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The Oneiric Ocelot Awakens

Ubuntu 11.10 Review: Benchmarked Against Windows 7

Oneiric In The Grand Scheme Of Things

Canonical may have played more fast and loose when it came to pushing features and breaking things in this release compared to others. After all, Oneiric Ocelot is the last stop before the very first LTS release with Unity.

Oneiric adds backwards navigation to Dash, which was one of four big negatives in Natty. The other three were a non-configurable Dash, auto-hide behavior of the Launcher, and the global menu. The Launcher will be configurable in the next release, and the global menu may be dealt with via the HUD. Unfortunately, we've seen no motion towards easily-configurable Lenses.

Although uTouch didn't work out when the proverbial rubber met the road, it still offers a pleasant set of gesture controls. The two-finger scroll in Dash can be fixed by simply adding a decent-sized scollbar to Dash, and the two-finger tap for right-click menus in the Launcher can be switched to a double-tap, or tap and hold.

Support services received the most significant improvements in this release. And that makes sense when we think about it. The Ubuntu Software Center's continued push to become a retail app store and the enhanced Ubuntu One cloud service are both direct revenue streams for Canonical.

GNOME Shell has yet to attract any competitive end-user distros, and Mint is in a transitional phase until version 13. Right now, Unity isn't any more disadvantaged than the other desktop Linux GUIs.

Benchmarks Versus Window

That Ubuntu beat Windows 7 in any of our performance benchmarks (especially when it came to 3D) was not expected, and we're happy to see just how much potential this free platform has in that regard. Unfortunately, it mostly remains just that: potential. While Ubuntu 11.10 has a slight lead over Windows 7 in a number of different tests, our suite is limited to what Ubuntu can run, which is indicative of the bigger picture.

Put it this way: Ubuntu can't play Crysis.

And it can't run Battlefield 3, Photoshop, or stream through Netflix, just to name a few examples. The fact remains that Linux loses because fewer people use it, and fewer people use it because everyone else already uses Windows. It's a vicious, if not ironic, circle.

Developers need to get paid, so developers tend to develop software for the platform with the highest number of potential customers. As far as the average computer user is concerned, Windows wins. It looks like Ballmer called it: “Developers, developers, developers, developers, developers, developers, developers, developers, developers, developers, developers, developers, developers, develop...Yes!"

The Takeaway

Ubuntu 11.10 is a nice upgrade to Ubuntu 11.04, although the new interface has yet to achieve full feature parity with the classic GNOME 2 UI. Unity is better than it was in Natty. However, Oneiric is in no way ready for touchscreen devices. Technically, Ubuntu 11.10 tops Windows 7 in several areas of benchmark performance, but when it comes to the accessibility of more mainstream applications, don't give up your Windows installation just yet.

Ubuntu is a great fit for users who are only concerned with Web browsing. Netflix Instant junkies need not apply. Virtual immunity to viruses, free cloud storage, automatic updates, in-the-background backups, and social network integration on the desktop just sweeten the pot for this crowd. Casual indie games available in the Ubuntu Software Center, music from the Ubuntu One Music Store, and the Ubuntu One mobile clients serve to make Ubuntu more appealing to the growing demographic of smartphone users as well. A slick-looking interface and familiar Web applications like Firefox and Thunderbird also ease the transition from Windows.

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