I’ve just spent a couple of hours installing and exploring Ubuntu 8.04. Bottom line: better but still not yet an adequate end user system. Here are the things that absolutely must be fixed before one can plausibly recommend Ubuntu to a non-developer end user (and since Ubuntu is the best desktop Linux out there, these are things that need to be fixed before one can recommend desktop Linux). In roughly increasing order of severity:
1. Ubuntu failed to find my DHCP server automatically. I had to reconfigure the network after logging in.
2. The install image is missing about 50-80 megs worth of patches. It’s one thing not to ship new CDs to every store on the planet and recall all existing stock. It’s another to serve an ISO with known security holes from your website. Critical (and even non-critical) patches need to be rolled into the primary release ISOs.
3. Ubuntu still doesn’t believe there’s such a thing as a widescreen monitor. Trust me: they exist. I’ve had one since the late 90s. In this release, Ubuntu has actually gone backwards. It used to be you could configure new screen resolutions with some Unix text arcana, but Hardy Heron has hidden all that info in some new location I’ve yet to ferret out. They’ve replaced the text files with a GUI screen resolution tool that doesn’t actually let me set the screen resolution. I’m not opposed to GUI configuration tools–I prefer them in fact. However they have to be at least as powerful as the text files they replace.
4. The menu system hasn’t changed in years. It’s still the same disaster it was 3 years ago. When is Gnome going to realize what Apple’s known for 25 years, and even Microsoft has known for ten:
Menus belong at the top of the screen. You don’t show more than one menu bar at a time. Menu bars need to be consistent between applications. There’s always a File menu on the left, closely followed by an Edit Menu. The Help menu goes at the right, sometimes preceded by a Window menu.
I guess when your view of the world is a command line, you don’t think GUI menus matter all that much; but to anyone who’s not a programmer they do.
Ubuntu actually does put the main Ubuntu menus at the top of the screen where they belong. The problem is that it reserves that place for itself and won’t share with other applications. No matter which application you’re working in, the menu bar only has Places, Application, and System. If I’m editing in OpenOffice, I want to see the OpenOffice menus there. If I’m browsing in Firefox, I want to see the Firefox menus there.
Apple and Microsoft both do better here: Apple by taking a single menu in the bar (the Apple menu) for its own use while leaving the rest of the menu bar free for the application; Microsoft by making use of the bottom of the screen for its system menus while leaving the top free for the application. Ubuntu/Gnome seems to be doing cargo cult UI design. They sort of know that menu bars belong at the top of the screen, but since they don’t understand the reasons why that is so, they end up making matters worse.
On the positive side, I’d say the fonts do look better in this release. That was a major sticking point for me in previous releases. Other notable improvements include a smoother, less technical install process, and a bootup that doesn’t spew random techie gibberish all over the screen. Ubuntu is improving. If only they’d fix the menu bars, and make it work with widescreen monitors, I could think about letting my parents use this.