Today, the first public preview release of Ubuntu Linux was announced: “Ubuntu is a Linux distribution that starts with the breadth of Debian and adds a focused selection of packages, regular releases (every six months), a clear focus on the user and usability (it should “Just Work”, TM) and a commitment to security updates with 18 months of support for every release.”. And all of this while being free as in freedom, and free as in beer. Sounds too good to be true? Well, I took it for a test drive on my iBook G3. Here are my purely subjective and totaly incomplete first impressions …
The current preview comes as a single ISO image, available for i386, ppc and amd64 architectures (a Live CD is apparently in the works). It can either be downloaded from one of the mirrors or by BitTorrent. Burning the image to CD on Mac OS X poses a problem since, for some unknown reason, Disk Utility crashes when trying to open or burn the image. The image itself is perfectly fine, mounting it in the Finder or burning it using cdrecord works. After overcoming those little hassles, it’s off to the installation …
Before the installation, the iBook had two partitions, both of which contained a Mac OS X installation. I decided I would delete one of them to make room for Ubuntu, and keep the other to see how it works with a dual boot setup. After booting from the CD, the installer asked very few questions (language, time zone etc.), and attempted to detect hardware. My ethernet and AirPort cards were detected correctly, but setting up the ethernet card to use DHCP failed (for some reason the installer came to the conclusion that I was “not connected to to a network”). Since I was installing from CD anyway, I just told it to configure it later and continued the installation. If you want to get an impression of a typical installation, take a look at the installation howto.
For partitioning, it gave me the option to either erase the whole disk, or partition manually. I chose the latter, deleted one of my two HFS+ partitions, and created an ext3 partition for the root filesystem, a swap partition, and a new world bootloader partition instead. This was about all it asked of me during installation (well, I think I remember being asked to create a user account as well, but no root account: by default, root access is granted only using sudo). From then on it continued automatically — no package selection phase, X configuration (the first release in October will still use XFree86, the subsequent ones are supposed to include X.org), or anything else one has come to expect from a Linux installation. So, after the usual reboot and package installation, I was pleasently surprised to be dumped directly onto a very sleek looking login screen 🙂
Go look for yourself. Antialiased fonts, Firefox as the default browser, and an interesting menu setup. And (most of) it just works: The iBook-specific buttons (volume, brightness, eject) function as expected, sound, plugging in an USB mouse with 3 buttons and scroll wheel, and of course the X configuration without any … configuration 😉
I ran into some trouble getting nameservers by DHCP, apparently the dhclient-script that comes with the PPC version of the preview release is broken. Replacing it with the script from the i386 version fixed the problem. Also, the Network Admin utility crashed occassionally, complaining that it could not run as root when trying to (de-)activate network interfaces, even though I typed in my password earlier. But I managed to configure my network interfaces anyway.
On my “not instantly working” list so far: Power management, emulating right and middle mouse button with a single-button mouse/trackpad, playing audio cds. I’ll look into that when I have more time …
Package Management and Components
Ubuntu uses Synaptic as a user-friendly front-end to apt. Installable software is divided into three components: main (free software packages maintained by Ubuntu developers), restricted (commonly used non-free software, maintained to the extent permitted by the license), and universe (almost every open source and less open software, but without guaranteed security fixes and support). After activating the pre-defined repositories for these components, a huge collection of packages is available for installation.
Though certainly not for newbies yet, it’s great preview release. Go out and test it, and file bugs, so the first release of Ubuntu Linux in October can be close to perfect. Specifically regarding a Mac, it was the easiest installation I have experienced so far. And the features planned for future releases look just too good to be true 🙂