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Ubuntu OS Review – What to Expect When Switching from Windows or macOS
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Ubuntu OS Review – What to Expect When Switching from Windows or macOS

More and more people are delving into the wonderful world of Linux distributions these days, with many users touting them as the future of operating systems. A bold claim for sure but not one without merit. Linux is free, open-source, and constantly evolving to suit the needs of its users, so what’s not to love?

Well, one of the main reasons why so many people are still sticking to Windows and macOS instead of switching to Linux is the learning curve. Linux distros are often seen as difficult to learn and not very user-friendly, however, that’s definitely not the case with all of them. In fact, some of them are quite easy to grasp.

If you’re looking for a distro that’s fairly straightforward yet very powerful your best bet is Ubuntu. Ubuntu OS is one of the most popular distributions out there, not just because of its ease of use but also its versatility. A top favorite of many programmers and developers around the world, Ubuntu is equally suitable as a home or work desktop environment for regular users.

Ubuntu OS Overview

Ubuntu is a Linux distribution based on Debian, which also includes several other popular distros like Deepin OS, Elementary OS, Raspbian, and SteamOS. The operating system is developed and maintained by Canonical and is available in three variants – Desktop, Server, and Core. The last two versions are a bit more specialized so we’re not going to talk about them too much in this article, focusing instead on the all-purpose Desktop edition.

Ubuntu OS gets a new release every six months and is currently at version 19.04 dubbed “Disco Dingo”. Meanwhile, Canonical also puts out LTS (long-term support) releases every two years. These releases benefit from up to five years of free maintenance and security updates from the developers, with an additional five years of support available after that in exchange for a fee. The current such release at the time of this writing is 18.04 LTS dubbed “Bionic Beaver”.

The current version of Ubuntu uses the GNOME 3 desktop environment by default, a departure from the Canonical-developed Unity graphical interface used up until version 17.10. The Desktop edition of Ubuntu OS has a number of different flavors to choose from. A few noteworthy examples include Kubuntu, Ubuntu Budgie, Ubuntu Kylin, Ubuntu MATE, and Xubuntu.

The difference between these distros is that each of them comes pre-installed with certain sets of packages and updates. If you’re not sure what sort of apps you’ll need or if you’re a first-time user, you should probably just stick to the original Ubuntu OS for the time being.

Things to Know Before You Install Ubuntu

If you’re a long-time Windows or macOS user, chances are you’ve bought a computer with a pre-installed version of your favorite operating system at least once in the past. That’s rarely an option when it comes to Ubuntu as consumer-grade computers usually don’t come with Linux right off the bat. In other words, you’ll need to install the OS yourself. The setup process is not very difficult, especially if you have experience installing a different OS like Windows, but you may run into some hiccups along the way regardless. Don’t worry, though, because we’ll guide you through the process as best we can.

The great thing about Ubuntu OS is that it can easily run on a wide variety of computers. The system requirements are not very demanding, with the OS only needing 4 GB of RAM, 25 GB of free storage space, and a 2GHz dual-core process to run. In addition, the computer also requires either a USB port or a DVD drive along with internet access, though the latter is optional.

Both Ubuntu 18.04 LTS and Ubuntu 19.04 are freely available to download from the official website. You should probably go with the LTS version if you don’t have any prior experience with the OS but the choice is entirely up to you. Also on the official website, you can find detailed instructions on how to burn Ubuntu onto a DVD and how to create a bootable USB stick version of the OS. There are also instructions on how to create installers if you’re switching from Windows or macOS.

How to Install Ubuntu

Once the installer media is ready, simply insert the DVD or plug in the USB drive and restart your computer. Once the manufacturer’s logo pops up, hit the F12 key to switch to the Ubuntu installer. Doing so will eventually bring up a new window that gives you two options to choose from – Install Ubuntu or Try Ubuntu. If you’re not entirely sure about switching to a new OS just yet, you can always go for the Try Ubuntu option. This option is great if you want to install the OS on a computer that you may not want to use regularly.

Canonical makes things even easier by allowing users to install Ubuntu OS via a virtual machine like Oracle VM VirtualBox. A third option would be to install it directly from the Microsoft Store. This isn’t recommended for new users, however, as the store version does not come with a graphical user interface. The advantage is that you can use the Ubuntu terminal without having to burn the OS onto a DVD or flash drive, but the lack of a graphical interface makes this version more suitable for developers than regular users.

Regardless of which option you choose, the installation process itself is pretty straightforward and resembles those of other operating systems. There’s an install wizard that guides you through the process and allows you to set your time zone and language before asking you to create a local account. During the process you can also choose between standard installation and minimal installation, which saves you about 500 MB of disk space. If you want to see photos and a step by step solution we’ve written a guide on how to setup Ubuntu OS on a desktop machine.

Getting Started

After successfully installing the operating system you are greeted by a welcome wizard that gives you a quick rundown of what to expect when using the Ubuntu desktop. Among other things, this wizard will teach you how to set up the Livepatch service and allow you to choose how you would like to receive future updates. The software also lets you enable anonymous data collection and shows you around the Ubuntu software center.

If this is the first time you’re using Ubuntu, you’ll find that it looks quite a bit different compared to Windows and macOS. That said, there are certain customization options that allow you to change the look and feel of the OS to something you might be more familiar with.

If you still prefer the interface of your previous OS, however, it’s worth mentioning that some of the Ubuntu flavors mentioned earlier make the operating system look a lot more like Windows or macOS. Installing one of those instead of the original version is definitely an option but keep in mind that each flavor comes by default with certain packages that you may or may not want. Make sure to read the documentation of the flavor you want to install if you decide to go down that route.

User Interface

The Ubuntu OS user interface was designed to be practical, with less effort put into making it visually appealing. However, that doesn’t mean the UI looks bad. While it may not have all the eye-catching bells and whistles you can find on Windows and macOS, the interface’s simplicity will be a major selling point for some people. The desktop looks clean and is very easy to navigate once you get the hang of it. Creating files or folder works just like with any other desktop, as does dragging and dropping.

One thing that will immediately stand out to you if you’re switching from Windows is that there’s no taskbar at the bottom of the screen. Instead, Ubuntu uses a top menu bar that fulfills a similar function. The top bar displays information related to network, time and date, sound, and battery. Clicking the clock opens a tray that displays a calendar along with system notifications.

The bar also features a menu that can be used to shut down or lock the computer and access the settings menu. macOS features a similar menu bar at the top and Windows has one at the bottom by default, though it’s possible to change its location from the taskbar settings menu.

The Files app is similar to other file manages you may have used in the past while the Activities menu is your go-to place for viewing all currently running applications. Meanwhile, the Settings menu is very well organized and a lot less cluttered than what you can find on Windows. The menu includes all the categories you might expect, such as Background, Notifications, Privacy, Sharing, Sound, Network, and more. All in all, Ubuntu OS’s desktop may look different but it still feels very similar to those of other operating systems.

Ubuntu Device and Driver Support

Similar to other Linux distros, Ubuntu is far less popular when compared to Windows and Mac, though it is slowly but surely getting traction. Still, this lack of mass appeal means that most device manufacturers are not willing to ship their products with Linux instead of a different OS.

As mentioned previously, computers very rarely come with Ubuntu as their default operating system. There are a couple of exceptions but those tend to be targeted at developers and often only feature the Ubuntu terminal without also including a graphical interface.

Most Ubuntu users simply install it in addition to their default operating system and switch between the two when needed. Foregoing other operating systems entirely in favor of Ubuntu is certainly an option but not always a good one.

The OS tends to do a good job at detecting peripherals and other connected devices but struggles a bit when it comes to the software. A lot of manufacturers don’t release versions of their customization software designed specifically for Linux. So while you won’t have any issues using your expensive mouse or keyboard on Ubuntu, you may not be able to take advantage of all its functions.

Luckily, this seems to be less of an issue when it comes to drivers. Ubuntu generally does a good job at finding and installing the latest drivers for graphics, sound, network, and the like whenever they are available. That said, it’s entirely possible to run into some problems at times because not all drivers are designed to work hand-in-hand with Linux. This is particularly noticeable in the case of graphics drivers, which seem to cause the most problems.

Ubuntu Application Support

Ubuntu and other Linux distributions don’t support nearly as many apps compared to Windows or macOS. Despite this, however, the current selection of available apps is already quite robust and getting increasingly better with each passing day. The OS features a storefront similar to the App Store or the Microsoft Store known as the Snap Store. Here, you can browse and download a wide variety of software packages called Snaps. The nice thing about Snaps is that they work across multiple Linux distributions. In addition to Snaps, the store also includes a few other types of software packages.

The standard version of Ubuntu OS comes right out of the box with a few basic apps to help users get started on the right foot. These include things like the Mozilla Firefox browser, Libre Office software suite, media players, a few games, and a handful of other basic utilities. Linux staples like System Monitor and the Terminal are of course included as well. Apart from that, though, you’ll need to manually install all the other apps you may need. Just as you would with any other operating system.

If you’re not into Firefox, you can install Chrome or Opera instead as your default browser. Similarly, the Libre Office Suite can be replaced with Google’s productivity suite. For music, you can go with Spotify or stick with the pre-installed Rhythmbox player while VLC will take care of all your video playback needs.

Other useful apps you may want to install include Slack, Sublime Text, the Unity game engine, and Nord VPN, among many others. Interestingly enough, there are a handful of popular apps that are still missing from Ubuntu, such as Adobe CC, iTunes, and Microsoft Office 365.

Ubuntu Multimedia Support

Most of the multimedia formats you might be familiar aren’t supported natively by Ubuntu. However, that can easily be remedied by installing the restricted formats software package. That said, Ubuntu recommends that you don’t use ‘non-free’ formats like MP4, DVD or QuickTime but rather stick with free formats instead.

These free formats come in the form of OGG containers developed by the Xiph.Org Foundation to perform similar functions as their better known but ‘non-free’ counterparts. For example, OGG Vorbis files are meant to replace audio formats like MP3 or WMA while OGG Theora files are meant to replace video formats like WMV or MP4.

Although Ubuntu recommends using these open-source alternatives, you’ll probably want to stick to the more common formats and install the restricted formats package instead. The reason is simply that sticking to OGG containers is likely to cause headaches when sharing them with people who are using other operating systems. There are apps on Windows and macOS that can provide support for these formats but a lot of people might not be willing to download them.

In addition to the aforementioned formats, it’s worth noting that Ubuntu OS also doesn’t support Flash either. At least not natively. This would have been a bit of a hassle a few years back but nowadays it’s not really that big of a deal. Most of the popular browsers, including Firefox, Chrome, and Safari actually disable Flash by default anyway. There are ways of enabling Flash support on Ubuntu but it’s generally not worth the trouble anymore.

Playing Video Games on Ubuntu

Windows is by far the best operating system for PC gaming if you’re looking to play all the latest releases without having to jump through any additional hoops. That said, Linux has also seen its fair share of major releases over the past few years and already has a decent selection of video games to choose from. Ubuntu comes bundled with a handful of basic games and offers a few more via the software store but these aren’t exactly AAA releases.

If you’re serious about video games you should skip those and just install Steam instead. Steam developer Valve released most of its most recent titles on Linux so you already have a pretty nice selection to look forward to. A few noteworthy titles include Dota 2, Team Fortress 2, Portal 2, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. In addition, Steam also features a lot of highly-acclaimed third-party games like Civilization VI, Rocket League, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, XCOM 2, Total War: Warhammer, and many more. For more games please check the top free steam games article we’ve written a while ago.

Other popular distribution platforms like Battle.net and Origin aren’t available on Linux just yet. However, if you’re looking for an alternative to Steam you can always try GOG. All games found on the platform are DRM-free, meaning you can copy or share them around and you don’t actually need the GOG client in order to run them. In addition, a lot of the games there are available on multiple platforms so if you’ve bought them on Windows, for example, you can also download and play them on Ubuntu.

Voice and Touch Support

AI-powered virtual assistants are becoming more and more popular, with Microsoft, Apple, and Google all trying to convince consumers that their version is the best. Cortana was included with all versions of Windows 10 since the OS launched and Apple followed soon after by porting over Siri from iPhones to Macs. Meanwhile, the Google Assistant is now available on pretty much every Android device out there, as well as on the company’s own Pixelbook laptops.

But what about Linux? Unfortunately, Linux and by extension Ubuntu doesn’t feature support for any of these virtual assistants, nor does it have a good alternative of its own. Linux does support voice-related Universal Access features like Screen Reader but that’s about it. Ubuntu’s voice support is far less impressive compared to those of other operating systems but you do get access to the bare minimum, which might come in handy.

The situation is a bit different when it comes to touch screen support. The software does technically support touchscreens but the feature doesn’t always work. You can install Ubuntu OS on a Surface Book with no issues but there’s no guarantee that you will be able to use its touchscreen. With a bit of troubleshooting, you can usually make it work eventually but this isn’t exactly ideal, especially if you’re still new to the operating system.

Final Thoughts

Ubuntu certainly isn’t as user-friendly as Windows or macOS but it’s not awfully complicated either. The operating system requires you to invest some time in order to learn all its little intricacies but the effort is well worth it in the end. Ubuntu is a very stable operating system that has a lot to offer not just to programmers and enterprises but regular desktop users as well.

The big highlight of Ubuntu OS is, of course, its price. Or rather, lack of it. Sure, Canonical does offer a paid plan for those who want to extend their support past the 5-year guarantee but that’s entirely optional. If you’re a new user, you shouldn’t concern yourself too much with the paid option because 5 years is more than enough time to learn your way around the OS and decide if you want to stick with it for the long haul.

The main drawback of Ubuntu is the lack of support for certain applications and devices you might be accustomed to. The good news is that there are always alternatives and workarounds to this but you’ll need to invest some time in order to find them, which is a bit of a theme with Linux operating systems in general. If you’re willing to put in the effort, you definitely won’t be disappointed by what Ubuntu OS has to offer.

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