I've had problems with desktop Linux in the past. While I openly promote Linux in the use of servers and the like, my attempts to promote it as an alternative to Windows XP have gotten me burnt. Users who can barely grasp the fundamentals of computing are ill equipped to be thrown into the deep end.
Even I find it hard to commit to using linux as my primary operating system. The majority of my clients use Windows, and compatibility issues have killed me in the past. All this had bred in me a belief that Linux while it was a great tool for the computer geeks of the world, it was never going to cut it as an everyday tool for the masses. I could not have been more wrong.
Not long ago a friend suggested that I take a look at 'Ubuntu'. I hadn't missed its appearance on the now glutted Distro scene, I'd simply written it off as another wannabe. Ubuntu is forging new roads, making steps towards that holy grail of operating systemish glory; conquering the desktop. I didn't know this, so it took a while and a lot of kicking Fedora (and Debian) before I finally downloaded the ISO.
I've found my laptop to be a very good tool for testing the various operating systems and distros. Even Fedora in all its hype fell short of the mark, it took me several recompiles and a couple of double back flips to get both my sound and wireless cards working.
Having downloaded the 5.10 (Breezy Badger) ISO, and burned it to CD, I slapped in one of the spare 20GB laptop hard drives I have sitting around and booted from the CD. The Installer is the first place you will recognize the similarity to Debian, I use the word loosely because while it is clearly derived from the Debian installer, it doesn't overload the user with options you may, or more likely, may not understand.
The installation is mostly automated, only stopping a couple of times to ask for vital details. The complexity of the install process falls very close to that of windows, and while Fedora may have a flashier interface, it also gives more options. In some respects, particularly when dealing with inexperienced users overwhelming options can be a bad thing.
So far so good; the installation flies along at a nice pace and I'm left looking at a VERY brown login screen.
Entering the username and password that I setup during the installation process presents me with a fairly standard Gnome interface. Perhaps my only beef with the distro is this standard interface. I'll make no secret that I don't like my menus up the top. I used a Mac for years when I was younger, and if there is one thing I like about Windows its the menu at the bottom.
This is supposed to be be geared at newer users, people that have used Windows will expect the Menus and the like to be in a certain location. It is easily remedied (for someone who knows what their doing), but I would have liked to see this done better.
The applications menu, once I've gotten over my distaste at having to move my mouse to the top left hand corner is a pleasant surprise. It is well organized and contains only a minimum of programs that form what I would consider the star performers of the open source movement. More importantly it includes a simple method of installing/uninstalling applications just in case.
Now Linux is great on stock hardware; server hardware. But when I've tried putting Linux, both Fedora and Debian, on my D800 Laptop, I had severe trouble getting the sound and wireless working. If I have to recompile the kernel that's an instant failing grade in the hardware department. I like recompiling the kernel, seeing if I can squeeze a little extra performance from my machine...my computer illiterate windows friends just look at me strangely when I say the word 'recompiling' and lets not even talk about 'kernels'.
To my shock and amazement, my sheer delight. Both the sound and the wireless card (Intel 2915ABG) work by default. I can even press the volume buttons on my laptop and see the volume bar come up on the screen. VERY COOL.
I get instant support for my USB Hard Disk, although I can't write to it (NTFS). When I do manage to track down a disk with FAT32 I can write to it as well, BY DEFAULT from a non root account. If you haven't noticed I put a lot of stock in the 'by default' ability.
On the downside my internal dialup modem doesn't work, this would not be a problem usually in the day of broadband. However having just moved I find myself reduced to dial up. Slotting in a spare PCMCIA card solves the problem.
Another annoying factor during boot is the fact that it sits trying to DHCP the interface(s) even though one or both of them are not plugged in. It slows the boot down, which is a pity, perhaps in future releases they'll address this issue.
Ubuntu has two other flaws that I could pick; It doesn't install a MP3 Compatible music client by default, and the games installed by default lack consistency and are essentially, people really do play the stupid games provided, so WHERE is my Solitaire clone.
I am thrilled with the 'Out of Box' experience that Ubuntu has shown. There are tools, and applications that I would probably use that have not been installed, but then again I'm not your garden variety computer user either.
While there are things that this distro could do better, partially this is taste over necessity (Brown). Overall I would give a 8/10 to Ubuntu as a Desktop Operating System. Of all the things I should thank Ubuntu for; it's my restored faith in Linux, and its ability to become a viable desktop alternative.