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First look: Ubuntu Dapper Drake Beta

By   |  April 21, 2006

It was with both excitement and trepidation that I downloaded Ubuntu Dapper Drake’s beta release last night and started testing it this morning. Usually I try and get in there with the flight CDs, but as I become more conservative in my old age — and downtime is less and less of an option — I decided to wait for the beta on this one.

First impressions last, and my first impression was pretty good. I started with an Acer Aspire 3620 laptop with a 1.5Ghz Celeron M processor and 512MB RAM, trying the live CD. The live and install CD now comes as one — a real bonus for us South Africans with severely limited bandwidth. Even at a little over 600MB, the download pretty much finished off my bandwidth for the month.

The combo CD is, I believe, definitely the way to go. For new users, they can try the system out before committing to the install. Once they do commit, they get the benefit of a real graphical user interface while installing. This isn’t only more convenient in my opinion – it also makes a much better first impression on new users.

The system booted up reasonably quickly considering it was running off the CD Rom, and pretty soon I was faced with the very clean desktop that Ubuntu seems to prefer. Only two icons, with even the rubbish bin and the computer icon removed. The first icon is an examples folder, which contains a variety of files. Clicking on each one will quickly give users an example of what the system can do — read and edit documents, spread sheets and slide shows; edit pictures; play ogg-format music and videos.

The second icon takes you into the install through Espresso, the graphical installer. This is a seven-step process, which asks very little of even an inexperienced user.

Another major change is the theme, Ubuntulooks. I must say that I was a bit sceptical about the new icons, having seen them in isolation. When you put it all together, with Ubuntu’s (in)famous brown background and the new, thinner title bars, it does all come together very nicely. It’s much more professional than the previous default theme, Human.

That was my first impression, and it certainly was a good one. The second impression was not so good. Since the first machine was my girlfriend’s, and I have been threatened with death if I mess it up, I decided to try it out in an older machine — an IBM Thinkpad A21m, sporting a PIII and 512MB memory. And that’s where it all went to hell.

After throwing up a few error messages about some of the panel applets (specifically the wireless applet, which it shouldn’t have loaded since the machine doesn’t have wireless; and the mixer applet which didn’t work for its own mysterious reasons), the machine got as far as displaying the desktop, almost opening a plugged-in USB drive, and then pretty much freezing. The disc is spinning like crazy, the mouse icon moves about a minute after I move the mouse, and absolutely nothing is working. Not even ctrl-alt-backspace or ctrl-alt-delete.

I must say that I was quite surprised, having successfully run Impi Linux’s combo live/install disc on this same machine. That distribution, based on Ubuntu and also using the Espresso installer, worked a charm on the old machine. Perhaps it was the demands of Gnome 2.14, which wasn’t available yet when I tried Impi, that made the difference.

And here’s the down-side of the combo CD. There’s no way that I could find to do a text-based install straight from boot. This just seems like a massive oversight. There’s plenty of space on the CD, and some people might want to install without having to first boot into Ubuntu. And if things don’t work as advertised — such as the sorry case of the IBM — there’s simply no way to proceed with an install.

After some pleading with the IBM, I gave it up as a lost cause and moved on to my main machine, a Sony Vaio sporting a 1.5Ghz Centrino and somewhere in the region of 750MB RAM. I already run Ubuntu on this laptop, so I figured I could just do an upgrade.

Yet another problem with the live CD. It doesn’t contain any repositories, no deb files — absolutely no way to do a simple upgrade. It’s all or nothing, folks. I could have just changed my sources.list file, but I’d already downloaded the CD and didn’t have the time or bandwidth to get it all from the Net.

The live CD comes with the Gnome partition manager, GParted, under the System/Admin menu — a very, very useful tool. Praying to various deities, I resized my hard drive, wondering about three seconds as to when I last backed up. Oh well, too late. I invoked more deities, knocked on wood, and ran to the kitchen to find salt to throw over my shoulder.

Fortunately the resize worked, and I managed to free up about 4.5GB, which was enough for the install. Then I clicked on the install icon, went through the seven-step process, and discovered that the manual partitioner doesn’t work yet. That’s beta software for you. With my stomach in knots, I told it to use the free space and prayed that the beta bugs wouldn’t wipe out my un-backed-up drive.

The install is seriously fast. Since it’s basically just copying the CD across, there’s no waiting for unpacking and the other esoteric stuff that Linux likes to do while installing. A couple of minutes later, I rebooted into Dapper Drake, Beta.

All I had to do now was compile my drivers for my wireless Internet card, and … oh wait, “make” doesn’t work. I’d forgotten that Ubuntu has some kind of issue with including the packages required to build anything. There’s no kernel headers, no make, no gcc — absolutely nothing you would need to get a driver built to get on to the Internet. Of course, this is all available on the Internet, but that doesn’t help me at this point.

If I were to request any one feature in Ubuntu, please, for the love of all that is holy and my sanity, put the headers and build-essentials packages on the disc.

Now I’d gone and done it — I had absolutely no way of connecting to the Internet. Then I remembered one possible, very expensive option — the cell phone. Thankfully, while choosing to not install the build-essentials packages, some kind and thoughtful developer on the project had included the bluez packages, which allow for bluetooth connections.

After much struggling and trying to remember how to set up a 3G connection from Linux over bluetooth (note to Canonical: a 3G configuration wizard would be great, guys) I finally got my connection going. At R2.00 a meg, I don’t want to think about what it’s costing me.

One header package and build-essentials later (the latter being a meta-package, so actually containing quite a few useful packages), and a bit of fiddling with the ever-esoteric iBurst wireless internet configuration, and I finally have Internet connectivity.

That sounds like an awful schlep, I hear you say. And yes, it was, especially compared to a pretty painless move from Warty, to Hoary, to Breezy. But the truth is that all must be forgiven, since this is a beta, and I know that a lot of the problems will be sorted out by the time Dapper rolls out the door in a little over a month.

Read on: page two


5 Responses to “First look: Ubuntu Dapper Drake Beta”

  1. beta
    April 22nd, 2006 @ 12:00 am

    The install disc has not been ditched.
    There are still two ISO options available, Live and Install.
    Live\’s Espresso lacks some boot-related options.
    Install has the classic text-based UI.

  2. cruocitae
    April 22nd, 2006 @ 12:00 am

    Excellent review, _this_ is what I call subjective reviewing. Congratulations, haven\’t seen such an emotional review (and technicallt correct) for ages!

  3. Tunasashimi
    April 22nd, 2006 @ 12:00 am

    Amazing how you have exactly the same hardware as me!!! Thanks for saving me the trouble… I share all your sentiments, and views.

  4. duncan
    April 26th, 2006 @ 12:00 am

    Network Switching:

    sudo apt-get network-manager network-manager-gnome

    It rocks 😉 You will find yourself in wireless paradise

  5. Gavin Pillay
    June 1st, 2006 @ 12:00 am

    Wonderful, subjective review. (The best kind of review).
    I\’m upgrading to Dapper 6.06 (LTS) on my laptop (from with Breezy) as I type this on my desktop.
    For those who want to do this, there\’s no need to fiddle with your apt.sources.
    Just type :
    gksudo \”update-manager -d\”

    I especially like the quip about using up your bandwidth. (Something only a South African can empathize with).


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