Ulteo — My digital life made simple

[ Sunday, 27 April 2008, paulina ]

After the partnership between Gaël Duval and Mandriva was over, he was said to build an OS even more user friendly than Mandriva. The first Alpha release, which was presented really soon after the start of the project, did not surprise anyone as it was plain KDE with a new theme. Now, after two years, there is a successive release of the Ulteo distribution. The purpose of the Beta1 Ulteo Application System is to feature what it can develop into in the nearest future, especially considering the Ulteo Online Desktop.

Dragonia Magazine

To start with…

The idea of Ulteo is to be revolutionary easy to handle – the user does not have to bother about anything since the system manages all by itself. The intention was to prepare such a distribution that absolutely nobody would have problems with switching to it regardless of which OS one has been using before. KDE is the default graphical environment for Ulteo as it is based on Kubuntu, however, a GNOME-based release is also planned.

Before the very beta version saw the light of day, a new project called ‘Ulteo Online Desktop’ was introduced. Surely the majority of readers heard dozens of times about a system in a browser and will not be surprised with this idea. The ‘Online Desktop’, however, pretends to be something more than just ‘KDE in Firefox’. As one logs in for the first time one gets:

  • his own desktop,
  • 1GB of space for the data (up to 10MB per file),
  • access to basic KDE-apps and… OpenOffice.org.

Ulteo default desktop

One can be really startled of how fast and stable such an approach to using OO is. All the data we store in Online Desktop is saved on the server so one can access them from all over the world by simply logging into the Ulteo desktop! All one needs to have is access to the Internet and a browser with Java support.

What are the features of Online Desktop? We have access to tons of applications – beginning with OpenOffice.org and everything what KDE offers by default (IM, browser, email client) and ending with GIMP, Inkscape, Scribus, Skype and VLC. Unfortunately one is not able to call anyone or to watch movies as there is no sound by default and it is impossible to turn it on. The applet allows transfer of files from our Desktop and to it as well. One can also share the desktop with any user (he must be allowed to access it by setting proper permission) since the communication with the system is via VNC. To everyone who is interested in using this system – all the processes are being terminated while ending the session — so nothing will ‘await’ us when we log back in.

Ulteo itself

As we know the backgrounds, let’s concentrate on the details. You can download Ulteo’s LiveCD from it’s website. After the system has booted — you won’t guess — you get an ordinary KDE desktop with basic apps, and an installer. However, it is not the LiveCD which has to delight us, but the very installer.

Should you think the installation process of Windows or Ubuntu is simple, it means you have never installed Ulteo before! The principle ‘My digital life made simple’ (contrary to “Keep It Simple, Stupid”) is executed during the installation, as the installer does everything by itself! The user is asked only for permission to partition the hard drive and for other indispensable details like username or timezone. Even a total newbie will be able to install Ulteo! But if you think that after the installation process has started you can leave the room and watch your favorite movie series, then you are wrong! The process can last only 3 minutes! The OS will be installed by the time the water for your coffee boils! On my machine (Pentium 2,4GHz with 256MB RAM) Ulteo was installed in about 4 minutes!

Ulteo installation is dead simple

After the reboot one will see an almost beautiful Ulteo theme and a logging screen. As soon as we log in, we have a configured system to our disposal (kernel 2.6.20, KDE 3.5.2, OpenOffice 2.0.3 – the Online Desktop version is much faster). One blemish is that the system is equipped in no package manager, so if you would like to have anything more than the basic configuration you will have to install it by yourself – but there is no guarantee it will work :)

Let’s go into raptures!

What is so wonderful in Ulteo besides the installation process? The answer is: the Menu. Ulteo’s authors are proud of it. It is categorized and the five categories are as follows:

  • My Digital Life – our favourite programs and files categorized as we want them. I did not manage to add anything besides a new category… Hopefully this item will work correctly in stable version
  • All applications – here are all the available apps and the settings for KDE. Everything is subcategorized and you can scroll the menu by moving the cursor over its lower or upper border – quite nice, but you have to get acquinted with such an approach to scrolling.
  • My Files – the content of our home directory – only Desktop and sync folders by default. One can move from directory to directory just like in Konqueror!
  • Ulteo Web – the contents of this tab have much more in common with Web than with Ulteo. There is a browser (with Wiki, Google, Yahoo and many other search engines) which opens the search results in Firefox. There is also a desklet (if one can name it so) similar to weather-liquid known from Superkaramba. The city is set basing on your timezone so if you set Poland while installing Ulteo, the ‘applet’ will show the forecast for Warsaw. One can change the city but as I tried to do so the whole menu disappeared – interesting…
  • My settings – here you should be able to adjust the system to your needs, however, the only understandable option which is available is the option to change the language. One is able to administrate few machines from here. It is not easy to follow at the moment but hopefully it will be soon, as it shows promise now.

Ulteo simplified menu

Online Desktop and Application System – it’s the combination of these two what is really interesting about Ulteo. Online Desktop allows to access the apps and data from any browser. Application System (our physical system) has no problem with communicating with the Online one. Here is the moment when the role of previously mentioned sync folder from the home directory has to be explained (Autosync directory on our Desktop). On the first run of Ulteo we will be welcomed by a wizard which will ask for username and password to our Ulteo account. It enables to synchronize the data on Online Desktop with our hard drive quile easily! All the data stored – either Online or on another Ulteo installation – in the sync directory will be accessible for both! Our installed Ulteo connects every 30 minutes to the server to check whether the files in sync directories of both systems are the same. If not, the folders will be synchronized – quite useful.

Digital life

To sum up: the installation of Ulteo lasts few minutes and furthermore the system itself is also quite efficient. It has some features that cannot be found anywhere else. Is it possible for Ulteo to become one of most popular distros? The development of the system is really dynamic, and the authors of Ulteo are still full of ideas on how to make it even better! It is becoming more and more popular and if it will develop in such a dynamic way in the future, not only another user-friendy distribution would come into existence but a completely new distro which could compete with the most popular ones will find its way onto Joe Doe’s desktop. Will this actually happen? Yet to be seen…

Will it become the default online desktop?

Translated by Filip Pałuba

About the Author

Paulina Budzoń

Former Mandriva's translator, Dragonia Magazine's editor and great OpenSource fan. Lives in Warsaw, Poland.

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