Seemingly alone out of all the Linux distros, Ubuntu focuses on usability and elegance — sort of like Mac OS X. And its latest version, Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx, is even more Mac-like, imitating design touches like Mac OS X’s left-to-right window button placement and monochromatic system tray icons.
But how does it stack up to Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard? Let’s find out.
Look and feel
Ubuntu’s new focus is elegance, and it shows. Its new “Light” theme is consistent and refined, and its gray-and-purple color scheme is reminiscent of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard’s background. Its system tray is also less distracting than most Linux distros’, with pleasing monochrome icons and Growl-like notifications that fade automatically.
Lucid Lynx still has the menu bar below the title of each window, instead of at the top of the screen like on Mac OS X. But they’re supposedly working on that, and will have a “global menu” available by 10.10 Maverick Meercat. Several object docks are also available for free install through the Ubuntu Software Center, including the magnificent Docky.
There are still some rough edges in Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx’s look and feel, though. Its installation splash screens are gorgeous, but once the installation’s complete you get a screenful of console-mode text before your computer restarts. And if you’ve installed Ubuntu on a Windows machine, you’ll have to choose from a bewildering array of plain-text options every time you boot your PC (hint: just press enter).
The installation itself isn’t as easy as it could be, either, requiring a Windows user to read a tutorial and download separate utilities for burning ISOs and verifying MD5 checksums before creating the CD. Ubuntu does offer free CDs mailed to your home via their ShipIt program, but by the time it arrives the next version may well be out already.
Another weak spot for Ubuntu is its software lineup. The new Ubuntu Software Center is sort of like the iTunes App Store, except nearly everything there is free (which is good) and its performance was hideous on my test machine (which is bad). App installation is easy and only takes one click, but kept slowing my machine to a halt for several seconds after I did so. Also, some app installs required me to enter my password while most did not, with no rhyme or reason to it.
Each app usually has an icon, a screenshot and a link to its homepage, but no reviews can be found. Worse, the one-liner descriptions of apps in the menu are often confusing. And it can be hard to find the stand-out apps, because apps with extremely specialized use cases are mixed in with all the others, organized alphabetically. They have a separate section for featured software and some hierarchial organization, but that’s about it.
Many of the apps break UI consistency, like the popular BasKet note-taker and other “KDE” apps. There are some best-of-breed applications available for Ubuntu, though, like the Firefox web browser and Tomboy notepad. Web designers will appreciate being able to install the Opera and Chromium browsers for testing, as well as the “Wine” Windows compatibility layer for running older versions of Photoshop.
Ubuntu is still a work in progress, and it shows. They’re making good time in copying some of Mac OS X Snow Leopard’s best features, though, and the unique Ubuntu features — like its system tray menus and one-click install Software Center — promise to set it apart, even if they aren’t fully developed yet.
If you’re already a devoted Mac user, you won’t find much to entice you in Ubuntu unless you’re also an open-source fan. But if you’re a Windows user thinking of making the switch to Mac OS X, give Ubuntu a shot! You can try it for free at ubuntu.com.
Either way, have fun with your computer!