Ubuntu 18.10 is the latest release of the popular Linux distribution and from my personal experience it is somewhat a step back to its roots.
The installation wizard has been improved, the desktop has switched to Gnome and the experience is actually much better than it has been for quite some time, especially with the improved software manager.
Ubuntu 18.10 Updates
Ubuntu 18.10 (codenamed Cosmic Cuttlefish) has received the following updates:
The kernel has been upgraded to 4.18 and includes support for AMD Radeon RX Vega M Graphics processors and complete support for the Raspberry PI 3B.
From a desktop perspective, Ubuntu 18.10 uses Gnome 3.30, the latest version of Firefox (63) and LibreOffice (6.1.2).
First Boot Into Ubuntu
The very first time you boot into Ubuntu a wizard appears with the option to sign into cloud services. Before you can do this you will need to connect to the internet.
Clicking in the top right corner of the screen shows the WIFI option. Click on the WIFI connection to bring up the list of networks and then choose the network you wish to connect to.
At this point you will be asked for the security key.
In theory connecting to the accounts lets you access the data from those accounts natively within the applications within Ubuntu.
The reality is somewhat different as I will come to later on.
To connect to Google for instance you can click on the Google link and then you will be asked to sign in and allow Ubuntu to have access to your Google account.
According to this page on the Ubuntu website the following applications are integrated to use the online accounts settings:
- Calendar – used by Calendar, Evolution and California (only Calendar is installed with Ubuntu by default)
- Chat – used by Empathy (not installed by default)
- Contacts – used by contacts and Evolution (not installed by default)
- Documents – not installed by default
- Files – File manager – installed and working. You are able to access files in your Google drive
- Mail – used by Evolution (not installed by default)
- Photos – used by the Photos application (not installed by default)
So connecting to the online services could be a good idea but then you would want to ditch Thunderbird and install Evolution and the other applications not installed by default.
It is a somewhat strange situation whereby you are asked to connect to online services but none of the applications that can use those accounts are installed.
After moving on from the online account setup you are then asked whether you want to send system information to Canonical to help them “improve” their services. I answered a big NO to that one.
Finally you are told you are ready to go and there is a link to open the software manager.
We will leave that until later in the review
The Ubuntu desktop looks much the same as it has for the past 6 years but Unity is now long gone and it has been replaced by Gnome.
This is actually a very welcome change. Gnome is straight forward to use and is probably the best desktop environment for Linux.
For Ubuntu there is a list of commonly used applications in the panel on the left consisting of the Firefox web browser, Thunderbird email client, the file manager, Rhythmbox audio player, Libreoffice Writer, The software manager, help and a link to Amazon.
You can remove items from the panel by right clicking and choosing “remove from favourites”.
To launch an application not in the list click on the grid in the bottom left corner or press the super key (Windows key) and “a” key at the same time. You can add an application to the left panel by right clicking and choosing “add to favourites” (or you can simply drag it with the mouse).
In the top right corner you can adjust audio settings, power settings and amend user settings as well as log off and shut down your system.
The default email client is Thunderbird which is simple enough to get to grips with.
To connect to a common mail service such as GMail simply enter your name, email address and password.
Yet again you will be asked to authorise, this time for Thunderbird to have access to your emails. I don’t understand why Evolution isn’t the default mail client.
Thunderbird is decent enough though. You can do all the things you would want to do with an email client (namely send and receive emails).
I fail to get overly excited by email clients but I can’t live without a decent audio player and Rhythmbox is as good as it gets. (Better than anything you get with Windows).
To import music copy all of the files into the Music folder and Rhythmbox will automatically pick them up and they will be available to play.
Rhythmbox provides a good search facility for finding songs and artists and it is easy to navigate through the various categories.
There is an automatic playlist facility which lets you create a playlist based on criteria such as a title containing a certain word. You can limit the playlist to a certain number of songs or a time period.
Rhythmbox can also be used to manage podcasts which means you will always have up to date versions of the latest podcasts available to listen to.
If you like to listen to online radio stations you can add them into Rhythmbox making it a one stop shop for all your audio requirements.
Ubuntu has the fully LibreOffice suite built in giving you access to a word processor, spreadsheet application, presentation manager, database application and drawing program.
When you first run the built in media player you will get an error when you try to play proprietary video files such as MP4s.
To get around this you can install the Ubuntu Restricted Extras package.
Simply open a terminal and run the following command:
sudo apt-get install ubuntu-restricted-extras
Every so often a screen will appear asking you to accept agreements, to choose an option press the tab key to select the option and press return to accept it.
Shotwell is the default photo application.
As long as your images are stored in the pictures folder under your home directory, Shotwell will be able to import them.
Updating your system
To check for updates press the super key and search for software updater.
When you run the updater if there is anything to update a screen will appear like the one above and you can install the updates by pressing the install now button.
You can configure the updates you receive by running the software and updates tool.
By clicking on the updates tab you can configure which updates you receive and how often they are checked. You will also be notified when there is a new version of Ubuntu available so you can stay up to date.
The rest of the software and updates tool lets you choose which repositories are used when you choose to install software either from the software manager or via apt-get.
The additional drivers tab is important as well as it will highlight any proprietary drivers that are available for graphics or other hardware devices.
It used to be the case that the best way of running Netflix was to replace Firefox with the Chrome browser but now you can easily run Netflix in Firefox.
When you first go to the Netflix site you will see a banner at the top asking you to enable DRM. As soon as you enable the DRM, Netflix will work without issue.
Flash isn’t enabled by default with Firefox on Ubuntu. If you really need to use it I would stay away from hitting the download button on the Flash website and use the following method to install it.
Open a terminal window (either press the super key and search for term or press CTRL, ALT and T at the same time).
Now type the following
sudo apt-get install adobe-flashplugin
The software manager is better than it has been for some time albeit not perfect.
Make sure you run the software updater first to pull in the latest packages to the repository before running the tool as this will give you the best chance of getting good results when searching for software.
The software manager includes normal packages in the deb format and it also includes snap packages.
If you want to install Chrome for instance you can search and you will see the snap package for MyChrome.
I installed Chrome in this way and the results weren’t good. There is now an icon but when I click on it nothing happens. If I run it from the terminal I receive an error “illegal instruction (core dumped)”.
The easiest way to install Chrome is still to go to https://www.google.com/chrome/ and to click the download button.
After the download completes open the file and choose “Software install” as the application to open with.
All you have to do next is click “Install” and Chrome will be installed and will actually work.
One application that is available from the software manager is Steam. In fact it is there twice. The first option chooses Steam for Windows but if you scroll down you can install Steam for Linux.
I recommend choose the Steam for Linux.
The Linux version of Steam can run games that have been created for Linux and you can use Steam Play to play Windows games.
After you install Steam it will need an update before you can log in.
To install Windows games you will need to go to the settings and set Windows games to run using Steam Play.
Steam Play is really very good and works for a lot of the games in the Steam library. For instance my favourites are the Grand Theft Auto games. These seem to work well enough.
Ubuntu has a settings application which lets you manage everything from WIFI settings to display settings, audio settings to privacy settings, network, power, screen sharing, online accounts, universal access and hardware.
For instance if you want to change the background on your desktop you can go to the background settings option where you can choose to amend either the lock screen or home screen wallpapers.
There are a number of decent stock images to use as a background image or you can of course use one of your own.
You can also customise the launch bar so that it appears where you want it to and you can adjust the icon size and whether the bar is always visible.
You can use the settings application to add hardware such as printers. Simply click the add a printer button.
All available printers will now be displayed in a list and all you have to do is click on the printer you want to install.
Ubuntu is better now than it has been in a long time. It really has gone back to basics and doesn’t try to be anything more than it needs to be.
It is easy to install, easy to use and has great hardware support.
There are a few oddities such as the online accounts set up screen loading on the first run of Ubuntu with no real applications available by default to use them.
The software manager is better but not perfect, I still had to install the restricted extras package via the command line, this despite choosing the third party software option during installation.
I still think Linux Mint edges it in terms of ease of use but this is a good alternative.