Canonical has high hopes for its latest release: Ubuntu 10.04 LTS (Long Term Support). Also known as Lucid Lynx, this new version is the one that, from many indications, the company hopes will take Ubuntu from being a fan favorite to a commercial success. Based on my first look at the release candidate, Canonical's hopes may be realized.
Aiming for the business user
Make no doubt about it, Canonical wants you, and any business you might own, to buy into Ubuntu 10.04 on the server and in the cloud.
The server version, which will be available on April 29, 2010, has almost 100 open-source and proprietary application providers certifying their programs on Ubuntu Server Edition. That version will include Alfresco, Ingres, IBM, VMware, Yahoo and Zimbra. It also includes improved installation and management tools for Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud (UEC) and Amazon EC2. And the new version is named Long Term Support for a reason -- users are guaranteed five years of free security and maintenance updates.
Dell, which already supports the Ubuntu Linux desktop, has also announced its support for the server side and the Ubuntu cloud on its PowerEdge-C product line -- servers designed for building cloud environments.
Testing it on the desktop
I downloaded the April 25, 2010, release candidate of the desktop distribution and installed it on two identical systems: Dell Inspiron 530S computers powered by a 2.2-GHz Intel Pentium E2200 dual-core processor with an 800-MHz front-side bus. Each had 4GB of RAM, a 500GB SATA drive and an integrated Intel 3100 GMA chip set. I ran Ubuntu as the native operating system on one; on the second, I ran the operating system on a VirtualBox virtual machine on top of Windows 7.
I was impressed with how easily both installations went. Sure, if you were going to set up a dual-boot Windows/Linux system you'd need to know a bit about what's going on under the PC's hood, but a bright kid could do the basic installation. (I know that to be true because I loaned a freshly burned Ubuntu DVD to a neighborhood sixth grader and he had it running in a few minutes.)
Incidentally, the Ubuntu release candidate was just a trifle too large for a CD. The installation media works just fine on DVDs and USB sticks, both of which I used, but Canonical needs to lose those last few fatty bytes before the final release.
While Canonical wants to make the server and cloud easy to use, its desktop really shows its dedication to making Linux as painless as possible. For example, the new version doesn't include GIMP, an all-the-bells-and-whistles image editor like Adobe Photoshop. It's not a bad idea. Most people don't need that kind of heavy-duty image editing power or the complicated commands that come with it -- they just want to get rid of red eye. So instead, Canonical supplied F-Spot, which is as easy to use as Google's Picasa.
The push to make Ubuntu easy to use is continued throughout this release. For example, Gwibber, an open-source social network client that connects with Twitter, Identi.ca, Facebook, Flickr and Digg, among others, is built into the desktop. The same is true of Ubuntu's default instant-message client, Empathy.
The Ubuntu interface itself has changed a bit. Ubuntu's old orange and brown, desertscape desktop has been replaced by a purplish design called Ambiance. It was a little dark for me, but the alternative, lighter desktop theme, Radiance, was far more pleasing. You can, of course, adjust the GNOME 2.30 interface to whatever pleases your eyes the most.
To continue the theme of simplicity, the new interface features a few clear application choices rather than burying users with multiple choices for such jobs as scanning documents or editing video.
In addition, it's easier to add new software. The Ubuntu Software Center has reduced the process of installing new software to pointing and clicking through a category-organized catalog. If you need a less common program, you'll need to use the Synaptic Package Manager. This shouldn't be a problem, however -- in just the last few months, Linux has made giant strides in making software installation easier via its package management programs.
In action, I found Ubuntu 10.04 to be fast and snappy. Windows 7 marches along at a decent clip on my test systems, but Ubuntu was quite zippy on the same hardware. Indeed, even as a virtualized operating system, it felt more spritely than Windows. OpenOffice 3.2, for example, took three seconds to load in Ubuntu on VirtualBox while it took five seconds to get going on Windows 7 on the same machine.
In short, I can highly recommend Ubuntu 10.04 to any user, and not just to Linux users. Indeed, some hard-core Linux users might find it too easy and polished for their tastes. But for everyone else -- and anyone who just wants an easy-to-use, full-featured, secure desktop operating system -- Ubuntu 10.04 is the one for you.
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been writing about technology and the business of technology since CP/M-80 was cutting edge and 300bit/sec. was a fast Internet connection -- and we liked it! He can be reached at email@example.com.
This story, "Ubuntu 10.04 LTS adds new tools" was originally published by Computerworld.