Ubuntu 8.10 - first impressions

It must be a year or two since I last used Ubuntu on a regular basis. Today I decided to install the Intrepid Ibex on my high end desktop (CPU 2.8 GHz, 512 Mb RAM, Asus P4PE mother board, Geforce 7600GS) as the openSUSE 11.0 would anyway soon be replaced by 11.1. Now I'm not so sure about installing openSUSE even if DHL should deliver the box sometime next Monday.

The installation went without problems as is usual with all mainstream distros today. In fact I have not encountered any big problems since 2001 when I had a brand new desktop at the university. My own desktops are always old and cheap hardware so usually there is no problem with hardware drivers. Even the sound device is nowadays not usually muted by default. Seven years ago it took me some weeks or months of reading about Linux before I learned how to turn the sound on.

After reboot I installed the driver for the graphic card I just added to the computer. Some old card made by Ati was replaced by an almost modern Geforce 7600GS that can even cope with Compiz desktop effects. I am not a great fan of desktop effects but I must admit that the effect for changing the virtual desktop is cool! Furthermore, Ubuntu does not overdo the effects: transparency and shadows are kept to the minimum and they are not disturbing. I only needed to turn on the subpixel smoothing to get nicer fonts on my LCD monitor (System -> Preferences -> Appearance -> Fonts tab).

One small thing was missing from the GNOME menu, namely Firefox web browser. I tried to add an application starter for FF in the panel, but even then the system seems not to find an icon for Firefox.

I encountered one more small annoyance when I tried to add a second user to the system. Ubuntu did not accept a user name that already had a home directory under /home (created by the old openSUSE system). There was no problem in continuing to use the old home directory for the first user created - the problem seems to exist only for further users. I could of course have tried to add the second user with command line but I decided just to use another username for the second user and consequently also another home directory. Then I copied the files and changed the owner, group and permissions to match the new user name.

There should be a more obvious solution but this quick and dirty solution is always available regardless of the distribution. It is quite possible that all the problems I encountered are caused by the fact that I wanted to continue using the old /home partition and the old configuration files for each user. Usually there are no problems when one just upgrades the distribution but there are always some slight hiccups when one changes the distribution as well.

Next I installed the ubuntu-restricted-extras and some other packages like Emacs to be able to edit text files comfortably. It is true that Emacs is not the lightest editor available, but I like the way it can be configured for editing text files with longlines-mode. It is almost like writing with a word processor I've been looking for Linux console for many years with no luck. It seems I'm the only person on this planet who would like to write with a text mode word processor with Linux...

One thing I like in Ubuntu is that the default applications are pretty well chosen for an ordinary desktop system. My non-geek partner has no difficulties in using either GNOME or KDE as long as she can easily find the icons for Firefox and OpenOffice.org. She needs terminal only for a ssh session to the university's Unix system where she receives her email. So Ubuntu seems to be a rather good system for someone who just needs the ordinary office applications. I myself prefer to use some more lightweight applications even with this pretty fast computer. Usually Abiword is good enough for my needs, sometimes I stay with Emacs or use LyX if I want to get a decent printout that is typeset with LaTeX.

I've been quite happy with the latest incarnation of the most famous and popular distribution today. Of course, it should have come as no surprise to me or most of my readers! It remains to be seen whether there will be any problems later or not. But I like what I've seen now and I will certainly be able to recommend Ubuntu 8.10 to any newbie who is looking for a distribution to be used with a computer that has at least 512 Mb RAM, a decent processor and a good graphics card.

On the other hand, I am not going to install either Ubuntu or openSUSE on my 1 GHz desktop. I just think that the amount of time needed for tweaking and optimizing either distro to be run with a computer that has a 1 GHz CPU and 256 Mb RAM can be better spent doing something else. I might, for example, write another blog posting or study some economics.

I will, however, try to have time for testing some lightweight distribution on that old box during the next week. Just for fun.

But I would like to read about your experiences with Ubuntu on old computers. Is it worth the trouble?


Anonymous said...

your laptop 1ghz would be fine but there is a huge performance gap between 256 and 512 meg ram.
most install [esp partition] problems happen with too little ram.

I am using 8.10 for the family room media box, a 933 P-III
DVI out of a 128 meg GTX video card
as soon as I plugged the flat screen in [hdmi] I had 2 columns of resolution choices.

Craig said...

Drag and drop the applications from the menu to gnome panel and you don't have to manually mess with the terrible icon handling.

Your machine is almost identical to mine. Though I've overclocked my P42.8C to 3.4GHz and have a gig of RAM. I actually had the same motherboard as you until I blew it up a month ago; the controller chipset (the only one) without a heatsink actually started smoking before the system powered down. Stunk the place out for a few days!

I always try and live boot Ubuntu on old machines as a gauge as to whether it's worth installing on them or not. Memory is usually the biggest problem. I usually go for Debian instead.

200proof said...

I run Intrepid Ibex on my netbook w/ 512 and a 1.6 Atom. It seems a bit slow when trying to do more than one process, which is why I am still looking for a lighter distro that I like.

Mikko said...

@Anonymous: Unfortunately my HP can't handle more than 256 Mb :-(

@Craig: That's what I tried to do, but there was no Firefox in the menu either. It was, however, installed in /usr/bin/firefox (I think, I'm now in another town, using Vector Linux with another desktop). It appeared to the menu only after some updates, extra packages and 'something else'. But with a non-Firefox icon. Maybe I should just have deleted the old GNOME settings :-)

gbarules2999 said...

Yeah, Ubuntu really does need that full 512 MB to have a reasonable experience. Below that, your mileage may vary.

Xubuntu isn't bad, though, thank goodness. But "Lightweight" is not a term I'd use for the Ubuntu family.

Mikko said...

@gbarules2999: Neither would I. Xubuntu does not perform well on this box even after turning unnecessary services off and tweaking all kinds of optimizations. Debian is a lot easier to use with an old computer - if one wants to have a system using apt-get.

At the moment I'm testing AntiX - a full report should be online in a few days.

Anonymous said...

Your minimum for Ubuntu would be 1Ghz, 750Mhz+ for Kubuntu, 500Mhz+ for Xubuntu.

I've got a P3@500Mhz running Linux Mint 5 (8.04) Fluxbox and it's ok except for ram (256MB on the machine). I regularly use Xubuntu on a P3-500Mhz laptop for general travel.

gbarules2999 said...

Debain's a pretty good lightweight distro. It takes a little bit of work, but it's worth it.

zmjjmz said...

On a Dell Inspiron 1200 with 256MB RAM and a 1.2GHz Celeron, Xubuntu 8.10 is horribly slow.
I don't recommend any of the official Ubuntu derivatives from Canonical aside from ubuntu-server, I find that they tend to have too much GNOME in them to be lightweight.

Mikko said...

It seems we all share the same experience: Ubuntu is OK with 512 Mb, but 256 is definitely not enough for Ubuntu, Kubuntu or Xubuntu.

Case closed :-)

Zerahl Torfaas said...

Also, I agree with zmjjmz in that apps reliant on gnome libraries are bloat. Try and stick to gtk2 or even gtk1.2 dependancies when possible.