Windows 7 vs Ubuntu 10.04: Entertainment & bundled apps

Bundling apps has landed Microsoft in a fair share of trouble over the years, but a selection of preinstalled software is essential in a modern OS. Ubuntu 10.04 certainly doesn’t disappoint on this front: it bundles a generous starter pack of apps in an OS that’s still lightweight enough to burn to a single CD.

Windows 7 vs Ubuntu 10.04: Entertainment & bundled apps

Firefox 3.6 gives Ubuntu an instant leg-up over Windows 7 and the sluggish Internet Explorer 8. Ubuntu users won’t have to go through the Windows browser ballot upon setup, either.

When it comes to entertainment, Ubuntu’s Rhythmbox Music Player gives Windows Media Player a run for its money

When it comes to entertainment, Ubuntu’s Rhythmbox Music Player gives Windows Media Player a run for its money. It seamlessly retrieves track names and artwork for albums ripped to hard disk, and provides access to the neatly organised Ubuntu One online music store, which offers DRM-free MP3 albums in association with 7digital. Compare that with Microsoft’s failure to provide a decent MP3 download store. A straightforward podcast manager and Last.FM integration ease Rhythmbox ahead of Windows Media Player, although you’ll need to download the MP3 plugins before first use.

DVD playback was nowhere near as smooth. We inserted a commercial DVD into the drive and a promising AutoPlay-style dialog box popped up, asking if we wanted to use the preinstalled Movie Player to watch it, but when the app opened we were confronted with a message saying we didn’t have permission to access the disc.

A quick search on the Ubuntu forums revealed we needed to “check with your local laws” and then install the libdvdcss2 package, but even then Movie Player complained it didn’t have the right codecs, and its automatic search for the right software failed to bear fruit. Instead, we took the advice of forum users and installed VLC Player, but it’s far from the pop-in-and-play experience you get with Windows Media Player.

While we’re on the subject of home entertainment, Ubuntu has nothing to match the swish appeal of Windows Media Center.

Photo editing isn’t especially well catered for, either. The F-Spot Photo Manager software is clunky and basic. While Windows 7 doesn’t bundle a photo editor as such, Windows Live Photo – an optional download – is far superior. Nevertheless, we’d replace both F-Spot and Windows Live Photo with Google Picasa, which is available for free download on both platforms.

Office software

Ubuntu has four OpenOffice 3.2 apps preinstalled: Writer, Calc (spreadsheet), Impress (presentations) and Drawing. While OpenOffice lacks the polish of Office 2010, not to mention a few basic features – no on-screen word count in Writer, for example – it’s indisputably capable when it comes to day-to-day tasks. We’ve largely written this feature in OpenOffice, because the Ubuntu installation allows you to access files stored on the host Windows PC, meaning we could seamlessly switch between Word and Writer depending on which OS we’d booted into at the time.

Until recently, that would have given Ubuntu a huge advantage over Windows 7, which only shipped with the rather lacklustre WordPad. Now many new PCs come with Office 2010 Starter, which includes fully functional versions of Word and Excel, albeit with some advanced features removed and an advertising sidebar included. Those buying Windows off the shelf are still left without any meaningful office software, however.

The real gem in the Ubuntu line-up, though, is Evolution, the open-source answer to Outlook. It’s equally at home with webmail or Exchange-based email accounts, and setup was easy. It drags in Contacts and Calendar entries seamlessly, and includes many of Outlook’s advanced features, such as rules, customisable signatures and multiple calendars. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s light years ahead of Windows Live Mail.

Software store

Ubuntu takes full advantage of the iPhone-led thirst for “apps” with its own Software Centre, which is easily accessible from the Applications tab.

This claims to contain more than 30,000 apps, and the dozen or so apps we tested all downloaded seamlessly with a single click before installing themselves in the appropriate category under Ubuntu’s Applications menu. We’re also fans of Ubuntu One synchronisation, a “personal cloud” with 2GB of free storage, which integrates into the Ubuntu shell.

Given the current vogue for app stores, it’s surprising Microsoft hasn’t attempted something similar. It certainly makes it easier to serendipitously find an app you’ve never heard of before.

Ubuntu: 8/10

A wide and useful selection of preinstalled apps, let down only by grouchy DVD playback and abject photo-editing software.

Windows: 6/10

Although seamless when dealing with basics such as DVD and MP3 playback, Windows bundled apps look comparatively thin.

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