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Supported by:

Mayank Sharma [GeekyBodhi]
[ Review ]

Ubuntu "Hoary Hedgehog" Live: Beta be good

-- Screenshots over at OSDir --

The community's new candidate for the poster child distribution, Ubuntu, recently unveiled the Live CD of its second version code-named "Hoary Hedgehog". Meant for people who like to be on the bleeding edge (and can live with the few odd bugs), Hoary might not be the distro for the virgin Linux user. But that's just one argument against a dozen which shout "Grandma use Hoary".

Anyways, the final Hoary is still a couple of months away with its release scheduled in April 2005. What we have here is the Live CD -- a preview of the things to come (Download).

I tried the CD on my lousy PIII-1.7 Gig Celeron box with 384 Megs of RAM and it ran without showing any signs of unstableness for 48 hours. It couldn't detect my Linksys Wireless card (no Live distro ever has), but detected my ATI Radeon 7000 graphics card and booted me into a 1024x768 environment. For comparison, the previous Ubuntu Live CD (Warty Warthog) throws me into a 640x480.

Desktop and Applications

The Live CD does take time to boot, detecting hardware, configuring devices, setting up network -- the same things Knoppix does -- but differently and slowly. But once booted you see a neat GNOME desktop, clean, wide, and brown. Ubuntu means "Humanity towards others" and the soothing music during boot reminds you of that. But the drum beat that is associated with every application start can only be compared to a "thud" and depending on how you use the system, can be quite irritating.

This Ubuntu Live CD comes with Gnome 2.9.4, 1.1.3, GIMP 2.2.2, Evolution and FireFox 1.0. Expect these version numbers to bump up by the time the final Hoary is released.

There is Rhythmbox and Totem Movie Player and both have important plug-ins/codecs missing for playing MPEGs or MP3s and there's no other MP3 player. So I installed one using the Synaptic Package Manager which is a front-end to apt-get. (Did I mention Ubuntu is based on Debian?) From the graphical menu of Synaptic I selected xmms and was prompted to select its dependencies as well, which I did. Presto I can play MP3s. But where's my music?

As with other Live distros, this one also doesn't touch my hard disks. But unlike others it doesn't mount them either. The desktop has a sole "CD-ROM" icon. To use your partitions, create appropriate directories under /mnt and mount the device manually.

Since my Wireless card wasn't picked up, I plugged my wireless router using one of its ethernet ports to a standard ethernet card which was detected and configured using DHCP.

The Live CD packs all the stuff in three drop-down menus making it a lot easier for new GNOME users to find their way around. The Applications Menu contains all the application under its 8 sub-menu's; the Places Menu helps you get around to resources like the CD-ROM, your home directory, your network server and more; and the Desktop Menu lets you control your computer, by helping you change preferences or tweak system settings through the Administration sub-menu.

Don't try and look for a hard-disk anchoring option as the Live-CD is for demonstration purposes only, which means it cannot be installed.

So what's unique?

New applications, better configurability and a polished desktop, are things that one expects from every new release. So, what's so unique about this Live CD that the Ubuntu guys are calling it a "milestone release"?

The #ubuntu channel on is a nice place to hang out, have fun, and get answers. There I bumped into a helpful jdub (aka Jeff Waugh, a Ubuntu developer) who helped me understand what makes this release so special.

The previous CD was based on Morphix (a more-modular spin-off of Knoppix) while this one shares a lot of code with the install CD from the kernel up. Ubuntu now uses the same kernel everywhere, on the live CD, the installer and when installed. Additionally, the Hoary installer itself is a tiny bootstrap program, which is highly extensible, relatively easy to modify, and extraordinarily clever says jdub.

And yes, Ubuntu now has a Live CD for every architecture they support, i386, AMD64 and PowerPC.

While Hoary is based on Debian Sid, the Ubuntu guys do work (sometimes extensively) on various components to make them more stable. jdub, being a GNOME developer as well, mentioned how the Ubuntu modifications (fixes and changes) are going upstream into GNOME.

In Conclusion

Even though Ubuntu is relatively new, it has managed to create an impressive user base. Hoary will surely help them increase these numbers. Being based on Debian means upgrading is just an apt-get away. With an active developer community like Ubuntu's one can surely expect the rough edges of this Live CD to disappear with progressive releases.
©2004 Mayank Sharma.