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New applications

A number of applications in Ubuntu 8.04 are new or have been revised. Firefox 3 is still only available in a beta version, with the final version expected to be made available via the update function later. Version 2.4 of OpenOffice is included, though it provides few new features compared to the previous version.

The GNOME desktop now comes with Brasero disc burning software in addition to the burning function in the Nautilus file manager; Brasero makes copies of audio CDs and creates a data DVD all under a single interface. The software is easy to navigate and well designed; the progress bar at the bottom adjusts to reflect the blank CD/DVD's capacity so that you can see at a glance how much space you have left. Brasero burns CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray discs; re-writable media can be manually formatted and deleted.

Transmission is a new BitTorrent client integrated in the desktop. The time applet in the panel now not only shows events entered in Evolution, but also the times of other locations on a global map – hardly a breakthrough, but nice to have. The Totem video player contains a plug-in to search for YouTube videos, though you will need to install the gstreamer-0.10-plugins-bad codec package to play back these videos, and even then, in our test, it did not work reliably.

It's been possible for some time to control an Ubuntu desktop using VNC. The desktop can be remotely shared using the "Remote Desktop" tool in the settings menu. The Vinagre VNC Client is new in Ubuntu 8.04 and much easier to use than the old Vncviewer. For instance, Vinagre finds shared desktops within your network on its own and can have multiple connections at a time.

Ubuntu Inside

The current Kernel 2.6.25 didn't make it into this distribution – Ubuntu 8.04 still uses kernel 2.6.24. Among other things, it has new wireless drivers, and the network manager can be used to configure wireless access easily – naturally, including WPA encryption. Power-saving mechanisms on modern x86 processors have been improved, and Suspend to RAM and Suspend to Disc are also expected to run properly on most notebooks. The new Scheduler has more precise time resolution internally so that the desktop will react smoothly even under heavy loads.

The KVM virtualisation solution and the virt-manager tool are now officially part of the distribution; Xen 3.1 and 3.2 are available via the Universe repository. The open source version of VirtualBox, a similar virtualisation tool to VMWare Workstation, is also available.

Version 7.3 of the X.org graphics system has much better hardware detection; in most cases, you won't need to do anything to get a working display. A new tool to change screen resolution at runtime supports two monitors, useful for instance when you connect a projector to a notebook.

Ubuntu offers 3D effects on the desktop, which you can enable under the "Visual effects" tab in the dialogue for visual settings. 3D effects will only work right away if you have Intel's integrated chipset graphics; both Nvidia and ATI cards require the installation of a proprietary driver. The "Hardware driver" tool under system administration should allow you to do this easily. On our test machine, we first had to install the "ATI binary X.org driver" via "Add/remove applications" for its Radeon X1600 and enter the fglrx driver manually in the X11 configuration file /etc/X11/xorg.conf – though this may have been a bug in the release candidate we tested which was in the final version.

The new PulseAudio sound server mixes the sound output from various programs and spreads them across various output devices. If you want to use its abilities, you will first have to deal with command lines or install pavucontrol, which contains a GUI tool for settings.

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