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Finally Upgraded to Karmic Koala: First Thoughts

Well, it’s been a rather busy semester–three term projects, murder boards, and an FAA checkride (I’m now an instrument-rated helicopter pilot)–and I’ve finally found time during the break here to check out Ubuntu 9.10, lovingly referred to as Karmic Koala.  So far, I’m rather impressed; it’s a major step up from Jaunty Jackalope, and a veritable quantum leap from when I began using Feisty Fawn.  So, all alliteration and Scott Bakula references aside (I have yet to check out Men of a Certain Age on TNT, but I’ve been enjoying Enterprise and QL reruns in my little spare time), here are some of my first thoughts on the new OS.

Ubuntu Software Center:

This is the first big change touted by Canonical, and I’m terribly unimpressed so far.  USC, it seems, is the Ubuntu solution to the application stores pushed by Apple, et al. to provide a location for “one-stop shopping” for all the end users’ software needs.  While the interface is clean and streamlined, it’s terribly lacking in functionality.  Preinstalled software has no option to remove while, instead, only offering to upgrade or link to the publisher’s website.  This has just led me to more terminal use, having to repeatedly type “apt-get remove” or “apt-get purge” even more than previous versions.

While I’m not a fan of the lack of functionality provided by the USC, if the previous “Add/Remove” dialog were simply updated with the new look, I’d be a little more satisfied.  To reiterate, it’s pretty–slick, clean, and streamlined–but severely lacking in functionality I’m accustomed to.

Empathy IM Client:

Call me old-fashioned, but I really like Pidgin.  I like the interface.  I like the support available.  Mostly, I like knowing how to customize Pidgin how I like it without undue hassle.  Empathy is a clean interface, and, in terms of functionality, identical to Pidgin. 3.1:

I’ve not really been able to play with OOo much yet as I haven’t had a need for it, but it looks cleaner than 3.0.  The program opens and runs faster, but that’s about all I’ve been able to tell so far.

Ubuntu One:

Again, I haven’t had a need to check this out yet, but I’m excited about the prospect of automatic synchronization with the Cloud.  I’ll explore this a little bit and get back to you.  My biggest concern is not being able to access documents from my BlackBerry, but I’m going to make sure that it works before getting too involved.

Overall, I’m very impressed with 9.10.  Graphics issues from Jaunty have been resolved.  I was amazed at the boot times and responsiveness I was able to get in GNOME, even when I started running several graphics-intensive applications simultaneously.  With a little tweaking, Karmic is sure to become my favourite distro yet!

The Best Gnome Music Player

All right, after days of searching and playing and installing and uninstalling and other keystroke-intensive activities, I have finally found what I feel to be the best music player for the Gnome desktop under Jaunty: Listen.

I’ve used Rhythmbox ever since I started with Ubuntu, so I was more then familiar with its offering. It’s stable and has a good user interface, but it really lacked the power that I was looking for in an audio player. Essentially, I want something that has excellent organization capabilities, seamless support, and an attractive visual element. It has to feel like what I want in a player. Banshee 1.0 was another major contender, and I was impressed by the addition of a video player, but apalled at the lack of organization for video files. Amarok was out of the question as I have never been a fan of it or having to load KDE dependencies in the background. I heard good reviews for Exaile being lightweight, and the working AWN plugin was a boon, but I could not stand the interface–too similar to Amarok. I want to see album art, not file folders.

Finally, I found Listen, and I was impressed. Version 0.5 is in the default Ubuntu repositories, and it has a lot of promising features: dynamic playlist creation, and Wikipedia support, lyrics, and your basic streaming radio support all in a very slick interface. My main problem with Listen was that it tended to be very unstable and would crash if you just looked at it the wrong way. Enter Listen 0.6.2–it fixes the bugs that made 0.5 unstable and even adds a few new goodies: AWN support (shows the album art and time remaining in the dock), an equalizer, DAAP support, and the Jamiendo music store. Unfortunately, v0.6.2 is not in the default repositories, so you’ll have to add them manually. Detailed instructions on how to do this can be found on the PPA page here.

Happy listening!