Ubuntu, as Linux kernel developer Greg Kroah-Hartman will tell you, hasn't done much to date with improving the Linux kernel. On the other hand, as Canonical CEO and top Ubuntu guy Mark Shuttleworth pointed out in a recent press conference, "Ubuntu's focus has been on high-quality integration." Based on my work with the Ubuntu 8.10 release candidate, which goes final tomorrow, October 30th 2008, I agree with Shuttleworth.
I've been running Ubuntu 8.10, aka "Intrepid Ibex," on a Gateway GT5622. This PC uses a 1.80GHz Intel Pentium Dual-Core E2160 processor. It has 3GB of RAM, a 400GB SATA II hard drive and a DVD R/W drive. For graphics, it uses the Intel GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) 950, which was set to pull 224MB of RAM from main memory to use as shared video memory.
I also ran the new Ubuntu on a Lenovo R61 ThinkPad with a 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, the T7500, 2GBs of RAM, with an AT&T USBConnect Quicksilver for 3G connectivity.
On these PCs, Ubuntu 8.10 ran without any hiccups, so I could focus on the features.
Number one on my list is the new Ubuntu's support for 3G wireless devices and its improved Wi-Fi support. Until Mobile WiMax becomes as universal as cellular I expect I'll find myself needing a high-speed network with no alternative except 3G.
I'm not crazy about 3G because of the cost, but when you need a connection, you need a connection and 3G is often your only choice. 3G, because Linux treats most 3G devices, such as my AT&T Quicksilver USB modems, as generic serial devices that use standard Linux PPP (Point to Point Protocol) is easy to use... if you know exactly what you're doing. As an old hand at Linux and PPP that's not a problem for me, but it is an annoyance. Now, thanks in large part to Ubuntu's incorporation of GNOME's Network Manager 0.7 you and I can both use 3G hook-ups just as if they were ordinary network connections. This makes wireless life so much easier.
Network Manager also does a much better job of handling static IP addresses and multiple network connections. For me, at least, I'd upgrade my Ubuntu systems to 8.10 for its improved network abilities alone.
Next up, while not a GNOME desktop fan, I do like the latest Ubuntu's combination of GNOME 2.24 desktop and the X.Org 7.4 windows manager. They provide a smooth ride and I especially liked Nautilus, the GNOME file manager's tab support.
I was not, however, as happy with Kubuntu, Ubuntu's KDE brother, 8.04's use of the KDE 4.1.2 desktop. I keep trying to wrap my mind around the KDE 4.x desktop, and I continue to find KDE 4.x it more annoying than useful. Here, I think openSUSE, which continues to offer KDE 3.5.10 as a pre-set alternative to KDE 4.x in its forthcoming openSUSE 11.1, has the better plan.
Number three for me is Ubuntu's use of the latest stable Linux kernel: Linux 2.6.27. It's just a solid kernel that adds some really nice features, such as vastly improved Webcam support. There was a problem between 2.6.27 and the Intel e1000e Gigabit Ethernet firmware, but that has been fixed.
Fourth on my list, although it may not appear on many other people's list of top features, is Ubuntu's including Dell's DKMS (Dynamic Kernel Module Support). DKMS makes it much easier for device vendors to get improved or new device drivers into Linux without waiting around for a new Linux kernel. For you and me, sitting at our desktops, this means that we can expect better and faster support for our existing devices and any new ones that we may add to our PCs.
Finally, I'm pleased to see Samba 3.2.3 in Ubuntu. This version of Samba takes another step in getting Linux desktops to work and play well with Microsoft Active Directory-based networks. Since I see this as one of the major remaining barriers to big business acceptance of the Linux desktop, anything that makes the Linux desktop more acceptable to Windows-centric CIOs and IT managers is a win in my book.
There are many other features-encrypted private directories for real privacy, sandboxed guest logins so you can loan your laptop out to a buddy for a quick e-mail check without worrying that they'll mess up your computer-but for me these five, with the networking improvements at the top of the list, are the best of the best. The final version of Ubuntu 8.10 will be available for download tomorrow. Get your computer and network connections ready. You're soon going to be running a great new Linux distribution.