I've looked at hundreds of Linux distributions over the years. Some of them have been awful. Many have been OK. Few have been great. Based on my early look at Karmic Koala, Ubuntu 9.10, I think we've got a very strong Linux desktop distribution coming down the way.
Before jumping into my early review, let me say that while I like Ubuntu, I'm not an Ubuntu fanboy. I also like Fedora, openSUSE, Mint, and MEPIS to name a few Linux distributions that I use on a regular basis.
What caught my eye with this version of Ubuntu is that, especially for a beta, it's a remarkably attractive and smooth-running Linux distribution. I first installed it as a virtual machine with Sun's VirtualBox on a Gateway DX4710-09. The computer uses an Intel Dual Core 2.5GHz E5200 processor. I have the 64-bit version of the new Ubuntu, 2GBs of RAM and a 10GB virtual drive. In addition, I installed Koala on a Dell Inspiron 530S. This low-end PC is powered by a 2.2-GHz Intel Pentium E2200 dual-core processor with an 800-MHz front-side bus. The test machine had 4GB of RAM, a 500GB SATA (Serial ATA) drive, and an Integrated Intel 3100 GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) chip set.
On both systems, I was very impressed by installation program. Not only did it look great, but it also automatically detected and set-up all the hardware. Linux distributions, in general, have gotten much better with this kind of thing, but Ubuntu 9.10 worked great both at taking a PC from a lifeless pile of chips to something living and useful, and looking good doing so.
It was also fast. How fast? On both my systems, I went from the hard-drive starting its spin to a working desktop in less than 20 seconds. Let me remind you, this is beta software running in a virtual system on a not especially-fast PC.
Along with the update interface, Ubuntu uses GNOME's vastly improved Empathy IM client and my favorite e-mail/groupware client, Evolution. Those, along with Firefox 3.5.3 for Web browsing, give you all the first class Internet tools you'll need.
Another real nice addition to this distribution for new users is the Ubuntu Software Center. This take on an app store makes it mindlessly easy for people to find and install software, though experienced Linux users won't need it. For them, the Synaptic package manager and all the other usual package installation programs are there. This is a great feature if you have a friend who's just getting their feet wet in Linux.
Is this edition of Ubuntu going to be the best one ever? Well, this is only a beta, so I can't say that as a sure thing, but it's sure looking great so far. Check it out. I think you'll be happy with what you find.