Your Linux Data Center Experts

I've been watching Ubuntu for a while because there are things to like about Debian, but I don't think that it makes a very good desktop. Fedora is much better at that, as far as I'm concerned. I like Debian for servers because for servers many times it's more important to have few changes to the software than to keep up with changes. However, for a desktop, Debian in my experience has taken quite a lot of manual intervention to get set up, where Fedora is very close right out of the box.

I finally got around to trying the latest Ubuntu release, 5.04. It does do a much better job of installing a desktop, from a single CD no less. I also really like that it will contact the network servers and install the latest and greatest software as part of the install, so you don't have to immediately do an update after installing. It seems to use software off the CD where it can, or perhaps it just does a “dist-upgrade” when the network is up. I don't know.

It also seems to install a kernel which is capable of doing software suspend (swsusp2) out of the box as well, which is pretty nice. Software suspend seems to have reached stability again (there was a year or so where it was kind of rocky, I used it extensively before then, however).

The installer is actually good, too. Unlike Debian Sid, which in my tests only has an installer that sucks less, Ubuntu is really pretty good. I haven't done anything like trying to set up RAID to install to, nor have I really played around with the “expert mode” install, but the normal install seems to require almost no interaction from me while installing. Debian Woody, on the other hand, pretty much requires you to sit through the whole install process while it asks you random questions and then does some more install work, then asks you a few more. The standard Debian answer seems to be “You only have to install once and then you apt-get update”, but I install new systems all the time, or re-install test systems.

Actually, the Fedora Installer may be on par with Ubuntu if you don't select “Custom”. I always do select Custom because the other options will partition the disc for me, and I don't like their partitioning usually. Debian's default install seems to be like one of the Fedora automatic installs, but does give you the ability to specify your own partitioning.

It also has the Prism54 drivers, which are a welcome addition. I guess newer 2.6 kernels also have the drivers built in (though no firmware, AFAIK). I have a couple of PCMCIA Prism54 cards, but only use them rarely.

Now, for the down side. I don't know if it was hardware or Ubuntu, but I had a heck of a time installing it on an old laptop. The first install it went OK until it rebooted, then after installing it couldn't reach the network. This was on a system with an EEPro 100 card, which is a pretty reliable chip-set. I then tried a few more installs, but they failed saying they couldn't find the install CD. The only thing that had changed was that I had a previous install, so I went ahead and erased the drive during the second failed install attempt, and the next install went fine. I did power-off when it wanted to reboot, which if it were a hardware issue may have helped.

Also, the Prism54 driver seems to only work once, then the driver freaks out. As long as I don't bring the interface up and down, it's fine. If I do bring it down and try to come back up, the activity light on the card goes solid and I have to power cycle (it won't successfully shut down at that point). The WiFi management interface requires the root password to switch between WiFi networks, which seems a bit excessive.

The thing I was the most annoyed with is that Ubuntu seems to have no wxWindows packages. I've been having problems with them on my KRUD/Fedora Core 3 systems and have a wxPython application or two I'd like to try, but it wasn't available. So, I guess I'd be relegated to building my own packages. The point though is that one of the benefits often pushed by Debian folks is that they have so many packages in the repository. Ubuntu suffers from not having nearly as many packages available, with few places providing “after-market” binary or source packages for their release.

Over all, I think it's a pretty good distribution. I'd probably still have a hard time using it because of the lack of KDE and some package availability. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a serious KDE user, it's just that KDE allows me to map my keyboard the way I like it. I'd consider Ubuntu, probably over Debian for a desktop, but I'm not sure I'd put it above Fedora Core yet. Especially with FC4 just around the corner and the inclusion of Eclipse, Java, and Xen packages in the base install. However, I will say that on FC4test2, I had nothing but problems with Xen. They're running the development version of Xen though, so it's not entirely surprising.

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