Republished: Windows 7 vs Karmic Koala

Originally published on Benscomputer.no-ip.org 01 Nov 2009 - (Images were missing at time of restoration)

Ubuntu 9.10 was released a couple of days ago with the codename 'Karmic Koala', there were plenty of reviews written immediately after the release, but this one is different? Why? Because I've taken the time to actually use the system.

I reviewed Windows 7 a few days ago, so let's start by taking a look at Koala. I'm using the Kubuntu release as I'm not a fan of Gnome.

Install

The install was relatively painless, and is unlikely to cause issues for even the most tech-illiterate user. The defaults all work fine (although I do prefer to have my /home as a seperate partition).

I miss the days when you were asked which packages you wanted to install, but I guess it makes things less complicated for 'average joe'.

Booting from the install media to a useable system took about 20 minutes.


First Impressions

My first impressions were not that great. Koala has shipped with KDE4 which unfortunately defaults to the b*stard horrible launch menu found in Vista/7. You can however disable it and use the old style menu simply by right clicking on the K button.

KDE4 also uses widgets (known as Plasmoids) which has taken some getting used to. However, although I do miss the 'old style' desktop, it does have it's benefits. I've gone all nostalgic and laid my desktop out in a Windows 3.1 style, although i have retained my taskbar etc.

I'm used to working from a console, but for the purpose of the review I made the effort to rely on GUI's for everything possible. I don't like Kubuntu's Settings panel as Kcontrol used to contain a lot more. None the less it does seem to cover everything the average user might need to adjust. I notice it also has the ability to search.


Further use

After the initial playing around, I wanted to actually use the system. Koala ships with AppArmour enabled (older versions of Ubuntu did as well, but it's been brought more to the forefront). There's a sandbox for Firefox, but for one reason or another it's disabled by default. I couldn't find the option to enable it from within the GUI, but it can be enabled with one command (I used a console, but you could probably run it from the 'Run' option) - 'sudo aa-enforce /etc/apparmor.d/usr.bin.firefox-3.5'.

Enabling this was the only time I actually needed to use a console. Perhaps in the next batch of updates there should be an option added to the Settings  Manager? Or in the next release it could even be enabled by default?

To use the system, I needed to install the software I wanted. Synaptic seems to have been replaced (or heavily modified), but the new Software manager is simple enough to use. I did encounter one major issue though. Take the following scenario;

You want to install

  • Timidity
  • Rosegarden
  • Lives
  • Povray
  • Kpovray
  • Firefox
  • dvdstyler
  • Smb4k

So you search for each one and select it (my list was actually much longer) then you click apply to install. The system goes off and checks dependencies, but then returns an error saying it is unable to install dvdstyler. You click OK, but rather than continuing it dumps you back at the package selection screen. Worse than this, it has deselected all your packages, so you have to work back through and select them all again.

Could it not have a) continued or b) returned to the selection screen but maintained the list of your selected packages (minus the faulty one)?

It's a minor niggle, but if you've spent some time choosing your packages (and not made a note of what you are going to install) it's more than a little irritating!

There are no real changes in Keyboard shortcuts, however I do have a minor issue with Ctrl-Alt-Del. It displays a screen giving you an option to Logout, Shutdown or Restart. Where's the lock screen option??? The shortcut to lock the desktop is Ctrl-Alt-L which whilst logical does differ to that of Windows. When you're working with Windows all day you do get used to hitting Ctrl-Alt-Del followed by the space bar. On Kubuntu this will log you out. Like I say a small niggle, and probably something I could fix myself.

Alt-Tab is improved, much like In Windows 7. Similarly you get little previews of the window when you hover over the window on the Taskbar.

Beryl is in there as you would expect.


The Final Round: 7 vs Koala

So, which of the new releases do I prefer?

  1. Koala contains every single 'feature' of Windows 7, many of which are improved. It also has the added benefit that you can turn every single 'feature' off if you wish. Koala encrypts the users Home Directory (full disk encryption also available) , wherehas you have to pay Microsoft for Bitlocker.

  2. Microsoft still haven't implemented multiple desktops, a feature which I use regularly, so they lose points on usability.

  3. I'm not going to compare speed as I tested 7 in a VM and Koala on bare metal. Koala's memory footprint is smaller than that of 7 however, and Beryl runs quite happily on a system that MS's docs suggest couldn't run Aero.

  4. Both have bugs, although the Ubuntu ones should get ironed out a little faster.

  5. Windows 7 still maintains a traditional desktop, but I am beginning to like the Plasma desktop.

  6. Koala is far more configurable than 7, although it does seem to be missing a few options from the GUI.

  7. Hitting the 'Super Key' on Windows 7 opens the start menu, on Koala you can't seem to configure it to do that from the GUI.
  8. The default Themes on Koala aren't that great, Windows 7 has adopted quite a clean interface.

  9. Both seem to be stable and relatively secure (in 7's case once the 3rd party apps have been added)

  10. Windows 7 is built around DRM, Koala does not restrict what you can do with your purchases.

  11. Koala is free, Windows 7 costs more than it is actually worth (unless you're stuck on Vista)

On that last point, it's not a knock against Windows 7 as such. If you have XP there's nothing in Windows 7 that makes it worth the huge amount of money (why pay for soemthing that just works if you have something that jsut works?), unless you count the extra eye candy. if you have Vista which doesn't work, then 7 probably is a safe bet.

Ultimately Koala wins the battle, none of the purported 'features' of 7 are unique to Windows 7. You have a lot more flexibility with Koala, and can customise it to meet your needs. Windows 7 is a long way from being fit for the uses I require. I export a lot of apps from my server using X forwarding over SSH, something which still doesn't seem to be possible on Windows (RDP doesn't count, I just want the app not an entire desktop) without paying Citrix for their Xenapp metaframe server.

Amazingly, I'm planning on leaving Koala on the laptop for the time being. I've finally found something that can replace Gentoo, that in itself is one hell of an acheivement! I'll probably revert back to the command line for a lot of tasks, but the Karmic Koala has earned itself a place on my system.

Disclaimer: I am a Linux user, and many of the Windows Fanboys will claim that it has clouded my judgement. In a way it has, I expect certain functions from my OS that have never been available on Windows. That's the thing about having a choice, you discover there are things that you never even thought of. That said, I liked Windows 7 a lot more than I expected, and it is definitely a step in the right direction. It's unfortunate that it's packed with DRM, but other than that it is a reasonable operating system.

 
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