Ubuntu as Intended. My Experience Of Using the ‘Default’ Ubuntu

Like many so-called “power users”, the first thing I do after installing Linux is customize it. I set it to my preferred desktop settings, applications and configuration because I know what I like, and I normally go to great lengths to get it just right. Recently, after setting up a new Ubuntu Maverick install for my wife, I began to wonder what it would be like to run a system on the defaults. To try things their way – to use Ubuntu’s desktop settings, Ubuntu’s preferred applications and configuration. This meant I could not install any of my favorite applications (Chrome, VLC, Exaile…) if Ubuntu already provided an equivalent (Firefox, Totem, Rhythmbox…). How did it turn out? Frustrating, but with some surprising results. (Note: This is not your usual Ubuntu review, but my miscellaneous ramblings, and some praises. Read on for details.)

MeMenu

I’m a creature of habit, and I’ve kept a GMail tab open at all times for the better part of the last 4 or 5 years. One of the newer features of the Ubuntu desktop is the MeMenu, which aims to combine chat, email, and social networking into the Gnome panel, thereby hoping to remove the need for a browser tab.

ubuntu-as-intended-memenu1

The concept is simple and clever. The applet monitors incoming notifications (such as IM chat), displays the text using the builtin notification system, and changes color to indicate a pending message.

ubuntu-as-intended-memenu2

As far as actual usage, I personally found it a bit lacking. Half the functionality is found in the applet shown in the first screenshot, while the rest is split to the Indicator Applet. Oddly, it’s the Indicator which actually holds all the setup for both.

ubuntu-as-intended-memenu3

Between the confusingly split application controls, and the fact that neither applet provides a quick and simple way to sign on and off, I’m forced to give the current MeMenu a completely subjective grade of C+. Great idea, but mediocre implementation.

Multimedia Applications

As I’ve shared before, I’m very picky about my multimedia applications. Since beginning this experiment a few weeks ago, a few of the applications have grown on me. One of those is Rhythmbox. Previous experiences never left me feeling very good, but after forcing myself to use it a bit more I’ve grown to appreciate some of its design.

ubuntu-as-intended-rhythmbox

With the built-in burning, flexible smart playlists, and fast media import, I’ve been rather impressed with Rhythmbox, at least much more than I was expecting to be. I’d give it a solid B.

I’ve got mixed feelings, however, about Brasero. It burns discs and all, it does the basic job, but in a way that’s the problem. For quick and common tasks, it’ll probably let you do what you want, quickly and easily. Once your tasks become more complex, and you begin to have preferences about how the job is done, Brasero might not meet your needs.

For example, I put a lot of effort into making compilation albums for my nephew. It takes me an entire year to put each one together, and each track is precisely cut, faded, and normalized to my liking. If I attempt to burn the CD with Brasero, it will automatically apply its own normalization to all tracks anyway, ruining the manual volume adjustments I had already made. I have yet to find a way to disable this. For having some great features but lacking in control, I’d give Brasero a C.

Finally, while a few applications surprised me (in a good way), the one I still can’t stand is Totem, the video player. It supports almost nothing out of the box, and to get even basic playback you’ve got to jump through codec install hoops. Even once everything’s up and running, Totem still lacks the feature set of more capable players like VLC.

ubuntu-as-intended-totem

I understand that Totem as an application is consistent with the Gnome look and feel, but I can’t help feel that it can’t be that hard to include a more capable player. Sadly, Totem gets a D.

Conclusion

While I can’t speak for anyone else, my experience with the stock OS was better than expected. The MeMenu has not yet fully replaced my GMail tab, and I still prefer Exaile to Rhythbox, but the stock Ubuntu isn’t really meant for me, it’s meant for the casual PC user. Other than perhaps Totem, the standard applications are well suited for that type of person. The stock setup may only get a “meh” from me, but it’s got more than one interested “oooohh” from my wife. With the Unity desktop taking over in future Ubuntu versions, we might begin to see a shift away from some of the Gnome-centric applications, perhaps to something new. So far, just about every Ubuntu release has improved upon the last, so I for one am looking forward to what comes next.

But for the record, I personally wish they’d stuck with Gnome Shell as originally planned.