Archive for September 2007

Review of Ubuntu 7.10 (gutsy) new features and changes

Some little sweets

Ubuntu 7.10 (gutsy) screenshots
Deskbar applet File browser image rotation
Deskbar applet File browser image rotation

Startup and shutdown screens won’t blink any more and desktop should now appear seamlessly. Design theme received some minor updates: few pixels altered in mouse cursors to make them more eye pleasant. Evolution is now displaying popup notifications in the tray on messages arrivals. Image thumbnails in the file manager are rotated automatically if they were taken by a camera. Buttons in the windows list applet in Ubuntu 7.10 now keep their initial size in case their titles change – for example when the user selects a different tab in the web browser. A very impressive Deskbar applet is now initially activated. Microsoft ntfs file system support is available for reading and writing by default (provided by ntfs-3g driver using FUSE). Additional set of utilities for ntfs manipulation (such as format, resize, undelete and etc.) is accessible via “ntfsprogs” package.

Compiz Fusion – Desktop Effects

Compiz Fusion in Ubuntu screenshots
Compiz config settings manager Resize of maximized window
Compiz config
settings manager
Resize of maximized window

Yes, it has finally happened – Compiz Fusion is now enabled by default on all supported platforms in Ubuntu 7.10 release! That is the most awaited feature since the first announcement of the technology. Now it is labeled as stable and is believed to work well straight out of the box or after setting up a proper driver (in my case it was a simple checkbox activation in ‘Restricted Drivers Manager’ tool and reboot of the computer). There are three pre-configured levels of special effects settings: ‘No effects’, ‘Normal effects’ and ‘Extra effects’. You can select one of them at the ‘Appearance’ dialog in the ‘Preferences’ group of the ‘System’ menu. To get an additional interface with much greater tweaking possibilities, you can install ‘compizconfig-settings-manager’ package, which is located in the ‘universe’ repository. This will bring ‘Advanced Desktop Effects Settings’ interface at the same place in the ‘System’ menu.

Screen, Graphics and Driver Preferences

Screenshots of Gutsy display setup utility
Choose of graphics card driver Screen and graphics preferences
Choose of graphics card driver Screen and graphics preferences

The often complained necessity to tune video configuration through the ‘xorg.cfg’ file manually is not mandatory any more. Since the Ubuntu gutsy there is a way to set the majority of important properties through a user friendly interface. These options include: video card driver, screen resolution, frequency and type settings. And the best thing is that X server restart is not essential any more (no reboot or even logout) to test and apply changes. Moreover, there are two types of configuration: one is for the whole system and the second one is for an individual user and requires no administrative priviledges.

In addition to the graphics configuration there is a trick to make the X bullet proof. User now should always get an X session even if there is misfortune with a driver configuration. System initially tries to set up the X with settings from the xorg.cfg file. In case of a failure it tries to kick up a reduced VESA mode in 800×600 pixels by 256 colors or VGA 640×480 pixels by 16 colors for the next attempt. Read more about BulletProofX in Ubuntu gutsy.

The old annoying issue, with the unexpected system failure to start a normal graphical session in case of insufficient disk space, has finally got a workaround. User will receive a warning message well before the space runs out and a chance to to do a clean up.

Desktop search

Tracker search in Ubuntu gutsy screenshots
Tracker search tool interface Tracker 'Open File' dialog integration
Tracker search tool interface Tracker ‘Open File’
dialog integration

Tracker is a new desktop search engine and is now available for Ubuntu gutsy. It is installed by default instead of BeagleTracker is an indexing search engine and is written in plain C. This should decrease the amount of dependencies and improve the speed of content indexing. There is an interface named ‘Tracker Search Tool’ which provides a navigation over the indexed content. It displays additional information about each indexed entry displayed in search results. “Open file” dialog received a search field and it operates using the Tracker‘s index. It is available in Gtk based applications like gedit, OpenOffice and Gimp.

Printing service changes

Screenshots of new printing subsystem in Ubuntu
'Pinter added' popup � Printer configuration dialog
‘Pinter added’ popup � Printer configuration dialog

Previous versions of Ubuntu are known for nice and user friendly printer setup interface. It is much more pleasant than the original Cups interface in plain html. Now the distribution development team made a major step forward in Ubuntu 7.10. Hotplugged USB printers are going to be detected automatically by the system, and ready to accept jobs.

Another great thing is a bundled virtual PDF printer. It makes it possible to generate PDF documents from all non Gnome applications like Firefox, Gimp, Rhythmbox and other.

Free flash player

The Ubuntu 7.10 gets gnash – a free and open source version of the flash player. I’ve started using it since the early summer of 2007, and it showed a nice ability to play youtube videos and some banners. It would also be a choice for whom a closed source Adobe Flash Player made the browser to hang. Since testing it for a several months, it has never made my browser to halt even for a second. But disappointment came since middle of the September, when youtube made some updates and gnash lost his ability to play video. Waiting with a hope for a soon update of the player…

Firefox

Firefox plugin detection in Ubuntu screenshots
Firefox plugin installer � http://tech.tolero.org/gutsy-review-images/Firefox playing Nelson Mandela speech on youtube
Firefox plugin installer � Firefox playing Nelson Mandela
speech on youtube

A third (currently alpha) version of the Firefox browser named ‘Gran Paradiso’ is included into the ‘universe’ repository. If installed, it will settle aside of the stable application, even using own settings directory at the home folder. Thanks to a numerous efforts from the developers, browser promises to be less heavy in memory than its predecessor version, and especially if you’re running it for a long time. Web services now can be used as a handlers for different file types. For example, in the stable version of a browser, web handler can be associated for only a one file type – RSS news subscription. This feature will provide a possibility for the sites to register handlers for a types other than RSS. In addition, the new type handling configuration system will be provided. Download manager will be reworked in terms of interface and bonus functionality such as interoperability with virus and malware scanners. Also will be added a possibility to resume an incomplete downloads even if the browser has been reopened. Identity manager will ask to save a password after the user will be sure of a successful login try. Many changes are coming to ‘Bookmarks’ handling. The some of them are: ability to sync stored links to a web service like the del.icio.us; protection against bookmarks lost; the easy way to export bookmarks; performance improvements. Browser will get an ability to track individual site settings, like a font zoom. Refer to the ‘Firefox 3 Requirements Document ‘ for an ongoing progress.

A stable version a browser also got improvement. And this time it is a distribution specific support for automated plugin installation through a package manager. For example, when web page will require a flash player, Firefox window with a suitable plugins list will contain a two options: the Gnash Flash Player and the Adobe Flash Player, both of them will be installed using a package manager (the last one will additionally perform a download from an Adobe site). That is first time the ability to install a flash player came by a proper way in a comfortable manner.

Gimp 2.4

Gimp 2.4 - Background Select Tool
Gimp 2.4 – Background Select Tool

So long awaited version update of the Gimp is now available at the Ubuntu gutsy. The icons set has been totally changed, to became better looking with a different Gnome themes and even with a Kde and Xfce desktop environments. All types of brushes are now scalable, including bitmapped and tubed kinds. Completely rewritten selection tool brings such stuff as rounded rectangular selector, resizing of existing selections, and a simplified using of curved selection. The new ‘foreground select tool’ makes it possible to identify object edges by mapping it surrounding background area, which leads you to the perfectly selected object. Some improvements been done for a better handling of alternative file formats, such as Adobe Photoshop PSD, and Vista icons. More information can be found at the official Gimp 2.4 release notes page.

OpenOffice 2.3

OpenOffice Calc - new diagram
OpenOffice Calc – new diagram

Almost half a year passed since 2.2 release of the OpenOffice suit. The new 2.3 version is now out and shipped with the Ubuntu gutsy. The most significant update touched a diagrams module: from the new Diagram Master to a flexible selection of the axis parameters and the data sources. Writer got an ability to export into a MediaWiki format. Calc menus and dialogs were touched for a better fill and the support of external file formats received an enhancement. Much speed improvement of the Impress, presentation building instrument.

The kernel and the basics

Ubuntu gutsy steps forward by two versions of the Linux kernel, from 2.6.20 on to 2.6.22. One of the significant improvements is the ‘tickless’ idle loop which unifies the timer handling and makes the kernel more power efficient. That is a measurable for a notebook owners because it can reduce a power consumption up to 25%. Improved ‘Virtual Machine Interface’ makes paravirtualization better (in future) when running under supporting it hypervisors like Xen and Vmware. A completely new ‘Wireless Stack’ and ‘FireWire stack’ are now in the kernel, bringing new compatibilities and drivers, and losing some old because of the portability issue. Check the ‘Linux Kernel Newbies’ articles for additional information about 2.6.21 and 2.6.22 versions.

In addition to “vanilla” updates, there is a collaboration between the Canonical and the Intel. The goals are to made a distribution much more efficient in terms of a processor usage. Intel‘s PowerTop utility is used to track a glitches in a software and to help to made patches to reduce a power consumption. As the Intel‘s leading software engineer Arjan Van de ven said, they already made a numerous amount of patches and expect a half of them to be in use at the upcoming Ubuntu gutsy. The test run of such patches on the ThinkPad T61 showed a reduce of a power hungry from 23.3 watts on the ‘standard install’ to 15.6 on optimized, what is as much as 33%. However it is not clear, what is the ‘standard install’ exactly and how resulting 33% efficiency intersects with kernel ‘tickless’ improvement. Follow to the APC comments on Intel’s San Francisco Developer Forums for further information.

Conclusion

Distribution update confuse
Distribution update confuse

As always, new version of Ubuntu is better than previous. But probably this version did the most powerful step forward than any other. I will strongly recommend my friend, who is using another operating system, to settle on the Ubuntu gutsy now, because most of the major barriers for newbies are gone. During testing run of the gutsy I have met only one confusing case. It was during installation of updates, when Update manager opened a terminal emulator frame. It was unclear even to me, what should I do next: just wait, because it was just an information message or type something in. In real, I have simply to hit the ‘Enter’ button.