I am impressed by Ubuntu Heron. The most important difference is ease of installation. Both Feisty and Gutsy were simple enough to get running, given a reasonable degree of patience. However there were always a few problems to fix. These involved screen resolution sound and video. Getting everything right needed a search which produced multiple answers on the users forums.
A single issue that needs to be resolved by editing a config file is more than enough to get most Windows users, acustomed to preinstalled operating systems, to give up and go strait back to what they know. Thus despite the clear merit of the underlying operating system, uptake remained much slower than it could have been among academic colleagues here.
In contrast my experience installing Heron on a Toshiba Tecra was effortless. It all worked out of the box. What was more impressive was the short amount of time it took to get everything, including a large number of R packages, GRASS, QGis, Google Earth, MySQL, Apache, Postgresql etc all back together. I already knew what I wanted and where to get it, but even so the short time line is worth stressing.
3:15 Open Laptop and remove old hard disk (It was time to go from 80GB to 250GB and this is a great way to make the change without any fear of losing time)
3:20 New hard disk in place.
3: 25 Heron install CD is asking me for details of location, keyboard and partitioning.
3:41 Heron installed and running.
3:45 Reboot in order to use NVidia, this was recognised as necessary after activating advanced visual effects. No manual configuration needed at all.
5:03 R, GRASS, QGis, Google Earth, Flash plugin + codecs, Apache MySQL, Postgresql all installed.
So I will never worry about a hard disk crash again. Providing I have my personally generated data safe somewhere, all the rest is easy. Perhaps it is not so simple on all laptops, but it is just so encouraging to see that Ubuntu is getting within a hair of the grandma friendly Linux.
I occasionally do have need of Windows XP. So this morning I moved the .virtualbox directory over from my old home directory to the new one, after a quick install of virtual box and adding my usename to the virtualbox group. It worked exactly as it had before. The advantage of virtualising windows is so glaringly obvious I am constantly surprised by my colleagues reluctance to protect themselves against virus attack that way. It is understandable to want to continue using what you are used to (Windows XP). However it is very strange not to want to make sure that you can get back to work quickly after a disaster. Virtualising XP gives the confidence that you can be back up and running in less than an hour. As desktop PCs are more or less generic virtual machines can be backed up and moved freely between them even if an IT department hasn’t done what it should and provided a sensible networked option of virtual machines for Windows XP users.
It is worth being aware that Heron comes with Firefox 3 beta preinstalled, which is fine, as it will soon be the official version. However in the meantime you can install Firefox 2 in order to use plugins that don’t yet work with the new version. Be aware that you must close down Firefox 3 in order to run firefox-2 (type firefox-2 on a command line or set up a launcher).
I also noticed that the Heron repositories has up to date versions of other programs that I didn’t realise had progressed. The most important development for me at the moment was that Postgresql8.3 is now the stable version and that QGis is 0.10.0 instead of 0.9.1. Despite still not getting to version 1.0, QGis does look as if it has improved greatly in terms of both stability and appearance. This is encouraging after my recent presentations. QGis 0.9 did have a few uncomfortable issues that I didn’t mention. Also Open Office is better. The most notable improvement is when you try to change the language setting. Anyone who knows the frustrating illogicality of being presented with “thesaurus” when you want to check the spelling of a Spanish document will know what I mean. The options are now in much more sensible places.