If there's one thing great about Ubuntu Linux, it's the fact that it's completely free and encouraged to stay that way. There's also their unique approach to the Linux platform, essentially "dumbing it down" to a much friendlier user-interface for those who have never touched Linux in their life.
We decided, given the world's financial pinch, to give it a go ourselves to see how well a free operating system would hold up against the competition - here's our thoughts on the latest Ubuntu Desktop 8.10 edition...
We found the user-interface to be indeed impressive; quick streamlined installation, a sleek Gnome skin to match, and the majority of our drivers were already pre-installed.
Our Soundblaster Live! Linux drivers took a while to find (and also a painstakingly difficult process to get working with 5.1 sound), but after that, we were up and running with our YouTube videos like it was nobody's business.
In a nutshell, that's probably the best thing about it. Internet access made easy. You basically need an administrative password to change anything that would effect the end-user so in a sense, it keeps anybody who doesn't know what they're doing from ever tainting the OS with useless crapware. It's a beautiful approach to user naivety and is a simple, effective solution to keep the virus count to a minimum.
However, as far as intuitiveness, Ubuntu doesn't deliver the friendliest method of doing things. The layout of the program list works, but it's nowhere near as accessible as OSX's Dock (though there are programs to emulate this effect) or Window's Start Menu. From icon placement to categorical organization to folder handling, all feels a bit dated, despite its nice glossy finish with fancy window fades and Vista-like photo handling.
The system also makes it near damn impossible for a normal user to install a program due to multiple routes required to install software not present in the Add/Remove menu. Call us what you may, but it actually took us at least 30 minutes Googling ways to install something as simple as Flash for Mozilla (this is coming from a team who's tested laptops, network servers, and an array of software for our readers). Installation should never be this complicated.
That said, the Ubuntu experience wasn't all bad. We found browsing the Internet a breeze due to the pre-installed drivers and Firefox as the default browser, writing a paper to be easy peasy with Open Office, and software such as Pidgin made IM chat as easy as iChat. These things really made the OS shine when considered for normal, everyday use.
Unfortunately, with an abominably high learning curve for simple things such as software and driver installation, it's hard to recommend this to anyone looking for an easy "pick-up" experience. Still, you need to be realistic here and realize any new OS will take a while to learn, and since it's well... completely free to try, we suggest giving it a go on your old dated rig just to see if the bad boy can handle some Linux lovin'.
You can grab Ubuntu Desktop 8.10 over here. A server edition is also available to those interested.