Well, it’s been over three weeks since I first installed Ubuntu, and it’s time for an update. I haven’t used the computer for a lot of varied tasks, as I thought I might have by now (like disc burning). But there are a few things I’ve done that warrant an update: GIMP, Flash, and HD Video playback.
For the uninitiated, GIMP is not a physical ailment of the Ubuntu operating system. It stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program, in which GNU is yet another acronym: Gnu’s Not Unix. A gnu is another name for the African wildebeest, which explains the ox-like logo for the GNU project. It’s really quite confusing, so it’s usually best not to think about it beyond the original acronym “GNU Image Manipulation Program” in which GNU is just an open-source relative of Unix.
Anyway, on to the actual interesting part about using the program. It’s not an analog to Photoshop, as I was hoping for ease of transition. It’s similar in many ways, but there are some core differences in interface design, tool usage, and image layer structure that make using GIMP a bit of a learning curve. For my last post, “Snow Leopard Server Conundrum” I forced myself to do all the image manipulation in GIMP, rather than Photoshop on my laptop.
It was a change, but eventually I got the hang of it. GIMP seems to have all the basic features and functions of Photoshop, but sometimes in different places and are implemented in different ways. And when I started looking for filters to apply to some of the images, I noticed that it even had a lot of the very advanced features of Photoshop.
Verdict: GIMP has all the functionality of Photoshop, and although it requires some learning, is more than made up for by the fact that it’s FREE.
This was perhaps one of the most annoying aspects of my use of Ubuntu. Adobe’s Flash video plugin for linux is either very buggy, or poorly optimized for the linux kernel. I mean, I’ve run into issues with Flash on other operating systems, but never this noticeable. On any Mac of considerable age (anything PowerPC), even a mighty G5 could be brought to its knees by poorly optimized Flash video on a website. The OS X implementation of Flash has since improved considerably, but the past issues are still visible in the lack of Flash video support on the iPhone and iPod Touch devices.
On Ubuntu, flash works most of the time. But on sites that use Flash as integral parts of their site, like Facebook, the lock-ups and temporary freezes are far too frequent for just a mere annoyance. Fortunately, Ubuntu gives the browser a cool-down period before trying to re-access the page. What would result in a “Program Not Responding” message in Windows immediately when a user clicks on a page that is still loading or having issues, Ubuntu will simply dim the browser window for several seconds before restarting the page.
It works, but in one evening of browsing the web, I can usually count on at least a couple lock-ups. This really isn’t Ubuntu’s fault, or Firefox’s, as I am able to use Firefox to browse pages just fine on a PC. Using the same version of Firefox on a Mac can lead to some complete browser restarts on pages with Flash video, and temporary lock-ups in Ubuntu using the same version of Firefox.
Verdict: Adobe needs to get their act together and invest more effort into optimizing their flagship web technology for other operating systems besides just Windows. If the Mozilla Foundation can do it with Firefox, certainly a giant corporation can spare some of its coin to provide a better user experience on other platforms.
HD Video playback:
This one has really astonished me. I really didn’t expect Ubuntu to be able to handle HD video playback nearly as well as it did. I suppose I probably should have had more faith in Open Source on this one, as both Media Player Classic Home Cinema and VLC, the gold standards in video playback, are both open source projects.
I’ve watched a lot of HD content over the past couple weeks while running Ubuntu (unfortunately at the expense of more productive endeavors), and have NEVER had any issues with unrecognized codecs or choppy video playback (known as “shearing”). This is the case with both VLC and Ubuntu’s built-in Movie Player.
Perhaps it’s just Ubuntu’s ability to parse high bit-rate video that Windows or OS X just can’t match. Now, Windows 7 is supposed to be much better at this, but without hardware accelerated help (which usually has to be enabled by a third party program), the task is not nearly as easy. Mac OS X is supposed to be getting some serious multi-threading optimizations with Snow Leopard’s “Grand Central” technology, but I have a feeling that support is only going to extend as far as the video codecs and containers used on the iTunes Store. Sad, but understandable given that the iTunes Store is Apple’s cash cow.
There was really only one small issue that I noticed, but it could very well just be a result of the video itself, and not the playback programs themselves. The playback would occasionally pause the video stream, while the audio would keep going. But since it only happened in one video, I’m much more inclined to blame the video itself. The movie in question was Evil Dead III: Army of Darkness (I’ve been watching too much Burn Notice recently, and had the urge to watch something else with Bruce Campbell in it).
With Ubuntu, it was really just a matter of downloading a codec pack (which was automatically detected and installed by Software Updater), and installing VLC for those few videos that wouldn’t play properly in Movie Player. The video playback of EVERY movie I have watched was smooth. I can’t stress enough how appreciative I am of this. I spent months trying to get it working properly in Windows. In Ubuntu, it almost wasn’t fun. Download a codec pack and a second program, and you’re done.
Verdict: very impressive smooth playback of HD video. And it was simple to setup.
I’ll probably try to wrap up my review of Ubuntu with one final post on some other advanced features and integration with other operating systems.