Ubuntu 12.04 Wins Me Back

The Ubuntu release offers significant steps forward yet some improvements are still needed.
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Over the years I've found myself having a love/hate relationship with Ubuntu.

My first experience with it dates back to testing Ubuntu 5.10. I made the switch not too long afterward with the Ubuntu 6.06 release. Coming away from a KDE-centric distribution, I found the switch to a Linux distro offering GNOME as its preferred desktop to be interesting. Previously I had used KDE almost exclusively, so having an opportunity to spend some time with GNOME piqued my interest.

Sadly, the last two releases of Ubuntu have proven to be rather lackluster. Unity wasn't quite there yet and the overall speed of the releases was pretty poor. But then came Ubuntu 12.04. Given this is a Long Term Support release (LTS), I suppose the vast improvements to speed and stability make sense. But perhaps even more importantly, Unity ran really well.

In this article, I'll highlight my own experience with the Ubuntu 12.04 release, discuss areas in which the release did well, and share areas where improvement are warranted.


One of my biggest gripes is how some Linux distributions jump ship to newer native wireless networking drivers that, to date, have never worked well. Take, for example, the Ralink wireless driver for Linux known as rt2800usb. Newer than its older counterparts, this particular driver has been pushed forward since Ubuntu 10.04, perhaps even earlier.

In Ubuntu 11.10, rt2800usb offered up very poor performance. Basically, it would connect at no more than 64 Mbps. That said, it did work. Using the older rt2870sta driver for the rt2870 chipset actually provides flawless 802.11n wireless speeds. This successful connectivity is something that rt2800usb still fails to do, unfortunately.

I give props to the developers handling this code for the update, but it's still not a replacement for the legacy driver.

On the flip side, I tested another wireless dongle with the rt2501/rt2573 chipset using the rt73usb driver. Just as it has in the past, it provided solid 802.11g speed without any problems. It seems that working legacy drivers that are left alone continue to do well.

The final piece was to see how well casual (non-SSH enabled) file sharing did. As luck would have it, you can still use "right click, sharing options" to make a folder accessible to other Linux distributions.

The only thing that is still missing is a newbie-friendly approach to making "sudo smbpasswd -a " something that comes up when using a GUI to share folders. Otherwise, it continues to confuse newer Ubuntu users. Even a prompt to enter this into a terminal would be a start.

Printers, webcams and other peripherals

While my success with wireless networking was a bit mixed, I was pleased to see that webcam and printer/scanner support remains solid. I tested my usual peripherals, ranging from a HP all-in-one printer to my various webcams. In each instance, everything worked very well without any configuration.

Next up, I plugged in my Sony external DVD writer, two external USB hard drives and a USB Plantronics headset. Everything I plugged in worked flawlessly. Even my little Kengsington Bluetooth dongle presented me with zero challenges. This pleased me immensely, and lends itself to making this release a good option for me.

The final and perhaps most important item for me personally, was my dual-monitor setup. Since I am using an ATI card, past releases of Ubuntu have been hit and miss when not relying on the proprietary video driver for dual-monitor support. And while it worked with the open source video driver in Ubuntu 11.10, I found that 12.04 provided a much more stable ATI experience that rendered my need for the proprietary driver unnecessary. Ubuntu 12.04 did very well with my ATI Radeon HD 4550 card.

Pulseaudio sound server

One area I hear people complain about often is with the experience surrounding Pulseaudio. Usually this involves individuals with select Creative brand cards or other related standalone sound options. For those of us using sound cards built into our motherboards, however, it's rarely a problem.

As I expected, Pulseaudio did very well with my headset and my default sound card. Since the headset is a USB device, it's seen as a separate sound card, which is a nice touch. Nothing has changed on this front as I've never personally had any problems with Pulseaudio. However, despite the new and faster Unity UI, the continued reliance on the existing Ubuntu sound settings applet is growing tiresome.

Unless you stop using Pulseaudio and opt to take a more forceful approach using an ALSA configuration, you will have a great time trying to tell Skype or other VoIP software which mic is the default one. The problem is that setting up the default input device rarely works correctly. Instead you'll need to run the Pulseaudio Volume Control, place a VoIP call to someone, open up the Recording tab in the Pulseaudio Volume Control, and then choose the input device you wish to use.

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Tags: Linux, Ubuntu, KDE

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