Ubuntu 12.04 LTS review

Six months have passed since the last release of Ubuntu, and that means it’s time for a new version – complete with a new smarty-pants zoological codename (the “Precise Pangolin” this time, better known as a scaly anteater).

This release is more significant than most. As the “LTS” indicates, this is a long-term support release, meaning it will receive updates and patches for a full five years, while more experimental releases continue to appear to a biannual timetable. The idea is to encourage businesses to install Ubuntu without fear that it will quickly become obsolete – indeed, this version ups the ante on that front, as previous LTS releases offered only three years of support on the desktop.

Predictably, therefore, the emphasis is on stability and consolidation, rather than trialling groundbreaking new features. The default installation is outwardly identical to the previous release, with the Unity Launcher sitting pretty down the left-hand side of the screen, and the familiar menu bar along the top. This is no bad thing: the native Ubuntu desktop is perhaps a little simplistic, but power users will have no problem replacing it with something else, and for casual use we find Unity’s Mac-alike styling accessible and attractive. Our only gripe is with the fiddly pop-up scroll bars, but you can get rid of these with the gsettings shell command.

Ubuntu 12.04 LTS

There are a few worthwhile upgrades hidden away beneath the surface. Right-click on the Home icon, or on the “Dash” – the search icon at the top of the Launcher – and you’ll see that “Quicklists” – are now preconfigured, allowing you to jump directly to various folders or various types of search. The feature itself isn’t new, but setting it up in previous versions of Ubuntu meant delving into configuration files. To have it working out of the box makes the OS feel more mature and usable.

Another interesting new feature is the so-called “Head-Up Display” – a text field that appears at the top of the screen when you tap the Alt key. Start typing and you’ll see a list of menu items from the active application that match your text. You can navigate with the cursor keys, or click with the mouse to directly access the option you want. It’s a speedy and convenient alternative to hunting through menus, although it works only with programs that support the Unity menu system.

Ubuntu 12.04 LTS

System applications have received a few tweaks too. The Dash gains a new “Lens” for searching videos, which can scan not only your PC but online video from sources including BBC iPlayer and YouTube. The Software Center application now offers personalised download recommendations, and lets you use PayPal to buy commercial software.

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