Intrepid Ibex Impressions
November 1, 2008
So, now that the Intrepid Ibex has officially arrived, I thought I’d present some of my impressions on this release of Ubuntu. Most of the new features have been described elsewhere, so I’ll leave the obvious out of this post.
Improved Wireless Internet Access
Improved Wireless Internet Access is the most important new feature of this release, and the improvements are the results of the inclusion of Network Manager 0.7, and all the hard work that has been put into improving Ubuntu’s support for 3G cellular modems. My Ubuntu wireless experience has improved significantly since I upgraded. I do most of my work on a Dell Inspiron 1300 Laptop, which uses an internal 802.11G Broadcom wireless card. As you might imagine, it’s been a rough road, thanks to Broadcom’s lack of Linux support. Around the time I upgraded to Hardy, I started having a terrible time connecting to my wireless router. I was to the point of considering purchasing a new wireless card with better Linux support, or perhaps a new laptop entirely. Well, I decided to test out Intrepid Alpha 4, to see what didn’t work, and to my surprise all of my connectivity issues vanished. I decided to stick with Intrepid for the duration, and in spite of some other issues, it was a very good decision. Also, Ubuntu’s default wifi solution via the Hardware Drivers tool (a.k.a. Jockey, p.k.a the Restricted Driver Manager) seems to work just as well as ndiswrapper, from what I can tell.
So, if you are having any wireless issues at all, I’d highly recommend giving the Intrepid Ibex a try.
One feature that has gotten a lot of attention is the new Fast User Switcher Applet (FUSA), which lives in the top right corner of the Desktop, replacing the Ubuntu shutdown applet.
I think it’s a nice utility, as it consolidates a number of different functions into one small panel applet, including user switching, setting your IM status, and all the functions of Ubuntu’s old shutdown button. What you may not know, is that right clicking the applet also gives you quick access to the About Me, Users and Groups, and Login Window system settings.
So, the applet does give you quick access to a lot of User and Login related stuff, and I like quick access. As for how intuitive the functions of the applet are, I’m not so sure. If you are using an IM client, it displays a graphic representing your presence, which duplicates the panel icon of your IM client, and hides the fact that it is a shutdown button. I’d like it if you could opt to have it continue to display the shutdown graphic while using an IM client, or perhaps to display both icons. Replacing the panel icon for your IM client entirely is a consideration, but the FUSA is intentionally a simple interface, and will never fully replace your IM client.
I have heard some people express frustration at how much more space the new applet takes up when comparing it to the old shutdown icon, as it displays the full name of the current user. Displaying the full name is handy if you make good use of the user switching capabilities of the applet. However, if your system has only one user, it might be an annoyance for you. If you fall into the second category, you can easily ask the applet to hide your name – just access the FUSA Properties menu by right-clicking the applet, and you can swap your name for a small graphic.
If you are interested, Mark Shuttleworth just posted on the design of the Fast User Switcher Applet, which is an interesting read.
In this version of Ubuntu, you can install a selection of very nice desktop backgrounds, in case you get tired of the default. Just install the package gnome-backgrounds with synaptic, or type “sudo apt-get install gnome-backgrounds” in a terminal. The addition of new backgrounds is a welcome change.
A few bugs…
There are a few bugs bugging me in this release. First, I get some annoying flickering on the bottom quarter of the screen now and then when I’m launching applications, or when Gnome first starts. From what I understand, it should only be affecting people with certain Intel graphics cards. Click here for the bug report.
Another bug I’ve noticed is that Sound Recorder is broken. When you try to record some audio, the capture level gets automatically muted, and the recording time runs very fast. Expect this bug to be fixed in Intrepid, shortly. For more on this bug, and a working patch, click here. Fixed!
Also, due to the inclusion of webcam drivers into the Linux Kernel, Skype’s webcam support is broken in Ubuntu (and all other Linux variants using the new 2.6.27 kernel) until Skype updates their code. You can track and vote for this bug here.
To upgrade, or not to upgrade
So, should you upgrade to this shiny new Ubuntu 8.10 version from your only slightly less shiny Ubuntu 8.04.1 LTS version? That’s up to you. I’d say, if all you do is browse the Internet, and do some basic word processing now and then, you are probably safe sticking with the quite stable Hardy Heron for another 18 months. Sticking with the LTS version can be a good move for people that don’t see the appeal of running a major upgrade twice a year. Otherwise, go ahead and upgrade – particularly if you use Ubuntu on your laptop. The Intrepid Ibex is a great release!