Ubuntu Linux Vs. Windows Vista: The Battle For Your Desktop
Is Linux finally ready to take on Windows as a desktop OS? We tried out both Vista and Ubuntu on individual PCs to see which works better. Here's who won.
Ubuntu comes configured by default with several programs for multimedia: Sound Juicer, for ripping audio from CDs into the FLAC or OGG formats; Rhythmbox, for organizing music and creating playlists (the closest thing to Windows Media Player, really); Serpentine, for authoring audio CDs; and Movie Player and Sound Recorder, which are self-explanatory.
Playing MP3s, however, is not something you can do out of the box. It wasn't immediately clear what I could do to fix that, but after some research I found a separate codec pack (called the Gstreamer Plugins package) which solved the problem. Evidently Ubuntu can't be distributed with the MP3 codecs due to licensing restrictions.
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By default, Ubuntu divides music ripping, CD authoring, and playback among different applications, but they all work really well.
Pop in an audio CD and Sound Juicer fires up automatically. By default it just rips CDs to your home directory (/home/), so you may want to create a specific music folder somewhere for it to copy to, which is what I did. Once I got everything set up with the right folders, though, it was a breeze to rip new music to the system and have it automatically identified. Discs that had Unicode metadata showed up correctly, too. This last part is actually pretty important to me, since I have a lot of music from China, Japan, Korea, and other countries that might use non-ASCII song or album titles. There's iPod support through a plug-in; other music devices are essentially handled as large removable drives.
Vista's multimedia components consist of Windows Media Player 11 (WMP) -- best for playing music or whatnot while doing other things -- and Windows Media Center, which is useful if you're using the PC as the center of your entertainment system. WMP has come a long way since its earlier, clunkier incarnations, and version 11 has a lot of things I have come to like. For example, I have a pretty large music library (over 100GB) that I keep ripped to the PC, and WMP's indexed search system lets you find a particular artist or song very quickly. One drawback to WMP is that out of the box it only rips to Microsoft's own WMA format, WAV, or to plain old MP3; the patent-free AAC and Ogg Vorbis formats aren't natively supported for ripping.
Another tie -- the functionality of the default multimedia programs on both platforms is about even.
Image-Editing / Picture Management
One of the oft-repeated selling points for Vista has been dealing easily and readily with massive amounts of digital images, i.e., one's photo collection. You can do this by adding and managing industry-standard metadata to images, which is not only available through Vista's indexed search but through the included Picture Gallery application.
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Ubuntu's F-Spot application has some of the same features as Picture Gallery, but they're not implemented with the same degree of elegance or ease.
The best thing about the Gallery is also one of the best things about Windows Media Player: You can throw thousands of images into it, add tags to them en masse, and organize them quickly. There's also a great deal of usability and finesse in the way the Gallery works -- for instance, if you select a range of images that only have a certain tag applied to some of those images, you can apply that tag to all (or none) of them with one click. Some image types (like .PNG) are not taggable, however, but that's not Vista's fault.
Ubuntu's F-Spot photo manager has some of the same flavor as Picture Gallery, but it doesn't have the same level of polish yet (it's only listed as being revision 0.3.5). For one thing, F-Spot forces you to wait if you want to import a great many photos at once; with Picture Gallery, importing folders can be done passively in the background. It's also not as easy to attach tags en masse or select groups of images quickly, and while there are some nice things in the user interface (for instance, a timeline view for images), they're not implemented as effectively as they could be.
Vista still doesn't have a better native picture editor than the lamentable Paint. This isn't hard to fix, though; the excellent Paint.NET is free, installs with little hassle, and provides most of the features people need from an image editor.
For picture editing, Ubuntu comes with GIMP 2.2, a very powerful Photoshop-like application that unfortunately suffers from a very unfriendly user interface -- although a third-party add-on, GimpShop, fixes that issues fairly well.
Again, 50-50 -- Vista for its Picture Gallery; Ubuntu for having a better native image editor than Paint.