Lately Ubuntu has been, especially with its latest 12.04 LTS version, an ideal alternative when looking for a sturdy and light operating system for your netbook and other low-end computers. A few days ago the final bragged-about version of Ubuntu 12.10 Quantum Quetzal was finally released, which is how we have been able to test out firsthand if these expectations have been met.
The situation didn’t look too promising. The new Unity desktop interface is well established, and Unity 2D, its counterpart for low-power devices (that aren’t capable of handling its visual features under OpenGL), has been left out of this latest update. Although we’re always grateful when alternatives and other versions of Canonical software are simplified regarding compatibility issues, in this case we’ve encountered a terrible stumbling block by not being able to handle the graphics hardware with the operating system on more occasions than we thought.
In addition, the latest versions preceding the release already served as a benchmarking and comparison to predict the problematic release. Phoronix, a website specialized in performance tests for Linux operating systems, has done several studies recently comparing Unity with other known alternatives like KDE and GNOME, in addition to other analysis regarding the shell performance and how stable it is with different types of hardware. The results were revealing—Ubuntu 12.10 and Unity 6.8 were the slowest in the majority of the comparisons. Similar results were obtained when performance was measured between this version of Ubuntu and Windows 7.
But analysts don’t live just from references. This writer, to test out if it is true, has installed the operating system on a low-end netbook, specifically the Samsung N210 with an Intel Atom processor and 1GB of RAM. Although the USB-Live installation didn’t cause any problems and went smoothly in a different division from that of Windows, browsing the desktop and using the HUB was terribly slow.
After making a few changes to make the startup quicker, nothing changed, so I decided to install a window manager, specifically KDE Netbook Minimal, a minimal version of the known Desktop Environment, something that you can also do by launching the following in the terminal line, so you can select it right before logging onto the computer:
- Sudo apt-get install kde-plasma-netbook
The results, although much better, aren’t what is expected. What’s more, if one of the features beyond using the Dash search bar is the joy of using Unity, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to update just to be using a different desktop. Because of all this, for the moment I will be hanging onto Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, which has a long version of support and runs as smooth as silk. With that said, until they improve the performance issues in later versions, Canonical is going to lose one of its most important assets regarding attracting new users.