Review: Ubuntu 12.10, Quantal Quetzal
As you may remember from the release of Ubuntu 12.04, Precise Pangolin, and its following review, I’m a fan of the Debian-based Linux operating system, to say the least. An avid, loving user, in other words. As a result, when a version is released I download and install it as soon as I have a chance, and thoroughly look forward to playing around and seeing what’s in store.
Ubuntu 12.10 was no different. I’d heard ‘mixed’ reviews, to say the least, but I wasn’t disheartened and tried to put all that behind me when I installed. One good thing that came out of it was that the installation was a breeze! In fact, it took me less than 15 minutes to complete the entire process, which had a slideshow with some key information about the release, too.
No Ubuntu release would be the same, either, without spending a little time at the beginning just wearing the release in, updating it, ticking all the right boxes (literally) that suit you, the user. It would be unfair for me to begin reviewing a system that I hadn’t given the time to optimise to work the best for my usage. This was where the problems began, though. I’ve been an Ubuntu user for over four years, so it’s not like I’m new to the system, but I was just failing to find features I was looking for; wondering what some icons in fact were, and generally finding that it was incomplete.
Of course, I am fully understanding that mp3, font and certain other things cannot be supported out of the box for copyright. I get that. But when I delve into a product that claims to be fully socially connected that freezes when I try to add and customise my social accounts, I begin to get annoyed. However, I soldiered on and tried to enjoy Quantal Quetzal as best I could.
Unity, Ubuntu’s desktop environment, has been around for 18 months now, and since its release to the public has been improved upon release after release. It’s no different in 12.10, a year and a half on. One of the improvements this release is the new arrangement of lenses that come attached to the Unity dashboard out of the box, now, instead of just the Home, Applications, Documents and Music lenses (each with their own filtering options, all of which are very good, I must add), there are now seven in total. Indeed, added to Home, Applications, Documents and Music are Gwibber (for social networks added in the relevant place in Settings), Photos and Videos, including both online and local media. For instance, in Photos, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, etc., are indexed, as well as the computer. Other sources such as BBC iPlayer are searched when looking for videos, and Google Documents are looked at when the user focuses in on Documents.
A new addition to Unity – under much controversy – is Amazon. So much so that there is a web application (details below) for the website docked to the launcher by default. Amazon search results on the search terms will now be included in the results in the home lens. Ubuntu developers suggest that this is an improvement, stating that if a user cannot find information on their computer, they should be given a starting point to find it online. However, many users think that it should have its separate lens. I’d like to note that Amazon search results can be turned off in the settings, though. I am as yet undecided, but imagine I’ll form my own opinion once I use the search feature more.
The other noticeable new feature is the Unity previews – something that goes so unnoticed I almost forgot to make note. A rather genius feature whereby one right-clicks on an icon – whether it be a document, application (to be installed or already installed), video, whatever – and the dash will zoom in on that item to give a zoomed in thumbnail or other preview (for instance, with an application, it displays a screenshot from the Ubuntu Software Centre), as well as some more information. Continuing with apps, it will give a longer description as well as its star rating. With music, there is a small player that is embedded within the Dash, and does not affect or require any other music players to begin – the music player applies for both local and online music, if the website supports previews. A useful feature that I think, once I get used to its presence, I will use frequently. The transition animations are rather swish, too. I have found it a bit slow to get started, but that doesn’t take away from its usefulness.
A final new addition to Unity is web apps. Unity (with a Firefox add-on) will now offer to install web links, much like Chrome’s desktop bookmarks feature, to the Launcher, to be opened in the default browser with a single click. Developers can add right-click menus to these from the launcher, so that, for example with Gmail, Compose New; and even desktop notifications with BBC News.
Both Unity and the Heads Up Display (HUD) – used to browse a program’s menu items in a search form – have been improved in terms of their response times. Although they can both take a few seconds to appear at first, after that they work almost flawlessly. I can’t think of many, if any, points of critique for Unity or the HUD that are new or irritate me so much as to make note, so it’s pretty much full marks there.
As with every Ubuntu release, 12.10 sees a brand new set of really quite beautiful wallpapers. Removing the text, the cartoon image of the Quetzal above is in fact one of the wallpapers (at a much higher resolution, of course). With snaps that include plants, rocks, lakes, hills and even a piano, it’s – well, see for yourself. It’s gorgeous, and I think truly complements the Ubuntu desktop. I daresay most users will be wanting to change their wallpaper to one of their own, and as always this is straightforward to do. Something that is not so straightforward is the wallpaper slideshow function. A pre-built slideshow is available, but there is nothing clear to suggest how to edit this, or make one’s own. I find that 3rd party application Wallch is best for this (available in the repositories), and can run in the background to whatever your needs – a wonderful little app that does everything I require.
UI & Login
A quick one, but one to be made a note of. The login screen UI has been subtly tweaked to be a little narrower and the font size smaller; the wallpaper switching has improved greatly and there is now support for a remote login. I have no use for it myself, but it seems very easy to use and configure, requiring an Ubuntu single-sign on account (used on Launchpad, Ubuntu One, Ubuntu Software Centre, etc.) and an Internet connection to use. A good-looking and useful feature.
The default theme, Ambience, has had a small tweak to it, too. The windows and dialogue boxes are more squared, though the buttons within them have a bigger round to them, and seem to come out of the window a little more. Nothing has been done to worsen either of these, it just makes the whole Ubuntu desktop that bit more handsome.
Some of the applications installed by default in Ubuntu 12.10 are pretty darn good, it must be said. Indeed, the necessary suite of the latest versions of Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird, as well as an updated LibreOffice, are all included, with the latest versions of other applications like VLC and GIMP in the repositories. However, the latest version of Ubuntu’s social client, Gwibber, is as painful as it always has been. It’s slow and sluggish, to say the least. With no support for multiple columns, it’s generally just weak. Empathy, the chat client, has improved, though. Both clients take the accounts used in the Online Accounts section of system settings to work, instead of their own settings, but Empathy’s usage of the Facebook and Google Chat protocols works wonders – desktop notifications and a good-looking client allow me to overlook the abomination that is Gwibber. Plus, Polly, a great Twitter client, is available online, so I installed that instead. The only downfall is the lack of Facebook feed support (Twitter only) and system tray support in Ubuntu 12.10, though there is support in previous versions of Ubuntu, and it can be specially configured (details on its website).
To reiterate, some of the default applications installed are fantastic. Others are not so. Apps just about make their way into the ‘Good’ category of things thanks to the wide variety available with no extra work, but I really do not think Gwibber is anywhere near good enough to be a showcase feature.
Once upon a time, users could freely customise Ubuntu as much as they wished, making their own Ubuntu desktop and interface look completely different to that of their neighbour’s. Yep, I’m looking at you, 10.10 and your predecessors. With custom themes, ranging from cursors, icons and even the window borders themselves, everything could be changed.
That is no longer the case.
The problem is that the ability to fully customise Ubuntu 12.10 is not available out of the box.
I shan’t rant and rave on – as I am so tempted to do – at the closed down feel I’m getting, as I’ve had that for a couple of versions. I can’t really complain, though, as the software I use most – Firefox, etc. — can be themed as much as I want, and the desktop looks rather swish in its own right. However, the fact is that Ubuntu 12.10 still has the ability to be customised, with keyboard shortcuts and the number of virtual workspaces tweaked to one’s heart’s content. The problem though, is that the ability to do such a thing is not accessible to the average user out of the box. Third-party software is required, with my favourite being MyUnity. MyUnity does not have support for Ubuntu 12.10, though. It’s a shame, as customising is at the heart of Ubuntu, the open nature of the operating system allows this to be possible. But when not only the desktop becomes closed down, but the number one configuration suite goes with it, it becomes unusable. For now, I’ll recommend the Compiz Config Settings Manager (available in the repositories), but using only the Unity module, as the other modules can mess up the system (conflicts with Unity – a real shame).
The Downright Ugly, Hideous and Loathsome
Goodness gracious, I have despised the Ubuntu Software Centre, or USC, since its creation a few years back. I’m not going to rip into the ins and outs as to why it’s such a horrible piece of software, because on paper, it’s not. It allows one click installation of any piece of software in the repositories – and if it’s not in there, there’s a tool to add it. Additionally, it offers eBooks, and displays it all in a very lovely way indeed, in actual fact. There’s a scrolling header of featured items, good columns for categories, and even the software pages aren’t too shoddy.
After a list of features on paper, it starts to plummet, almost about as much as my enthusiasm to continue testing the program. First off, it clogs up resources. I’ve not got a bad computer by any means, it exceeds the 768MB RAM minimum requirement – I have 2GB – so there’s no reason it should struggle. However, the USC flails around like a small animal, unsure what to do with itself and slowing everything else down in the process. Sitting there doing nothing, it’s okay, but try to browse and you’re walking on ice, if you so much as try to install something – oh, all Hell breaks loose! In fact, it took me three attempts at clicking the Install button for a program before anything actually happened.
The single-sign in for sync situation is good, though. It displays what is on one device but not on the other in a pretty, easy to view manner. Again, though, try to install something and you’ll be sat there waiting for any kind of results. In its defence, I found, if I were to go through it slowly without rushing, it could find and install one program at a time quite well. Try and add another one into the mix to install two simultaneously and did very little. The welcome relief to the situation is that, with the Unity Previews feature in the Dash, applications can be installed from there without ever touching the USC.
After installing a few things, I went onto the home page to browse, and saw a recommendations button. Click. Although I’d just been signed into my account, browsing the programs from my previous installation, the USC asked me to login again, with no recollection that I was logged in elsewhere in the program. A crucial flaw and one that caused me to quit and resort to installing programs via the command line. With the Ubuntu Software Centre being the place that most users will visit on a regular basis, especially within the first few hours of installing Ubuntu, having it bearing on unusable is not something many people will look forward to.
To conclude, Ubuntu 12.10 isn’t great. It’s not a huge step-up from 12.04, which I suppose some could suggest is not a bad thing, but it’s whether it deserves its own version. There aren’t a lot of huge changes, and visibly not a lot of performance improvements, either. The updates for the software are on the 3rd party side of things – LibreOffice, GIMP, Firefox and Thunderbird all look and feel wonderful in their slick new versions, I’d update for them alone to be honest.
Apart from a new batch of wallpapers and a few new introductions in the dash, there’s little new. The fact that there are still issues from previous releases outstanding makes me wonder whether it’s a worthwhile update. I say – no. It’s the Mountain Lion to Ubuntu’s Lion, but it’s not even that. Ubuntu 12.04 was a Long-Term Support version, meaning that it still has support and technical help available right up until April 2017, and as I mentioned in the review of that in April of this year, it’s pretty darn good.
Ubuntu 12.10 isn’t great, there’s little new, you’ll do fine sticking with 12.04 for a while.
The drop of Unity 2D also means that if you don’t have great hardware, you’re going to struggle, as there’s no compromise and no easy way (or way at all far from delving into what is effectively the Ubuntu Registry and hoping for the best) to disable the myriad of visual effects that are lovely if you can run them. A pain in the quetzal if you can’t, rendering the system almost unusable.
If you don’t mind cracking open a Terminal for a short while to get access of the new LibreOffice, GIMP, etc., you’ll do fine sticking with 12.04 for a while because, trust me, you’re not missing out on much. As much as I hate to say it, Ubuntu 12.10 only gets a two star rating from me. When right-click previews and Amazon integration are the headline features, it kind of says how much of a jump the version has made.
Hopefully 13.04 can make a bit more of a jump in April of next year.
Rating: 2 out of 5
Release: October 2012
Minimum System Requirements: 768MB RAM, 5GB disk space