A fair critism of Linux Desktops is that they are not particularly usable. In short they fail the Mum test - it is unlikely your Mum could turn on a Linux machine and start using it.
The Ubuntu project recognises that historically Desktop Linux has not been particularly usable and has been working hard to build on UI improvements. Bundled with the 9.04 release is a new desktop notification system, specific to Ubuntu. The design and positioning of notices suggest that the idea is heavily borrowed from Growl notifications in OSX but the implementation is neat. In my experience it works really well for Twitter, music and mail notifications. This is just the kind of UI improvement that will invaluable to non-technical users.
Ubuntu comes with a wealth of free software that makes it a real contender for cash-stapped students, businesses and individuals. You get the latest version of Open Office, a mail client, Instant Messaging and much more installed by default. With a bit of training for users I don’t see why businesses (especially small businesses) would not consider this a viable option. Furthermore a vast array of additional software is available via the very easy to use Package Manager.
The Ubuntu project has stated that it wants to change the status quo in computing. They want to open up computing and the internet to everyone, regardless of wealth or education. I really applaud this ethos and feel that web designers sitting behind £2000 Apple machines often forget that there is a growing digital divide in society and the world in general. Yes the Ubuntu project is utopian in its aspirations but I do agree that the internet should be available to all regardless of wealth or geographical location.
Not specific to Ubuntu (it is available on most Linux desktops) is a dazzling and sometimes overwhelming array of Desktop effects via Compiz. Apple has long led the market in terms of visual appearance but Linux is catching up and I’d argue pushing the envelope. Here’s a quick video of some of what’s on offer:
Ubuntu 9.04 from George Ornbo on Vimeo.
So congratulations to Canonical for getting another release out of the door and if you haven’t given Ubuntu a go yet why not try out the new release?
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