu. It's not part of the default install, but Quickly is in the Lucid repositories and it's easy to add Quickly and its companion application, Acire. Acire displays snippets of Python code that allow you to quickly (ahem) add functionality to Python applications.

Even though I'm not a developer by trade, I've tried out Quickly already and it does simplify a lot of things. You still have to learn some Python, but without the surrounding hassle of having to learn how to create packages, start a new project in Glade, etc.

Social From the Start

If you spend a lot of time on Facebook, or enjoy posting to Identi.ca and Twitter (or all of the above, for the social media junkies in the audience), 10.04 brings some nifty features to the table. Ubuntu integrates most of your social tools, microblogging, instant messaging, and email into the Me Menu on the GNOME toolbar.

While the "Me Menu" is a silly, silly name it's a nice feature. The Me Menu lets users adjust their online status for IM, provides unobtrusive notifications when new messages come in, makes it easier to just fire off an email, and so on. It's really nifty as-is, but if you look at the long term plans it looks like it will be a killer feature in the long term.

Ubuntu 10.04 also comes with the latest and greatest release of Gwibber, a microblogging app that supports Identi.ca, Twitter, StatusNet sites, Facebook and more. Gwibber has been around a while, but it's souped up with the 2.30 release and features multiple "streams" so you can watch for replies, search terms, whatever you want. The latest Gwibber release puts it on par with proprietary microblogging apps like TweetDeck. Run multiple accounts, log into all your favorite social sites, and enjoy.

While Gwibber lets you update your status on Facebook, and see replies, Empathy has support for Facebook Chat. So you can keep in touch with friends on Facebook without ever having to log into Facebook itself!

Faster Boot

The Ubuntu folks have also been doing a lot of work to improve boot times with 10.04, and it shows. Startup seems snappy, even with the betas. For desktop machines this isn't really a major issue, but road warriors that work from laptops (and tend to boot often) a long boot time can be a major drag.

Boot times will still vary depending on the speed of your machine, but I've tried Lucid on a couple of laptop, netbook, and workstation systems, and the improvement in boot time is noticeable. It's particularly noticeable on netbooks with the Ubuntu Netbook Remix.

Ubuntu One Integration

Ubuntu comes ready to sync files and puts millions of songs at your fingertips. Ubuntu One provides 2GB of storage for free and the option to upgrade to 50GB for $10 a month. You will need to create an account, of course. Ubuntu One also lets you sync Tomboy notes between machines and share contacts in Evolution between machines as well.

While not a compelling feature for hardcore Linux users who use rsync to back up and share files, Ubuntu One is a really nice touch for mainstream users who want an easy way to keep files, notes and contacts synched between computers.

But it's the music store that grabbed my attention. Linux users have largely been left to fend for themselves when it comes to music downloads. Amazon has made a half-hearted attempt to provide a downloader for Amazon MP3 but has done a terrible job of keeping it up-to-date. And, not surprisingly, Apple hasn't made any effort to provide iTunes for Linux. Ubuntu One's music store is powered by 7digital, and the selection is pretty eclectic and wide-ranging. With the Ubuntu One Music Store, you can easily buy any of the tracks in the catalog. You can use Rhythmbox or Banshee to browse the Ubuntu One Music Store.

Speaking of music, another great feature that comes with Rhythmbox in 10.04 is the ability to manage the latest iPods and iPhones. I was surprised, pleasantly, when I plugged my iPhone into my laptop to charge and noticed it showed up in Rhythmbox and I could copy music to and from the device. Given Apple's propensity for blocking this kind of connectivity, I wouldn't be surprised if future updates to the iPhone or iPod software will disable the feature, but for now it's nice to be able to sync with Linux.

KDE 4 for the Long Haul

Ubuntu has supported KDE 4 for a while, but this will be the first LTS release based on a KDE 4 release. And they've picked a fine KDE release to support for the next three years. Kubuntu users will get KDE 4.4, which includes support for GNOME tray icons (so your GNOME apps feel right at home on KDE too), Amarok 2.3, and a bevy of other improvements for KDE users.

Netbook users can try out the Kubuntu Netbook Remix, which is being officially released with Lucid. The Netbook Remix has been available as a technology preview in past releases, but this is the first official release. Like the Ubuntu Netbook Remix, it features an interface better suited for small screens but features the KDE desktop.

Upgrade and Enjoy

If you're an Ubuntu user, there's no excuse to sit this one out. Lucid Lynx is smooth, easy to use and a great update for users who want a full-featured and no-hassle desktop Linux experience.

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