Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ubuntu 10.10: Maverick Meerkat Benchmarked And Reviewed

In a perfect storm of timing and marketing, Ubuntu 10.10 (Maverick Meerkat) was released on 10/10/10 at 10:10:10 GMT. 101010 is, by the way, binary for 42. And of course, 42 is the answer to the meaning of life, according to the mega-supercomputer in Douglas Adam's classic science-fiction novel, The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. Slick coincidence aside, we're somewhat dubious that Canonical's Linux distribution (distro) will bring fulfillment to our mundane existence--especially not one released in October.

We always look forward to Ubuntu's April releases. Over the past few years, we've seen one great .04 version after another. Ubuntu 8.04 LTS (Hardy Heron) was one of the most hassle-free Linux distributions to launch, and as an LTS, it was supported for three years (it still is). With Hardy, Canonical built a great foundation for its emerging consumer-friendly Linux distro. In April of '09 Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope) burst onto the scene with an overall snappy feel and unprecedented boot times. This past April, Canonical unleashed the current LTS, Ubuntu 10.04 LTS (Lucid Lynx). This release was a major hit. It's rock-solid, and the totally-revamped theme is still a league apart from any other Linux distro.
While the April releases have been impressive and stable, October releases have typically been marred by various experience-killing issues: default applications too bleeding-edge, insufficiently tested components, hardware incompatibilities, and just outright bugginess. Ubuntu 8.10 (Intrepid Ibex) suffered graphical tearing with proprietary graphics drivers installed, along with crippling sound problems. Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala) was possibly the worst Ubuntu build ever. Karmic didn't run properly on most of our test systems due to fatal crashes. And it took nearly a month just to get things stable enough to test. 9.10 also introduced several controversial replacements for default applications that polarized the community.
Ubuntu 10.10 was originally slated to use GNOME 3, with the new GNOME Shell desktop interface. However, the initial release of GNOME 3 was pushed back another six months, and recently Canonical announced it will eschew GNOME Shell altogether in favor of a desktop version of Unity (the new interface for Ubuntu Netbook Edition). With such a big switch off the table for now, Canonical may have received an unexpected opportunity to refine the experience introduced in 10.04 LTS. We've had a week to judge Ubuntu 10.10 and we've come to a verdict. Is this yet another borked October release, or did Canonical get the picture and play it more conservative this time around? Keep reading to find out!

From the beginning of our Linux coverage almost 18 months ago, the feedback section has always hosted at least one “Athlon 64 X2, are you kidding?” type of comment. At the time, I never really noticed lackluster performance. After all, simply switching to Linux can give older systems a more noticeable speed-up than nearly any no-cost overclock on an XP-based PC. Besides, Linux doesn't really do gaming.
But times have changed. Along with making Microsoft shareholders very happy, Windows 7 raised the bar for UI snappiness, while at the same time easing system requirements.
Our beloved Tom's Hardware audience also typically owns higher-end hardware compared to most mainstream publications (especially those with mostly Linux-oriented coverage). Well you asked, and you shall receive. This article debuts a completely new test system for our software coverage. Gone is the trusty old Athlon 64 X2 box, in its place we bring you a much more Tom's Hardware-suitable rig.
64-bit Desktop Test System Specs
Operating System 1Ubuntu 10.10 "Maverick Meerkat" Desktop Edition (64-bit)
Operating System 2Ubuntu 10.04 LTS "Lucid Lynx" Desktop Edition (64-bit)
Operating System 3Ubuntu 10.10 "Maverick Meerkat" Desktop Edition (32-bit)
ProcessorIntel Core i5-750 @ 2.66 GHz (quad-core)
MotherboardGigabyte GA-P55A-UD7 (F7 BIOS)
Memory8 GB Crucial DDR3 @ 1333MHz (2 x 4 GB)
GraphicsAMD Radeon HD 4870 512MB GDDR5, PCIe 2.0
StorageSeagate Barracuda 7200.12 500 GB SATA 3Gb/s, 7200 RPM, 16 MB Cache
OpticalAsus DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS
Power SupplyCorsair TX750W (750 W max)
ChassisZalman MS1000-HS2
CPU CoolerScythe Mugen 2 Revision B

Netbook Test System Specs

ModelDell Inspiron Mini 10v (1st Generation)
Operating System 1Ubuntu 10.10 "Maverick Meerkat" Netbook Edition
Operating System 2Ubuntu 10.10 "Maverick Meerkat" Desktop Edition (32-bit)
ProcessorIntel Atom N270 @ 1.6 GHz
Memory1 GB DDR2-533
GraphicsIntel Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) 950
Storage120 GB 2.5-inch 5400 RPM SATA HD

Secondary Desktop Test System

Operating SystemUbuntu 10.10 "Maverick Meerkat" Desktop Edition (64-bit)
ProcessorAMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ @ 2.5 GHz (dual core)
MotherboardBiostar NF61S-M2 TE
Memory4 GB DDR2 800 @ 533MHz (2 x 2 GB)
GraphicsEVGA Nvidia GeForce GTX 260 (896 MB GDDR5), PCIe 1.0
StorageSeagate Barracuda 7200.12 500 GB SATA 3Gb/s, 7200 RPM, 16 MB Cache
OpticalAsus DVD-RW 1814-BLT-BULK-BG
Power SupplyAntec Neo Eco 520 (520 W max)

Live USB Test System

Operating SystemUbuntu 10.10 "Maverick Meerkat" Desktop Edition (32-bit)
ModelSanDisk Cruzer
Capacity4 GB
Persistence File Size1.5 GB


Whenever we had to rely on a stopwatch to get time trial results, we ran the test for additional iterations. The smaller the amount of time a test needs to complete, the more iterations we run, since those differences are amplified when a test doesn't take long to complete.

We use clean and updated installations. This means that we do a full install (not upgrade) of the operating systems onto a complete hard drive using the default partitioning scheme. While we use Virtual Machines (VMs) to capture some of our screenshots and to quickly reference features, no testing is done on and no negative experiences are related to a VM.
We like to run our operating system benchmarks using the default settings of that OS. This means that we leave preference settings the way they are immediately after a clean installation. Other than disabling screen saver/power management and installing updates and proprietary drivers, everything is left stock. Sometimes changes have to be made for various tests to work properly. All such instances are documented on the page containing the test in question.
Before testing, we updated each OS with all of the available updates as of 10/10/10. We also activated the latest proprietary graphics drivers available to each OS via the Hardware Drivers (now known as Additional Drivers) tool in System/Administration.

Fulfilling Goals
Maverick Meerkat brings about the third incarnation of the Ubuntu Software Center (USC). When USC debuted last year in Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala, its stated goal was to eventually consolidate the functions of Synaptic Package Manager, Update Manager, Computer Janitor, Add/Remove Applications, Software Sources, and GDebi Package Installer. In reality, Karmic Koala only replaced Add/Remove Applications, and, in our opinion, did a worse job than Add/Remove. The updates in Ubuntu 10.04 LTS fixed most of our usability issues, such as the inability to queue up multiple apps for installation. But USC remained a one-for-one swap with Add/Remove Applications. In Meerkat, USC finally expands on its goal by taking over the jobs of Software Sources and GDebi.
Software Sources lost its place in the System/Administration menu and can now be accessed via Edit in the USC file menu. The tool itself remains unchanged and separate from USC.
In previous versions of Ubuntu, .deb files found on the Internet had to be installed by the GDebi Package Installer, a utility which doesn't even have a listing in System/Administration. As an example, we downloaded the latest 64-bit .deb of the stable version of Google Chrome and installed it on both Lucid and Maverick. As you can see from the screenshots below, double-clicking on the Chrome .deb in Lucid brought up GDebi. Maverick opens USC to install .deb files, no separate application needed.

A little-remarked upshot to centralizing package management is the lack of error screens. For instance, if you wanted to install GIMP in USC and simultaneously install Dropbox via a .deb file, you would be confronted with an error from the second package manager stating that another package manager is already running. By utilizing a single application for all types of installations, there are no conflicts between different package managers.
Though the Synaptic Package Manager still exists in Ubuntu 10.10, USC is making remarkable strides to become a suitable replacement for the robust packaging tool. Searching for apps in USC has always been easy. Like Add/Remove Applications it replaced, USC only shows full applications in its search results, not libs, add-ons, or backend-only programs. In USC Meerkat you can now expand the search results page to show these files by clicking the Show technical items link at the bottom of the screen. Alternatively, if you type in the name of such a package verbatim, it will be displayed in the search results without having to click this new link.
While USC still hasn't taken over the job of Computer Janitor or Update Manager, we can't image those are too far off. Especially considering that USC now handles .deb files (the major aspect of Computer Janitor) and Software Sources, which controls update settings for Update Manager.
Interface Changes
The first thing new users are greeted with is the reworked home screen. Lucid introduced a Featured section to USC, which showcased popular applications. Maverick expands on the Featured section by baking a preview of these apps right into the home screen. Meerkat adds a What's New section as well.
Canonical is obviously taking heed of the lessons other app stores had to learn the hard way. Since Ubuntu uses the massive Debian software catalog, unparalleled in the Linux ecosystem, it's relatively easy for applications to get lost in the crowd. The Featured section is a great way to make sure all the essential, high-quality applications don't get buried in the mound of average. The What's New section offers a way for newly-developed apps to get the same attention right out of the gate.
One of the most useful new features in USC 10.10 is a running log of package management activity. A complete history can now be found under the new History heading in the left-hand pane. While the default view is All Changes, the user can further narrow down their package history, sorting by Installations, Updates, or Removals. These entries are fully searchable and listed by the date in which the modifications occurred.
The Real Story
All of the progress and new functionality aside, probably the most shocking new addition to USC in Ubuntu 10.10 has to be the availability of a single retail package. Under Get Software in the left-hand pane of USC, there is now a For Purchase section. So far, only the Fluendo DVD Player application is offered here (for $24.95 USD). During the release candidate phase of Maverick Meerkat, a wallpaper was offered for $1 to test this retail software option. With the final release sporting an actual application, made by a real company, on sale for real money, buying software in an Ubuntu app store is no longer just a test or possible future endeavor. It is happening now.
App stores are essentially money printing machines. In the case of Apple's App Store or Microsoft's Xbox Live Marketplace, the upsells rake in the real cash, not the money paid upfront for the platform. Ubuntu is free, assuming you already have a PC, so there is no initial cost here. The implications of an Ubuntu app store are far-reaching.
If developers of paid software can easily make money on their applications, they may be more inclined to port them to Linux. Even developers of free (as in beer) software will have another revenue option other than the old, but not-so-trusty advertising or donation models. On the flip side, we can easily see FOSS stalwarts freaking out over this. Taking that position, the For Purchase option in USC can be seen as yet another schism between Ubuntu and the general Linux community, benefiting Canonical and no one else. Whichever side you take in this ideological battle, there is no question that the For Purchase option in USC 10.10 is a really big deal.

Canonical is sticking with the tangerine and aubergine (orange and purple) color scheme first introduced in Ubuntu 10.04 LTS. Some like it, and some don't. But most can agree it's certainly better than the brown themes of past releases. There was no big switch to GNOME 3 in Ubuntu 10.10 as planned, so the GTK2 Ambiance/Radiance themes remain.
Reports from all corners of the blogosphere call the Maverick Meerkat default system themes a minor tweak to those of 10.04 LTS. This just might be the understatement of the year. There are tons of small changes to Ambiance/Radiance in 10.10, that altogether add up to a very substantial overhaul. Let's run through the changes in pictures one by one, starting with the major and obvious, and continuing on to the overlooked details on the next page.
Same Old Boot Splash
Pretty much the only theming element of Ubuntu 10.10 that remains totally unchanged from 10.04 LTS is the boot splash. Unfortunately, so does its tendency to distort with proprietary graphics card drivers. We first noticed this behavior in Lucid using an Nvidia card, and this behavior continues in Maverick on an AMD card. Just as in 10.04 LTS, the 10.10 boot splash remains intact when using the default open source graphics drivers.
Ubuntu 10.10 LTS brought a shocking change to the Ubuntu color palette, replacing brown and orange with purple and orange. Though the two new colors were prominent, they felt separated and disjointed. Some elements were orange, while others were purple. In Ubuntu 10.10, there exists a much more natural blending of the two colors. Beginning with the new default wallpaper, orange highlights shine throughout Meerkat's mostly purple backdrop. Whereas Lucid's wallpaper was essentially purple with abrupt splotches of orange thrown in. In fact, the default wallpapers of these two versions are a perfect metaphor for the graphical difference between Lucid Lynx and Maverick Meerkat.
While most of the Home directory icons remain unchanged from Lucid, the Home icon itself has changed from a folder with a house on it to a simple outline of a house. But that wasn't the only icon to undergo a transformation. Navigation buttons like back, forward, reload, and so on now have a softer, rounded, cartoon-like look as opposed to the clean angles in Lucid and earlier versions.
Window Buttons
Yes, the much maligned left-hand side window buttons remain, but they've gotten larger and simpler. The buttons in Lucid appear curved, and set into the window title border. The Maverick window buttons drop the rounded look in exchange for more pronounced, flatter buttons. The inset is now barely noticeable, leaving more room for the actual buttons, though the space between them has decreased.

Until now, Ubuntu has always used some form of generic Sans font found on most other Linux distributions. The new font, aptly named Ubuntu, is a full-alphabet version of the lettering used for the new logo introduced in Lucid Lynx. It's clean, clear, and crisp, with a little bit of Star Trek twang thrown in. Below is a screenshot of the 10.04 LTS System Monitor with the old font, next to the 10.10 System Monitor with the new Ubuntu font.

Canonical has changed the user interface of Ubuntu Netbook Edition several times since its introduction as an add-on package for Ubuntu 8.04 LTS Hardy Heron. In Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty Jackalope, Ubuntu Netbook Remix, as it was then known, dropped most facets of the standard GNOME UI and became a stand-alone variant of Ubuntu. When the name changed from Remix to Edition in 9.10 Karmic Koala, the UI ditched some unnecessary clutter and became more streamlined. However, it remained essentially the same basic concept as earlier versions. Lucid simply refined the changes made to Karmic, and brought UNE in line with the new color scheme.
No other release has received the massive overall that went into UNE 10.10. Maverick Meerkat debuts the brand new, Canonical-developed Unity interface. Let's run down how this new user interface operates.
The Launcher
Unity removes the GNOME bottom panel and replaces it with a left-side dock, referred to as the launcher. Certain applications and tools are pinned to the launcher. UNE 10.10 comes with Mozilla Firefox 3.6.10, Empathy chat client, Evolution PIM, Cheese webcam, Rhythmbox music manager, and the Ubuntu Software Center pinned by default. Much like the Windows 7 superbar and the OS X dock, there are no word boxes to identify each application, only icons appear in the launcher. The background color of the app icons match the overall color of the icon itself, like in the Windows 7 superbar. Open unpinned applications receive an icon below pinned apps. Below applications, there is a workspace switcher, file browser, application list, and the trash can. With the exception of Workspaces, these tools appear as black and white icons. Connected devices, such as USB drives, also recieve a black and white icon in the tools area of the launcher.
A small white arrow on the left of an application's icon indicates the app is currently open. The forefront application gets a small white arrow on its right side, between the launcher and workspace. Notice in the screenshot above that the two open apps, Firefox and the file browser, have left side arrows. As the forefront app, Firefox also gets the right-side arrow.
ZoomUnity's launcher, although nothing like the dock in OS X, does have a few animations. When the launcher has too many icons to display fully, a fold animation tiles some of the icons. Applications are folded up and tiled at the top of the launcher to free up space. Likewise, tools are folded down and tiled at the bottom. Both apps and tools fold out of the way when the launcher gets really full. Unity even greets you with a 'popping' icon when opening an application from the launcher.
Pinned icons can be removed from the launcher by right-clicking them and selecting Remove from launcher from the menu that appears. Open unpinned applications can be pinned to the launcher by right-clicking on their icon and selecting Keep in launcher. Icons of pinned applications can be rearranged by dragging them off the launcher. A white line will appear showing the new position. Releasing the mouse re-pins the icon in its new position.
Top Panel
The top panel remains mostly unchanged from Ubuntu Desktop Edition. The user/logout applet, which controls current user status and logout/shutdown functions, still resides on the far-right end of the panel. Going from right to left, the clock/calendar applet is next, though the default view has been shortened to only show the time. The indicator applet for things like mail/message notification, network status, Bluetooth, and volume are last on the right side.
The majority of the center portion of the panel is reserved for the current application, explained in the next section. In the far-left end of the panel, an Ubuntu button, which activates the home screen, takes the place of the Applications/Places/System menu; more on this later.
Window Behavior
Applications are meant to be maximized in Unity. The top panel absorbs the window buttons and file menu of maximized apps, although it is still possible to restore many maximized apps to their windowed form, and occasionally an application will open this way. When windowed, the window buttons return to the top-left of an applications title bar. However, the file menu remains in the upper panel, just like in Macintosh operating systems.
Home Screen
ZoomUnity employs a home screen like previous versions of UNE and many other netbook-optimized user interfaces. Unlike previous versions of UNE, the home screen doesn't always cover the wallpaper in lieu of a desktop. Clicking the Ubuntu logo in the top-left corner of the UI brings up the home screen. This screen contains a search tool at the top and extra-large links to apps for Web, Music, Photos & Videos, Games, Email & Chat, Office, Files & Folders, and Get New Apps. For Windows users: think of the Ubuntu button as the Start button. And think of the home screen as a start menu, which takes up the entire screen.
ZoomUnity does not have a traditional desktop like Ubuntu Desktop Edition, Windows 7, or OS X. When the home screen is not activated and no apps are in the forefront, a wallpaper exists, but there is no actual usable desktop. No icons, shortcuts, or files can appear on this desktop. That's because Unity employs the workspace model instead. Workspaces simply function as space for windows to fill, but nothing else that a regular desktop does.
Though Unity eschews the desktop model, it does allow for multiple desktops--or in this case workspaces. This is essentially the same as virtual desktops in Ubuntu Desktop Edition without the interactive desktop, and an emphasis on maximized applications. The user can organize open applications by arranging them in different workspaces. Unity has four workspaces to divide applications into. Moving apps from one workspace to another is just a matter of drag and drop. Simply open the Workspaces tool in the launcher to bring up the Workspaces screen.
Reach Out And Touch
One of Unity's new features is a multitouch language, presumably called “uTouch.” This is the first time Canonical has added multitouch support in a release, and Unity was designed with this input paradigm in mind. We don't have a multitouch monitor or tablet on hand to test the uTouch functionality of UNE 10.10. But we look forward to getting hands-on with Unity whenever a suitable piece of hardware is available. Below is a video of Gerry Carr, head of platform marketing at Canonical, demoing Unity on a multitouch device.

Gerry Carr Unity uTouch Demo

One of the many foci for Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal) is going to be uTouch improvements. With slates being the next big thing in mobile computing, we'll be keeping a close eye on how Canonical intends to make Ubuntu alive and competitive on this new form factor.
Now that we've gone over all of the wonderful things that Unity is supposed to be, let's see how it works in UNE 10.10.
Installation of UNE 10.10 was a breeze, just like its Desktop Editon counterpart. Setup options were completed during installation, along with restricted packages and updates. Proprietary Broadcom drivers for the Mini10v's Wi-Fi card were already active upon the very first boot. From this point on, things took an abrupt turn for the worse.
Is There A Desktop, Or Not?
We noticed that, although there is no traditional desktop in UNE, a Desktop folder still exists in the Home directory. After opening a text file from a USB thumb drive in gedit, we attempted to perform a Save As. The Desktop folder was the default location--fair enough. So, we'll just have to get to the Desktop folder from the file manager. Unfortunately, the Files & Folders entry in the launcher lacks a Desktop folder! Documents, Music, Pictures, Videos, and even Downloads are present, but no Desktop (or Templates, Public, Examples). We changed the sorting in the Files & Folder screen from All Files to Other, and it displayed this:

Nautilus, the GNOME file manager, can be accessed via a folder icon shortcut in the upper-right side of the Files & Folders screen. Another way to open Nautilus is by inserting a new volume like a USB thumb drive and selecting its icon in the launcher. And there is always the terminal. However you do it, pin Nautilus to the launcher when you get it open. Files & Folders is not a suitable file manager, and a poor file browser. You will need Nautilus.
Keeping Up The Suspense
ZoomWhen we switched back to gedit from the Files & Folders screen, the Mini 10v went into suspend mode--only the first of many times this would happen. The Mini 10v again went into suspend while switching desktops. Although beautiful, the new launcher partially disappeared on us several times as well. While it eventually came back, it required using the slow and anemic new home screen to navigate.
The home screen isn't without problems either. Selecting the Web entry again put the Mini 10v into suspend. After we logged back in, closing Firefox caused the entire GUI to go black and rebuild, as if X was reset. This behavior happened on several other occasions.
Though we're not sure what was causing the GUI to reset, disabling suspend and the screensaver seemed to have fixed the awkward issues. It seems that the system does not go into suspend at the set time interval, but if that interval passes, it will go into suspend the next time you click anything (in effect, when you want to come out of suspend).
The Fail Train Keeps On Rolling
The fact that Unity places the window buttons and file menu of the forefront application in the upper panel like OS X isn't necessarily a bad thing. When the window buttons fail to appear, it is.
This alternative windowing paradigm is also a problem for the world's fastest growing Web browser. There are two ways that Chrome (or Chromium) handles this: using the built-in window buttons, or using the system theme buttons. Both options produce duplicate window buttons.
We also noticed that newly-installed applications cannot be pinned to the launcher until the system is restarted.
And then there was this:

Mutter is the compositing manager for Unity, which is based on Clutter, the toolkit introduced in Moblin. To be honest, we're not entirely sure how this happened, or the circumstances surrounding the appearance of this error. So many problems surfaced in UNE that it became difficult to document each one before another cropped up. But it happened, and we grabbed the screenshot.
The one aspect of Unity that I thought was bound to be imperfect, was the workspace switcher. In reality, that was the one aspect that actually worked... really well. The action on the Workspaces tool is surprisingly snappy, and we experienced no noticeable lag activating it. The zoom in and zoom out animations are very smooth, and moving applications between workspaces is fluid. Returning to an application or switching to another workspace is also very quick, but had a tendency to restart the GUI on occasion.

The HDD to HDD file copy time in Ubuntu 10.10 is drastically different between iterations. Our methodology is to copy the test folder to the Desktop and to the Home directory, record each time, delete the copies, empty the trash, restart and repeat. In Maverick Meerkat the copy times to these two locations differ by over 100%. It doesn't matter whether you copy to the Desktop or Home directory first, the second time is always less than half of the first. This led us to run twice the number of iterations on Ubuntu 10.10 to get a complete sampling of both the first and second copy times.
Before running the final benchmarks, we made a few modifications to our methodology just to test the veracity of this test. First we copied a new test folder with an identical file size and similar composition immediately after the original test folder. We then timed the contents of our test folder, a large ISO file and a folder full of HD wallpapers, separately. We also timed the copy operation from the terminal to rule out a GUI status bar error. The very same strange results occur using any of these modifications, so our original methodology remains.

Lucid Lynx completes the HDD to HDD file copy operation in just under eight and a half seconds. Maverick Meerkat's first time is a staggering 22+ seconds. The second time is a mere 6 seconds. We have to call this one in favor of Lucid. Even though the 10.10 second time is over two seconds faster than Lucid, we can't see why someone in the real world would be copying the exact same files repeatedly. In the more realistic first times, Ubuntu 10.04 LTS absolutely trounces 10.10, beating it by well over 50% - Lucid's time is also stable.
Fortunately, the USB to HDD file copy tests went off without a hitch.

Maverick beats Lucid in USB to HDD transfers by a half second, but in a 70 second test, that's essentially a tie.
In our previous Ubuntu review we tabled the tests for HDD to USB file copy times because the preliminary results were nearly identical to that of Ubuntu 8.04 LTS. In this article, those same tests show Maverick Meerkat completing the HDD to USB transfer remarkably faster than Lucid Lynx--in almost a third of the time! Obviously, this sent up some red flags. A quick visual inspection of the USB thumb drive revealed that the busy light was still blinking. Attempting to 'safely remove' the thumb drive resulted in another status bar that read:

Sure enough, Maverick's time is too good to be true. The progress bar in the file operation dialog is not reporting the status correctly, and ending prematurely. In order to get the true time it takes files to copy from the HDD to the thumb drive, we had to modify the way we time this process.
Instead of stopping the clock when the file operations dialog closes, we kept it going and immediately initiated the safe removal procedure. The clock was finally stopped when the safe removal dialog closed. Just to make sure there was no hidden time in Ubuntu 10.04 LTS either, we had to run another few iterations there as well. The safe removal dialog only flashes on the screen for a split-second, when visible at all, in Lucid.

Though Maverick Meerkat falsely reports a complete data transfer, even with the added 'hidden' time, the new release copies files to USB nearly a minute before the LTS.
HDD To USB: Updated: 10/22/10
Just to see if updates to Ubuntu 10.10 fix the inaccurate status bars, we ran some more iterations of the HDD to USB file copy times on 10/22/10.

Sure enough, updating fixes the premature closure of the file operations dialog and extra-long duration of the safe removal dialog. However, the new time recorded in Maverick Meerkat is nearly one minute and 20 seconds slower than Lucid Lynx!

Both Ubuntu 10.10 and 10.04 LTS use Mozilla Firefox 3.6.10 as the default Web browser. The latest stable version of Google Chrome (6.0.472.63), along with Opera 10.6.3 were added to the Peacekeeper test since the last Ubuntu review.

Using their shared default Web browser, Ubuntu 10.10 comes in 40 points behind the older LTS release. The story changes when using the latest version of Google Chrome; Maverick is up by nearly 90 points. The standings reverse again in Opera, with the Lynx earning nearly 150 points more than the Meerkat.

Maverick Meerkat manages to pull in nearly 75 points more than Lucid Lynx.
Lightsmark 2008
While Lightsmark ran through in its entirety in Lucid, many of the tests had large solid black areas that should have instead displayed various types of shadows.

In Lightsmark 2008, Ubuntu 10.10 beats the elder release by more than 50 points (over ten percent).

We finally nailed down the Unigine benchmark settings in our last review, but as it usually does, stuff happens. We didn't foresee the switch from an Nvidia graphics card in our previous Athlon 64 X2 test system to an AMD card in our new Core i5 rig, causing turmoil.
Even with the new test system being a hands-down gain in the hardware department, graphics performance in Linux has traditionally been more reliable with Nvidia cards than even comparable solutions from AMD. As a result, some of our benchmark settings are actually lower than those found in Ubuntu 10.04 LTS: Lucid Lynx Benchmarked And Reviewed, despite this much more modern test platform.
The preferred resolution of the 64-bit test system's monitor is 1280x1024. Before running any of the graphics benchmarks at 1600x1200, we set the desktop resolution to 1600x1200 via Catalyst Control Center (Administrative) in the System/Preferences menu. Running any of theses benchmarks at a resolution above that of the Ubuntu desktop can result in up to a 30% reduction in frame rates.
Unigine Sanctuary

Ubuntu 10.10 holds a single frame per second lead over 10.04 LTS in Sanctuary at both 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 with the highest possible detail settings.
Unigine Tropics

Maverick Meerkat manages a mere fraction of a frame more per second than Lucid Lynx in Tropics at 1280x1024 with full detail settings. At 1600x1200 with 4x anti-aliasing, Ubuntu 10.10 again squeezes past 10.04 LTS, this time by only a tenth of a frame per second.
Unigine Heaven
We could not enable any anti-aliasing at 1280x1024 or higher in Unigine Heaven. We didn't run at lower resolutions, since anything lower isn't very useful. We also had to leave replication and tessellation disabled (the default).

Ubuntu 10.04 LTS comes out half of a frame per second ahead of the newer 10.10 in Unigine Heaven.
Overall, the Unigine benchmarks give the newer release a slight advantage with the notable exception of Heaven, the latest benchmark. However, the difference in scores are all well within 1.1 FPS.

Benchmark Analysis
Of the 32 benchmarks we ran, Maverick Meerkat beat Lucid Lynx in 16, while Lucid beat Maverick in 14. The HandBrake and tar.gz decompression scores are identical in both OSes. Going by the numbers, Ubuntu 10.10 is the winner. However, Maverick Meerkat is not without issues. We managed to narrow down the hibernate/wake problem to a combination of our test system motherboard and the 64-bit version of UDE. The fact that our old test system hibernates/wakes just fine with 10.10 UDE (64-bit), as does our new test system with 10.04 LTS UDE (64-bit), indicates that a regression exists from Lucid to Maverick. But this is specific to one piece of hardware, and is most likely not widespread. It's also entirely reasonable that this issue could be fixed in a future upgrade.
Maverick Meerkat also had a problem with the file operations status bar when copying to a USB device. While Maverick's original actual time is faster than that of Lucid, the status bar was way off. After updates, the 10.10 times are much slower than 10.04 LTS. The more troubling result is the HDD to HDD copy time. Ubuntu 10.10 takes a very long time to copy files from one location on an HDD to another versus Ubuntu 10.04 LTS, consistently.
These issues essentially negate the wins Maverick holds over Lucid, and the rest of the scores are very, very close. In this case, the benchmarks alone do not indicate which release is the definitive winner.
Experience: Ubuntu Desktop Edition 64-bit
Test system issues aside, Maverick Meerkat provides a snappy and polished experience. In fact, the 64-bit version of UDE 10.10 exceeds our expectations as an October release, and as a 64-bit Linux OS. Some of the benchmarking tools that require lib dependencies gave us no hassle in this release, games in particular. 10.10 was a dream on the older Athlon 64 test system, having none of the issues experienced on the newer model.
Experience: Ubuntu Desktop Edition 32-bit
While the 64-bit version of UDE received most of our attention, we spent some time getting to know the 32-bit version as well. UDE 32-bit gave us no problems whatsoever on either the modern desktop machine or netbook. The installations were a breeze and no serious kernel errors were reported. There were no lockups, random restarts, or any other wonky behavior indicating instability during our time with it. All and all, a pretty solid OS.
Experience: UDE Live 32-bit
We also ran the 32-bit version of Ubuntu 10.10 as a live USB. This was a disaster. The initial boot time, as well as the time between selecting Try Ubuntu and getting to a usable desktop was pretty extreme. While running either Lucid or Jaunty live takes much longer than an actual installation, it's a reasonable couple of minutes. Maverick is painfully slow. Time to make a sandwich and start a load of laundry slow. And although the persistent file system seemed to work for files and such, proprietary Wi-Fi drivers failed to install. This makes running Maverick Meerkat as a live USB essentially useless on systems without wired Internet access.
The live experience provided by Lucid Lynx is a world apart from the newer Maverick Meerkat. If you want to run Ubuntu live, stick with the LTS. However, other Linux distros like Puppy are much better suited for a live environment than any Ubuntu offering.
Experience: Ubuntu Netbook Edition
Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Edition is also a mess. As a netbook operating system intended for actual people to use in a production environment, I have to say that UNE 10.10 should be avoided. From our experience on the Dell Mini 10v, UNE Meerkat is in no way ready for general consumption. Its many bugs and poor performance are just not acceptable or at all realistic for the average end-user. Loading almost anything on UNE 10.10 was clearly sluggish. While the first-generation Dell Mini 10v might not be the best-performing piece of hardware in the world, wait times in Jaunty UDE, Lucid UDE, Lucid UNE and even Windows 7 aren't anywhere near this irritating. If you like netbook-tailored OSes, UNE 10.04 LTS Lucid Lynx is probably still the best bet. If you've come to your senses and opted for a regular desktop OS on your netbook, than UDE 10.10 may just be the best Linux distro for that purpose.
Potential: Unity
Besides still being in the teething stage, Unity was released in a very awkward position. It's essentially a desktop OS that has undergone massive UI customizations with slates in mind, but is marketed for netbooks. Despite debuting on Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Edition, make no mistake, Unity has slate written all over it.
Canonical is really onto something here. Unity is possibly the best concept of a mobile touchscreen UI on top of a traditional PC desktop OS we've seen thus far. Anyone interested in taking a look at how full PC operating systems will one day work with touch-based tablets, needs to download UNE 10.10. When taken strictly as a preview of the Unity interface, it's not to be missed. Just keep in mind that the experience is far from flawless. There is still a lot of work left to do in order for Unity to be a viable option in a production environment. But even as a developing platform, Unity is certainly more useful and usable than current builds of Moblin or ChomeOS.
With the appearance of Windows 7 on slate devices in perpetual limbo, Canonical still has a chance to beat Microsoft in releasing a PC operating system on this new form factor--just as it did with netbooks two years ago. As a full PC OS, Unity by default also has the foundation and potential to hit the iPad where it hurts: content creation. We can't wait until Ubuntu 11.04 to see how Unity progresses. Hopefully, there will be a decent slate on the market to install it on. Fortunately, there is also a desktop version of Unity in the works for Ubuntu 11.04 as well.
The Straight Dope
We were beginning to wonder when we'd see Canonical pull off a successful .10 release; the past few Octobers have been pretty rough. When looking solely at the Desktop Editions, Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick Meerkat is a mild success. Instead of using this October to experiment with half-baked software components, Canonical concentrated on refining the experience introduced in 10.04 LTS. On the other hand, this also means there aren't any killer reasons to upgrade to 10.10 if you're already happy with 10.04 LTS.
This really is a tough call. After all of the benchmarks and hands-on experience with Maverick Meerkat, we expected a concise thumbs up or thumbs down versus Lucid Lynx. Instead, what we have here is a mixed bag. Ubuntu 10.10 excels and falls short in an equal number of areas as 10.04 LTS. Therefore, our recommendation must also be a mixed bag.
If you're currently using Ubuntu 10.04 LTS Lucid Lynx and everything works, it might be a good idea to leave your install alone. After running it for six months, we can tell you that Lucid is rock-solid. Only time will tell if 10.10 is as good, and we only had a week with it. So, if reliability is ranked highly on your OS wish list, go with the LTS. But if you're experienced with Linux, or just the type who must have the very latest, there is nothing wrong with choosing Ubuntu 10.10, either. It all comes down to the type of user you are.

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