Ubuntu 12.10 review
With Ubuntu 12.10 Quantal Quetzal, it's Canonical's aim to build on the last Long Term Support (LTS) version of the OS (Ubuntu 12.04) before it moves towards the next LTS version. That usually means focussing on a specific area and this time around, it's cloud and web integration.
Ubuntu 12.10's goal is take the data and applications we access through a browser and integrate them into the OS, via Web Apps. So, rather than having to keep an eye on Gmail, for example, you can install a Web App and have new mail notifications appear in the Messaging menu in the same way as for new mail in the Thunderbird app.
Web Apps is designed to be simple to use: just visit a supported website and you get a pop-up asking if you want to install the application. There's a decent range of websites supported including Gmail, Facebook and BBC News. Both the Firefox and Chromium browsers are supported, but we found the system to be a bit flaky in our tests.
We couldn't get Chromium to pick up any Web Apps at first, as it needs the unity-chromium-extension to be installed from the Ubuntu Software Centre. Firefox comes bundled with the necessary add-ons, but it refused to work with Gmail until we'd refreshed the page a few times. Both browsers were fine after this initial hurdle picking up all Web Apps on other pages instantly.
Once they're working, we're not entirely sure how useful they are. Some Web Apps, such as the BBC News one, just add a shortcut with icon to the Dash; when you launch the Web App, you're just taken to the website, which makes it little better than a bookmark.
With Gmail it's a little different, as you can see your unread mail count in the Messaging Menu; however, this feature only works when you've got the web browser that you installed the app through open and on the Gmail site. When the browser is shut, you only get a link to Gmail, which opens the site in a browser when you click it.
It's also a little flaky, as clicking a folder in the Gmail menu under the messaging menu removes it. For example, click Inbox and this option is removed and you can't get it back until you restart your browser.
This reliance on a specific web browser can be a bit annoying, as it's easy to break apps. For example, if you install the Gmail web app through Firefox, but make Chrome your default web browser, you immediately run into problems. Due to system-wide defaults, clicking the Gmail link in the Messaging Menu opens your default browser (Chrome), which doesn't support Web Apps, so you still can't view your mail status; instead, you have to manually open Firefox and go to Gmail. All-in-all, it's a nice idea, but there needs to be better browser support before this feature is really useful.
A more useful way, in our opinion, of bringing the online world into Ubuntu is via Online Accounts. These let you add your Facebook, Flickr, Google, Twitter and other accounts into the Dash, so that when you search, you're also searching online.
It's brilliant if you use something like Google Docs, as you can just open the Dash, start typing and have your online documents pop up. Clicking any search result opens in the relevant application, whether this is a local one or a web browser that jumps to the right page. It's a brilliant feature and one that we're pleased to see.
We like the way that you can also right-click any search result to pop-up a thumbnail view of the document or item. It can save you opening an entire application or visiting a website.
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