The highly successful Ubuntu  development team released a release candidate  of their upcoming version 6.06 desktop operating system. We haven't tested Ubuntu for quite a while and thought it'd be interesting to see how things had changed. We also thought it'd might be of interest to others to see how this release was shaping up.
I downloaded the i386 pc version last night and it came in fairly quickly. The md5sums matched and I burnt it to a cd. This version, perhaps it's the norm for Ubuntu anymore, was an installable livecd. With using "safe graphical mode" the livecd booted into it's trademark brown motif gnome desktop. The wallpaper was slightly different, but very similar to the one found in the last version I tested. These are always nice wallpapers, even if they are brown.
The menus aren't overflowing with applications, but it seems most basic categories of software are represented by at least one app. Applications include some tools it calls accessories such as a calculator, dictionary, menu & text editors, character map and a terminal. The games menu seemed the most generous including lots of gnome games to distract one from their work. These include card games, 2D board games, and some old favorites. The graphics menu includes gthumb viewer, the gimp, and xsane scanner suite. Ubuntu correctly detected and identified my scanner which wasn't turned on until seconds before opening the application.
Continuing through the menu, we find a subheading for Internet. In that submenu we find Gaim, Firefox, Ekiga phone application, Evolution Mail client, and Terminal Server client. In office we find Evolution again and entries for the various OpenOffice.org 2.0.2components. Under Sound and Video there is Totem, SoundJuicer, Rhythmbox, Serpentine, and a sound recorder. Totem wouldn't play any video files I had in my archive due to missing codecs or plugins, although it did play the example file included with Ubuntu. The music player did nicely.
Under Places we find the usual gnome routine. Some of these include Home Folder, Desktop, Computer, Network Servers, and Recent Documents. Under System are Preferences, Administration, and Help. Preferences are usually apps or tools to help one customize their desktop while Administration usually consists of system settings. Synaptic was included in the Administration menu as well as a software preference module that looked like a version selector. The Help menu had links to Ubuntu's website, wikis and such as well as a local reference.
All the applications opened and appeared to function well in my limited testing. Performance was very good with fast response and stable functions from every element. I found the livecd to operate very well.
On the desktop one finds an icon named Install. This is their hard drive installer. The harddrive installer is a graphic installer consisting of 6 basic steps. Overall it wasn't complicated and it appeared newbie friendly. I started the installer and was presented with a language selector. Next was a timezone configuration followed by keyboard layout and user setup.
After this things weren't as smooth. My case is probably atypical though. The next step starts a partitioner that will let a user setup the partitions. The first screen lets you choose a disk for it to take over or to manually edit partition table. If you chose manually, it will open qtparted. As my disk is already partitioned, I just clicked Forward and was presented with a list of partitions. Within this list is a proposed mount entry as well as the option to reformat any or all of them. It seems to randomly choose a partition for / but one can adjust it for their purposes.
Next one sees a summary screen and if it is to your liking, click Install. Then the installer will run a fileystem check on each partition again and attempt to format your partition in ext3. Here I encountered my first troubles. The Ubuntu fsck had problems with and became confused by my unix slices as well as several of my other partitions. Clicking continue in hopes it would just ignore them, it then complained it couldn't format my chosen install partition. At this point the installer exited and did no damage. Opening a console and mkfs.ext3 manually allowed the installation to procede past that rough spot during the second attempt at an install.
After it checks all your filesystem, the installer begins installing the system. It was very quick here taking about 10 minutes. Then it installs the grub boot loader without questioning the user for any preferences. I grumbled here, but it's happened before and not unrecoverable. Then it starts removing a lot of files from somewhere and shortly one is presented with a small screen with the choices to reboot or continue using the livecd. I rebooted.
I rebooted already prepared for the sight of grub and without fail, grub was there. No boot splash or other system chooser, it was preceded to try and boot ubuntu. Here it just sat blinking a cursor. I gave it quite some time and it never did budge. I grumbled some more at grub and booted the last livecd I burnt before ubuntu which was at the top of my growing stack of cdrs. From there I was able to edit my lilo.conf, adding an entry for ubuntu, and reinstall lilo to my mbr. Upon reboot, again, the boot kernel would not begin. After choosing Ubuntu from my lilo menu, it too just sat there blinking at me. Ubuntu was not going to boot, thus ending my excursion into Ubuntu Linux this morning. As such, I was not able to test Synaptic, the software manager. I don't know if my experience is unique nor if others had better luck as I didn't bother checking around.
In conclusion, I have mixed feelings about my experiences. On one hand the livecd booted with little issue, none if I chose safe graphical, into a fast and stable gnome desktop with sufficient stable applications. The installer is a bit clunky and I experienced some minor glitches. The system not booting is surprizing for a release candidate and I have hopes this is a minor issue or one that isn't common amongst all testers. Ubuntu fans will probably not be disappointed once all the kinks are straightened.