Looking at a few Operating Systems

The last few weeks have seen me poking around with a few different operating systems to see how they perform. None of these were particularly in-depth in their nature but brushes with alternatives to what I currently use for much of the time. While I am too sure what exactly has kicked off all of this curiosity, all of the OS’s that I have examined have been of the UNIX/Linux variety. With the inclusion of Unity in the forthcoming Ubuntu “Natty Narwhal” 11.04, I am mindful of the need to be keeping an eye on alternative options should there ever be a need to jump ship. However, a recent brush with an alpha version has reassured me a little. Then there are interesting OS releases too and I recently forgot the Ubuntu password (a silly thing to do, I know) for my Toshiba laptop too so I suppose that a few things are coming together.

It was that latter development that got me looking in amazement at the impressive minimalism of CrunchBang Linux before settling on Lubuntu to see how it did; these were Live CD runs so I tried before I committed to installing. It helped that the latter was based on Ubuntu as its name suggests so I wasted little name in finding my way around the LXDE desktop. By default, everything supplied with the distro is lightweight with Chromium coming in place of Firefox. There’s no sign of OpenOffice.org either with offerings like Abiword coming in its stead. For the sake of familiarity, I started to add the weight of things without reducing the speed of things, it seems. Well, the speedy start-up wasn’t afflicted anyway. Being an Ubuntu clone meant that it didn’t long to add on Firefox using the apt-get command. LibreOffice was downloaded for installation using the dpkg command and it seems much more fleet-footed than its OpenOffice.org counterpart. As if these nefarious actions weren’t enough, I started to poke in the settings to up the number of virtual desktops too. All in all, it never stopped me going against what be termed the intent of the thing. In spite of what Linux User & Developer has had to say, I think the presentation of the LXDE desktop isn’t unpleasant either. In fact, I reckon that I quite like it and the next thing to do is to restore the entry for Windows 7 on the GRUB menu. Well, there’s always somthing that needs doing…

While I may have learned about it after the event, the release of Debian “Squeeze” 6.0 was of interest to me too. Well, I have used it a fair bit in the last few years and retain a soft spot for it. The new release comes on two kernels: GNU/Linux and FreeBSD. Regarding the latter, I did try having a look but it locked up my main home PC when I tried booting it up in a VirtualBox virtual machine. Given that it’s a technical preview anyway, I think it better to leave it mature for a while no matter how fascinating the prospect may be. Or is it VirtualBox 4.x that hasn’t around long enough? Debian’s latest Linux incarnations showed no such inclinations though I found that the CD ISO image that I’d downloaded didn’t give such a complete system when I fired it up after doing the installation. Being someone that knows his way around Linux anyway, it was no problem to add the missing pieces using apt-get though that’d stop it being an option for new users unless the DVD installation yields more complete results. Other than that, it worked well and I lost no time getting to grips with the OS and it’s gained a much fresher feel than version 5.x (“Lenny”). In summary, I look forward to continuing my investigations of the new Debian.

To round up my explorations of different UNIX/Linux operating systems, I have updated my test installations of Ubuntu 11.04. Initial looks at the next Ubuntu release weren’t so encouraging but things are coming along by all accounts. For one thing, Unity can be switched off in favour of the more familiar GNOME desktop that we’ve had for the last few years. The messages that popped up telling you that there’s no 3D graphics support on your machine have been replaced by graceful degradation to the GNOME and that’s no bad thing either. In case it hasn’t been so obvious, I am one of those who needs convincing by the likes of Unity and GNOME Shell so I’ll sit on the fence for a while. After all, there always are alternatives like LXDE if I want to decamp to something else entirely. One of the nice things about Linux is the amount of that we all have; it might be tricky to choose sometimes but it always is good to be able to find a niche somewhere else when someone makes a decision that doesn’t suit you.

A lot of work ahead

Curiosity recently got the better of me and I decided to have a look at the first alpha release of Ubuntu 11.04, both in a VirtualBox virtual machine and on a spare PC that I have. They always warn you about alpha releases of software and the first sight of Ubuntu was in keeping with this. The move to using Unity as a desktop environment is in train and it didn’t work perfectly on either of the systems on which I tried it, not a huge surprise really. There wasn’t any sign of a top panel or one at the side and no application had its top bar, either. It looks as if others may have got on better but it may have been to my doing an in situ upgrade rather than a fresh installation. Doing the latter might be an idea but I may wait for the next alpha release first. Still, it looks as if we’ll be getting Firefox 4 so the change of desktop isn’t going to be the only alteration. All in all, it looks as if Natty Narwhal will be an interesting Ubuntu release with more change than is usually the case. In the meantime, I’ll keep tabs on how development goes so as to be informed before the time to think about upgrading comes around. So far, it’s early days and there a few months to go yet.