The latest version of Ubuntu, Raring Ringtail, is billed as business and user-friendly. There are still significant obstacles to its widespread adoption in the enterprise, but if your employees only access applications via the browser, and your company doesn't use complex spreadsheet macros or document formats, then Ubuntu 13 might be worth considering.
We had no trouble installing it from scratch, and no trouble upgrading from the previous version of Ubuntu. Installation took about 20 minutes total, we saw no driver issues, and Wi-Fi worked right out the box. MP3 support is not included by default, but is an option during the installation process.
The biggest problem we had with our initial install was that we couldn't run Google Chrome. The open-source version of the browser, Chromium, worked fine. The Google Chrome dependencies problems were fixed in late May, however, and we were since able to download and install the browser.
By default, Ubuntu 13.04 comes with the Unity 7 interface. It's nice to look at, and fairly snappy. Existing Ubuntu users who like the Unity style will already be familiar with it. Those who don't like Unity have plenty of other user interfaces to choose from. Unlike Windows and Apple platforms, Linux separates the back-end functionality of the operating system from the front-end look-and-feel.
This version of Ubuntu is supposed to be faster, but we didn't see any significant speed improvements in our applications.
The latest version of Ubuntu, in an attempt to attract more users, also comes with social media support, 5GB of free cloud storage with Ubuntu One, and access to the Steam game platform.
In our tests, we couldn't get the social media integration to work consistently Tweets would appear on the desktop for a while, then disappear again. A Facebook launch icon would show up, sometimes, when Firefox was running, but not other times. There's also a new Photo Lens feature, which allows you to see your photos from Facebook, Google Plus, Picasa and other social accounts all in one place.
The built-in search functionality is fast, and powerful, and includes online search results as well. The downside is that it also includes Amazon results. Turning off online search turns off Amazon, but also useful online results such as Photo Lens.
There is also now paid software for download in the software center. This is good news, since we might start seeing more developers port their applications to the platform. However, given the small installed base of Linux on the desktop, it's doubtful that there will be a sudden influx of developers offering business-friendly applications right away.
One of the ways in which this release is simpler than previous ones is that, by default, there is only one workspace. Windows users are already used to working in a single workspace, but Linux users have traditionally been able to work in multiple workspaces simultaneously. In practice, what this means is that an experienced user might have all their work applications and windows open in one workspace, and all their games and social media in another, and with a click of a button be able to switch from one to the other when the boss walked by.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.