Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
 Product Review 


Exploring Linux - Part 14
by Alan German

Ubuntu Version 9.10 – Karmic Koala – was released at the end of October, 2009 and in this article we will take a look at some of its features.

When installing the system, a mini-slide show now gives an overview of the software and some of its applications. However, on my system, the show ran out of slides before the installation was complete. But, as always, the installation process ran very smoothly. The disk partitioning options have changed (there is no longer any guided partitioning), but it was very easy to establish the root and swap partitions in manual-partitioning mode.

Another new feature, the use of GNU GRUB version 1.97~Beta 4, became apparent when booting the newly-installed operating system. The menu uses a different font than that used previously, but the menu itself functions exactly as before.

However, there was no missing the new logon screen. No longer is there just a simple box asking for your userid. The screen now sports a Windows-like icon and user identity, requiring just a click of the mouse, or a press on the Enter key, to bring up the next screen requesting your password.

Once into the system proper, the first thing that struck me was that the default wallpaper hasn't changed much. In my view, it's now a bland yellow, instead of being a bland orange. The good news is that if you go to change the wallpaper there are now a bunch of very colourful images to choose from. Or, if you prefer something a little more subdued, you can download your own wallpaper image off the Internet.

Some old friends are back with us, notably OpenOffice 3.1 and The Gimp, Version 2.6. A new mini-icon of an envelope, on the right side of the task bar, when clicked, offers access to Evolution as the default E-mail client, and a new instant messenger program, Empathy (if anyone cares).

 

The games menu is organized a little differently, with a new sub-folder offering a group of programs in a “logic” category. For avid gamers, there is one less game to choose from, as Freecell seems to have been dropped from the list. The old add/remove programs menu item is now the Ubuntu Software Centre, sporting a slightly more colourful interface, but not offering to install Freecell. However, if you look carefully at AisleRiot Solitaire in the games menu, you will find that, within this program, you can navigate to Game – Select Game – Freecell, and then you can still play your favourite card game.

Ubuntu One is a new addition to the Internet menu that will provide you with a little cloud computing power. In particular, you can obtain 2 GB of on-line storage space at no charge by simply registering with Ubuntu One. Even more remote disk space is available – but at a cost!

Some of the other changes are “under the hood” and not particularly evident. For example, you may notice, when installing 9.10, that the default file system is now ext4 rather than ext3. The differences seem to be very technical, with ext4 basically being touted as new and improved.

Another change I read about was an emphasis on shorter boot times. I must say that I don't notice much difference in this department. On my system, boot time is almost identical between Version 9.04 and the current 9.10, while shut-down is a little quicker. (See the timing test results in the following table.) The good news is that Ubuntu still loads considerably faster than Vista. But, for really fast boot-up, it looks like I will have to wait for the 10.04 release (Lucid Lynx) where one of the stated goals is a 10-second boot time.

 

Start-up

Shut-down

Ubuntu 9.04

45 s

12 s

Ubuntu 9.10

46 s

7 s

Windows Vista

1 min 32 s

40 s

A fix for the ear-splitting beep that accompanied a system restart or shut-down in the last two versions of Ubuntu has finally been implemented, and my system now shuts down mercifully quietly. However, now there is a new annoyance – actually, a reported bug in Karmic Koala – in the way that Ubuntu requires authorization to access non-Linux disks.

My practice is to use an NTFS partition for all my data files so that I can access the very same files in both Linux and Vista on a dual-boot system. Previous versions of Ubuntu also required me to authorize access to the non-Linux drive; however, a check box enabled me to indicate that this access was to be authorized permanently. This check box has disappeared and it is now necessary to provide authorization for Linux to access my NTFS data disk each time I logon.

Now, this was going to have to change and – given the time taken to remove the shutdown beep – without waiting for a bug fix! Thinking that I would have to modify the file system table (/etc/fstab), I commenced a Google search for information on how to do this, but then I found an easier solution. On the Swiss Ubuntu User Forum (
http://swiss.ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1307383), the fix looks quite complex (lots of lines of code), but it really only involves editing one line of a file that sets disk policies, using the following Terminal command:

gksudo gedit /usr/share/polkit-1/actions/org.freedesktop.devicekit.disks.policy

In the section headed <action id="org.freedesktop.devicekit.disks.filesystem-mount-system-internal">, the line
<allow_active>auth_admin_keep</allow_active> needs to be replaced with <allow_active>yes</allow_active> where the bold-faced text indicates the change. Once I saved the edited file, my data disk would be instantly mounted, without the need for any password. Cool fix!

There don’t seem to be any earth-shattering changes in the new release of Ubuntu, but the update process is relatively painless so, if you wish to stay on the leading edge of the curve, give Karmic Koala a try.


Bottom Line:

Ubuntu 9.10, Karmic Koala (Open-source)
Canonical Ltd.
http://www.ubuntu.com/


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