Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala) Desktop Edition Review

Today Ubuntu released Karmic Koala 9.10 Desktop Edition. Like Snow Leopard and Windows 7, I find this release underwhelming. It seems that all three major operating systems are running out of room for innovation and the focus has now shifted to core improvements. But the lack of anything really new and exciting in all three recently released operating systems (Snow Leopard, Windows 7, and Ubuntu 9.10) indicates that the OS space has become a commodity market. All OS innovation seems to have shifted to mobile devices while the only significant remaining differentiator between the operating systems is the applications that run natively on them.

Applications are now the key to OS adoption. I love using iPhoto and iMovie on my wife’s MacBook Pro. They are fantastic apps for a novice photo and video editor (like me). Outlook and Office on Windows continue to be significantly better for office productivity, email, calendaring, and contact management than any other available options for me. Everyone I work with passes around PowerPoint presentations and Word documents. Without 100% compatibility the Mac and Linux alternatives to Office make it unusable for me. Adobe uses Exchange so Outlook is the only real option for email, calendaring, and contact management. Outlook may not be sexy or simple but it just works. There are also some great plugins for Outlook that really improve my productivity. For instance, Adobe’s travel agency has an Outlook plugin that automatically syncs my travel information to my calendar. I frequently hear my co-workers who use Mac Mail / Entourage complain about calendar mishaps and other issues, which makes me thankful that I have never had any issues with Outlook in the past seven years that I’ve been using it.

Ubuntu Linux is my primary desktop OS and since I need Office for my day-to-day work I use VMWare Workstation and boot the same Windows 7 install that I also can dual-boot into for presentations. This provides me with the ability to use the OS I’m most familiar with (Linux) most of the time but to also use Windows for Office when needed. It’s just too bad that I can’t run Snow Leopard in VMWare since that would certainly alleviate some marital tension because my wife hates it when I use her laptop to produce new episodes of Drunk on Software.

As I said before I’m underwhelmed by Ubuntu 9.10. It’s not a bad release. Most stuff works. But looking back at my review of Ubuntu 9.04 it seems that not much has really changed:

  • Battery Life – Still great!
  • Suspend – Still works great except that I still can’t see my F3507g Mobile Broadband card after I resume (open bug) unless I toggle my wireless kill switch.
  • 3G Mobile Broadband – Now consistently works much better! And works out-of-the-box (unlike on Windows).
  • Email – I would love to switch to Evolution from Outlook but MAPI is still not working for me. Whenever I try Evolution crashes.
  • Display – The Intel drivers are working great except that setting the Display Preferences in Gnome’s Preferences still doesn’t work. Using xrandr from the command line works fine though – even when plugging into a projector.
  • Boot Performance – Improved by a few seconds. From BIOS to logged in in under ten seconds!
  • Office Productivity – OpenOffice is unusable for me. It’s UI is clunky and it’s compatibility with Office is still not perfect.
  • Screen Sharing – Still no Adobe Acrobat Connect presenter plugin for Linux.
  • Flex Builder for Linux – The alpha is about to expire. Please vote for the feature request.
  • Accelerometer – Still doesn’t work out-of-the-box.

Overall I really appreciate any steps that Linux takes towards being a more viable Windows / Mac alternative. And who am I to complain? I don’t have to pay for Linux and have never really contributed to making it better. So overall I am happy with Ubuntu 9.10 and there are only a few things that I wish were better. The good news is that improvement of Linux on the Desktop is accelerating while desktop OS innovation seems to have stagnated due to the OS market being commoditized. As long as the applications that run on Linux continue to improve then the future of Desktop Linux seems bright. Maybe what we need is more cross-platform applications using Adobe AIR? :)