This review is aimed at anyone who has never seen Ubuntu before and highlights the look and feel, the applications and the functionality that comes as standard. You can consider this more of a whistlestop tour than a review.
Ubuntu 13.04 comes with the Unity desktop which has been part of Ubuntu since version 11.04. The Unity desktop has matured and now provides a great user experience.
If you are a Windows user the initial look and feel will be unfamiliar to you but after a few weeks you will really appreciate the way Ubuntu and the Unity desktop works.
The first thing to note is the bar at the top of the screen. The bar acts as a menu bar for any application that is loaded and this saves on screen real estate leaving more room for the application itself. Also on the bar is a series of icons giving access to the most common system settings such as adjusting your power management, connecting to the internet, toggling Bluetooth on and off and adjusting audio settings. There is also a clock and a power button.
The left side of the screen is taken up by a launch bar which contains a list of icons for the most commonly used applications. It is of course possible to customise this list by adding your own applications and by moving the icons around. The launch bar makes it possible to get to your favourite applications with one mouse click.
Any application that you open appears at the bottom of the launch bar and if you connect an external device such as a USB drive or a portable hard drive this will also appear.
Navigating Ubuntu is quick and easy. There are no fiddly menu systems to navigate and there is not a tile in sight. If you prefer to use a mouse to navigate then click the Ubuntu icon at the top of the launch bar but the easiest way to navigate is to press the super key (looks like a Windows icon) on your keyboard.
The screen that appears is called the HUD (“Heads Up Display”) and from here you can accomplish any task with the minimum of mouse clicks and/or keystrokes.
To find an application you can simply start typing in the search bar. More often than not this is effective enough to find what you need without any further interaction. If you look at the bottom of the HUD you will see a series of icons and these toggle between the different views (known as lenses).
The lenses provide access to applications, files and folders, music, photos and videos.
As well as files and applications on your computer the HUD also displays suggestions of applications that you might like to purchase. Some people deem this to be a bad thing but there is an option to turn it off. The videos lense enables you to filter your search so that you can search locally on your own computer or via services such as the BBC and Youtube. The music lense enables you to filter your music by sub genres and age.
Ubuntu comes with an impressive set of applications installed by default. LibreOffice is the default office suite and provides most of the functionality that you would get from Microsoft’s equivalent office suite.
For browsing the internet Firefox is installed as standard and the Thunderbird email client provides many of the features of Microsoft Outlook. Other applications include an instant messenging application, a bittorrent client and RDP software. Ubuntu also comes with games, graphics applications and an audio player (Rhythmbox) for playing your music.
The Ubuntu Software Centre provides a list of free and non free applications.
Hardware support in Ubuntu is excellent.
My all in one printer and scanner was actually easier to install in Ubuntu than it was on Windows. Whilst using Windows the printer required a driver CD which ran through a series of options and all in all it took about 10 minutes to install. On my laptop running Ubuntu I simply ran the add printer wizard and the setup took less than one minute.
I have a Sony Walkman for listening to music and this integrates seemlessly into Rhythmbox and this means I can synchronise my music between my laptop and MP3 player.
My external hard drive is picked up as soon as I plug it in and I have a series of USB pen drives that all work simply by plugging them in. My digital camera was also a breeze to set up.
Ubuntu provides a service called Ubuntu One which you can use to backup all your important files and photos. The service is free (up to 5gb) and all you have to do is fill in a form with your name, email address and a password to use for Ubuntu One. Once your account has been created you can then choose the folders you wish to backup and synchronise between your computer and Ubuntu One.
If you wish to buy more music then Ubuntu has it’s own music service called “Ubuntu One Music”. This is the Ubuntu equivalent of iTunes and the catalogue and pricing is comparable with other similar services.
You can download Ubuntu for free from http://www.ubuntu.com/download/desktop. There is an option to choose between version 12.04 and 13.04. The 12.04 version is a long term support release whereas 13.04 provides better performance but only has a short support period. A forthcoming article on this blog will discuss my opinions on the merits of choosing a long term support release versus the up to date version.
You can easily try Ubuntu as a Live distribution to see if it will work for you and there is the Ubuntu Installation Guide to show you how to install Ubuntu.
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