Better online integration in this free operating system
Ubuntu is a popular open-source operating system that costs nothing to download and use. It can either be used as a replacement for Windows or run alongside.
It includes some popular programs that will be familiar from Windows including Firefox, Thunderbird and LibreOffice.
Ubuntu 12.10 uses the Unity interface that places the equivalent of the Task Bar on the left-hand side of the screen. It has not been universally popular but we like it. It makes better use of screen space on widescreen monitors. It is possible to add and remove icons from the bar by right-clicking on them. The Start Button equivalent sits at the top of this bar and shows the Dash.
The Dash sits somewhere between the Start Menu of Windows 7 and the Start Screen of Windows 8. The good news is that the Dash button is always visible – unless you want to hide it of course. Start System Settings, click on Appearance and then Behaviour. The reveal area can either be set to a corner or the entire left side.
The Dash now shows results from the internet as well as the local computer. This can be a little surprising when starting to search for 'update' shows a Blu-ray version of the film Up but this should hopefully improve with time. It would be helpful if there was some way of identifying the site hosting the content, whether it is Amazon or Ubuntu One for example.
An interesting new feature is that some websites can be accesssed as if they are local programs. When a compatible website loads a message appears in Firefox. When we tried it with Gmail, the inbox also had a message offering this feature.
Once installed, Gmail appeared as an icon in the Taskbar. But it's an odd half-way house. When the web page is loaded in Firefox, the Gmail icon displays the number of unread messages and also appears in the messaging tool at the top of the screen. All of this information disappears when the page is closed.
If you would prefer more local access to your online accounts there are several that can be integrated into Ubuntu including Flickr, Facebook and Google.
The Facebook integration requires some basic permissions to the app including accessing information and posting on your behalf.
When looking for software in the Dash, Ubuntu will show results for both installed programs as well as suggestions from the Software Centre.This is especially useful if you are moving from a different version of Ubuntu and are used to other programs.
Another useful touch in the Software Centre is that it it does some basic checks to make sure your computer can run programs. Looking at the first-person game Amnesia on our test machine revealed a message warning that our graphics card was not up to the task. As this is a paid-for game, this avoids disppointment.
The slightly odd scrolling bars remain in Ubuntu 12.10. Rather than show the whole scroll bar, there is just a thin orange line. When the mouse moves over this bar it expands to a full scroll control. It does make the best use of available screen space but it does take some getting used to.
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An excellent operating system that's fast and easy to use
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