Three things I like about Ubuntu Intrepid, and one I don't

By   |  November 18, 2008

In many ways Ubuntu Intrepid is a little bit of a let down. Probably like many Ubuntu fans I remember the heady days of early Ubuntu releases when each one was so noticeably better than the previous. Each new release was like opening a pile of new birthday presents with no idea of what to expect.

And then, about a year and a half ago, Ubuntu suddenly became a little more staid, even a little boring. The familiar brown background became annoyingly … brown and all the icons looked a little old-fashioned and uninteresting.

And then came Intrepid. Despite much talk of a new interface, promises of big breakthroughs and exciting new features, we got a new desktop wallpaper. It’s a nice wallpaper, but it’s brown and everything still feels the same. There is very little evidence of the “wow” factor that made early Ubuntu releases so exciting.

Unless of course you dig a little deeper under the surface gloss to see what else lurks.

There are three that really stand out for me.

3G connections

Not enough good things can be said about the vastly-improved mobile connection capabilities of Intrepid. A couple of years back when I first got my hands on an HSDPA card from one of our local providers it took a good couple of days to get the thing working. And even then it was prone to dying and erratic behaviour.

With Intrepid the first time I put in the 3G PCMCIA card the network manager picked it up and had it working in literally seconds. I had done no previous configuration on it and it just worked. Suddenly, it is a pleasure to use the 3G card rather than something dread.

Migration assistant

Okay, this is not new but it is a killer feature. The migration assistant, which was meant to make it easy for Windows users to migrate their information across to Ubuntu, was first introduced in Ubuntu 7.04
So unsurprisingly it has come a long way and it has improved.

Perhaps the reason I am so impressed by the migration assistant is that I haven’t looked at it for some time now. I don’t usually migrate installations from Windows to Linux. I just click the “use the entire disk” option and start from scratch.

But the most recent Ubuntu install I did was for a PC that my children use (my son of seven wanted Linux back “because it had cooler games” than Windows XP). So happily I obliged and installed Ubuntu.

I elected to migrate his files across and the installer did it seamlessly, down to the desktop wallpaper he had on Windows. It may not be a new feature, but the migration assistant is fantastic.

Networking in general

Moving around with a laptop with Ubuntu used to be a pain as you moved from one wireless network to another. Not anymore. The network manager in Intrepid skips from one connection to another almost without missing a beat.
Bringing the laptop back from a deep sleep is now a pleasure. It used to mean having to wait for a couple of minutes for network manager to wake up and then another couple as it bumbled its way through establishing a connection.

Not anymore. Now the network connection is re-established almost as soon as my notebook emerges from sleep.

… and the runners-up

There are a couple of other things I like about Intrepid: It is a little faster than the last Ubuntu release, even on a seriously stretched notebook with more than a couple of upgrade cycles under its belt. And I actually like the new user switcher in the top right hand corner. I don’t have much call for the guest session feature but I can see how it could be really useful.

And the loser is …

Audio. Audio. Audio. This is not an Ubuntu-specific problem only but really, I am so tired of battling the re-fix the audio on Linux each and every time one or other application gets upgraded. Linux audio is still a mess and even after all these years we still have to fiddle with all manner of audio settings to get sound working on both the desktop and in a browser. It’s insane.

Comments

21 Responses to “Three things I like about Ubuntu Intrepid, and one I don't”

  1. Braidi
    November 18th, 2008 @ 5:14 pm

    Intrepid also has some hiccups with (older, I assume) Nvidia video cards and harnessing accelerated features. Got an old laptop and PC with Nvidia graphics… one I’ve been able to resolve with the proprietary drivers, the other… no luck… had to settle on generic drivers, unable to use accelerated features… so no compiz magic there.

    But I have to agree… the 3G/HSDPA modems… vodacom, mtn, cellc…. works like a charm!!!

    Next big thing I’d like to see is PDA/pocketPCs sync functionality working like a charm!

  2. whenPigsFly()
    November 18th, 2008 @ 5:20 pm

    Might I ask what kind of audio problems you are having?

    I know, for instance, that you won’t even want to use Intrepid if you’re doing audio mixing (or anything at all which uses JACK, for that matter), but that is a small percentage of the Linux users (a guesstimate).

    But personally, I have only 1 problem in Intrepid concerning audio, and that is that the whole audio system will die on me while the distro is still running and responding (And no, restarting the alsa-utils and pulseAudio daemons won’t bring audio back :P ), but otherwise it works satisfactorily for the time being, at least for me.

  3. Ubuntu Look » Three things I like about Ubuntu Intrepid, and one I don’t
    November 18th, 2008 @ 8:09 pm

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  4. Alastair
    November 18th, 2008 @ 9:05 pm

    @whenPigsFly():
    You pretty much described it when you said that your audio system will die on you while everything else still works. And then you can add Flash audio in Firefox to that which I have fixed not once but many times. It just plain doesn’t work while all other audio works. There are easy enough ways to fix it – most Ubunut forums and Launchpad are filled with solutions – but why do I have to fix it over and over again?

    The problems with audio on Linux are well known but they are clearly hard to fix. PulseAudio was meant to fix all of the problems but it seems a lot worse now than it was a couple of years ago.

    As I said, this is not strictly an Ubuntu problem, it is a Linux problem.

  5. Dim
    November 18th, 2008 @ 10:30 pm

    I had many audio issues in Hardy. So many, that I felt like a hero that I was still using this OS. Sound in Flash was just one of those problems.

    But then came Intrepid. All audio issues have gone! Sound works “out of the box” and works great! No issues at all, Flash works fine too! Thanks Ubuntu team, I love Ubuntu!

  6. GregE
    November 19th, 2008 @ 3:50 am

    I have several computers running Intrepid. And I am an avid music player.

    1 A desktop with an M-Audio Revolution 5.1 and it works flawlessly.
    2 A multimedia machine running a GA-MA78GM-S2H with Realtek ALC889A running SPDIF to an external Yamaha amp and it also works flawlessly. And it picked up the output to SPDIF without any extra configuring on my part.
    3 My daughter is a budding musician. She has Ubuntu Studio running a Sound Blaster Live with a Midi keyboard and hardware synth from the SB. It all works – Jack included. The only manual bit was installing the software to load the sound samples.

    I configure my machines with seperate /home partitions so I can do a clean install of each new version. Upgrading from hardy to gutsy caused me all sorts of issues with pulseaudio and flash. With a clean Intrepid I have had no problems and Flash 10 has had no extra fixes required.

    Of course there are a million combinations of hardware and software to cause some gotcha, but I do encourage clean installs in preference to upgrades.

  7. Sinister
    November 19th, 2008 @ 7:10 am

    Just get rid of anything related to alsa and pulse audio and all the band aids they apply and install OSS4.1

    http://www.4front-tech.com/wiki/index.php/Building_OSSv4_from_source

    Problem solved :)

    Alsa is and always will be complete crap!

  8. Nonya
    November 19th, 2008 @ 7:28 am

    Hi Guys. I am running sidux, and Linux Mint (Mint is based on Kubuntu) with no sound problems whatsoever.
    Most likely the sound problems you are having are due to driver issues. In other words, a combination of non-standard hardware, and drivers.

    TTYL

  9. Alastair
    November 19th, 2008 @ 8:29 am

    @Nonya:
    It may be that but I suspect it has a lot more to do with the fact that Linux has OSS, Alsa, PulseAudio etc. All options to get audio to work. What Linux really needs is one sound driver. No more fiddling.

  10. Alastair
    November 19th, 2008 @ 8:31 am

    @Sinister:
    That’s exactly the point. All Linux needs is one good sound driver. Not a choice of them, with each one doing one thing better than the other.

    We’ll never encourage users to use Linux if they have to jump through endless audio hoops just to get to watch a YouTube video online.

  11. habtool
    November 19th, 2008 @ 11:08 am

    This is what works for me….

    http://forum.boxee.tv/showthread.php?t=1133&page=2

    sudo rm /etc/X11/Xsession.d/70pulseaudio
    killall pulseaudio
    sudo apt-get remove pulseaudio
    sudo apt-get install esound

  12. Dim
    November 19th, 2008 @ 11:27 am

    Alastair, did you try clean install of Intrepid?

    Actually PulseAudio is not in the same team as OSS and Alsa. Alsa has replaced the old OSS, and PulseAudio is something like a wrapper around Alsa.

  13. Alastair
    November 19th, 2008 @ 12:02 pm

    @Dim:
    I didn’t do a clean install of Intrepid this time around. I usually do but this time I upgraded. Perhaps that is part of the problem, but I have to say that I have been having problems with audio for a couple of releases now, so it is not just Intrepid.

    I have, as I mentioned in the article, just installed Intrepid for my kids. So that is a clean install which will be a good test case. I’ll let you knwo how that goes.

    wrt Alsa, OSS, PulseAudio etc. I know there are distinctions between them all but if I was a first-time Ubuntu user I’d be pulling my hair out by now just trying to make sense of what was what. Which is not a good introduction.

  14. Alastair
    November 19th, 2008 @ 12:03 pm

    @habtool:

    Thanks. Might just give that a try later on.

  15. Ian MacGregor
    November 19th, 2008 @ 12:57 pm

    The one thing I really like about Intrepid is that nautilus now has a tabbed UI. Yay! I’ve been wanting this feature in nautilus for quit a while.

  16. whenPigsFly()
    November 19th, 2008 @ 2:55 pm

    @habtool:
    It might work in Intrepid, but I’m fairly certain that this is betting on a dying horse, seeing as how the ESD system has been or will be deprecated by the gnome project ion favor of pulseaudio.

    Personally I’d prefer something that:
    1. will work
    2. is simple (in architectural terms – look at ALSA and weep)

    But then again, don’t we all :P

  17. LinuxCanuck
    November 19th, 2008 @ 3:29 pm

    I have a problem with the idea that Linux needs one of anything. Choice is good. Choice means diversity which means that developers are working independently to produce a better experience and it only takes one project to raise the bar and others will be pushed to do better.

    Choice is also good for users. Some people like ALSA and Pulse Audio. Others may prefer OSS. To say that because ALSA does not work for a few people that it is crap is not only extreme, but wrong headed. It means that we are be reduced to the lowest common denominator and can only progress as fast as the slowest and worst machines and users.

    Finally, such thinking is Windows thinking. It plays into the hands of those who don’t want us to have choice and comes from users not used to it. FOSS is all about doing it differently. You get the good with the bad. Personally I don’t have a problem with something not working the first time. It requires me to put on my thinking cap and resolve the problem. Anything that is excellent is worth pursuing. Yes, we could all have Pablum, but we would tire of it soon. I like to have choice in most things from what I eat to what vehicle I drive. Freedom to choose is a wonderful thing. Why choose to live in a dictatorship when you don’t have to?

  18. Alastair
    November 19th, 2008 @ 3:52 pm

    @Ian MacGregor:
    Absolutely. Tabbed Nautilus is a really good addition.

  19. devnull
    November 19th, 2008 @ 9:47 pm

    same here. audio is crap. please refer to http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=963914&highlight=Remove Pulseaudio

  20. Goonanism » Ubuntu 8.10
    December 1st, 2008 @ 6:34 am

    [...] sympathise with Alastair: In many ways Ubuntu Intrepid is a little bit of a let down. Probably like many Ubuntu fans I [...]

  21. edjolanski
    December 23rd, 2008 @ 9:53 pm

    @Sinister: You are an idiot. OSS is old and dead. It’s not even being developed anymore by the community, but rather by some awful 3rd party company that wants to use it to make money. ALSA is excellent. You need to place blame for your problems squarely where it belongs: HARDWARE MANUFACTURERS. Do you really think audio would work so well on Windows if all those manufacturers did not release drivers for that operating system? Of course it wouldn’t. Microsoft’s monkey programmers would barely get any hardware to work on their own. There have been issues between alsa and pulseaudio but these are two separate projects, trying to do separate things. You can blame Ubuntu for that, since they made some mistakes in the initial implementation, but not Linux itself. It seems Ubuntu has gotten most of those issues resolved in the Intrepid release anyway. I have never had a major problem running sound in Linux, and I’ve used it almost exclusively for the past 10 years. It gets easier and easier with each and every release. I’m sorry some people are still having problems–it always works great out of the box for me–but those problems are YOUR FAULT for having a unique hardware configuration. There’s no way to account for every possible combination. Linux developers do a pretty damn amazing job with it as it is! They simply need your help in reporting your unique hardware configuration to try and make it work.

    Once again, blame the HARDWARE manufacturers, not Linux!

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