Canonical moves on desktop, server Linux

By Paul Krill, InfoWorld |  Open Source, Canonical, Linux

Canonical, which wants Linux to challenge Apple's Macintosh in usability on the desktop, is unveiling on Monday upgrades to its Ubuntu Linux distributions, offering 3G and virtualization improvements. Version 8.10 of Canonical's Desktop and Server Linux distributions are being announced Monday and will be available Thursday.

At the O'Reilly Open Source Convention in Portland, Ore. in July, Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth set forth a goal to have Linux on the desktop match the usability of the Macintosh. While version 8.10 does not yet attain that goal, it is a step in that direction, said Steve George, director of corporate services at Canonical. "That continues to be what we're working towards," George said.

"I think Linux on the desktop is definitely picking up speed. The new netbook category [of smaller, mobile laptop systems] is a great opportunity for Linux," said George.

The Desktop release features 3G network support for moving from wired and Wi-Fi networks onto 3G cell phone networks while traveling, Canonical said.

An analyst lauded the 3G capabilities. "This allows users of Ubuntu to connect to a variety of 3G networks worldwide with no complex configuration," said Stephen O'Grady, principal analyst at RedMonk.

Users of the Desktop edition can start a "guest session" and let someone use their computer to surf the Web or check e-mail while maintaining security and integrity of their own data, Canonical said. Ubuntu's Desktop can be put on any USB key and installed on any machine.

The Gnome 2.24 desktop environment in the release offers a new instant messaging client, a time-tracker and the Ekiga 3.0 video and audio conferencing tool. Also, file management has been improved, as has support for multiple monitor use.

Another feature in the Desktop release is programming from the BBC, including streamed content available through default media players in Ubuntu 8.10. A mixture of video, radio, and podcasts will be available.

Another analyst, however, was skeptical of Canonical's desktop ambitions.

"Ubuntu is a nice Linux distro for both the server and the desktop," said analyst Gordon Haff, of Illuminata. "That said, the suggestion that Ubuntu will bring Linux onto the desktop in a big way, I just don't buy it. With Internet-based computing going where it's going, I just don't see a lot of enthusiasm for another desktop OS in the Windows or OS X mold. That's not to say that you won't see Linux, maybe Ubuntu, on some laptops (especially specialized ones like netbooks) but you have to distinguish some penetration from going mainstream."

Ubuntu 8.10 Server Edition, which will be maintained for 18 months, offers capabilities for virtualization, Java development, and system management.

In the virtualization space, improvements have been made in setting up virtual machines, with the release building on the Just Enough Operating System, which was launched last year and is configured for virtual appliances. The Server product offers a Virtual Machine builder to allow virtual machines to be built from the command line in fewer than five minutes. Custom virtual images can be built. Virtual Machine builder offers a component to a provisioning process for virtualization, Canonical said.

Xen technology is featured as a "paravirtualized guest," providing for efficiency in running a virtualized environment, George said.

Canonical's Vm-builder helps ISVs put together a software appliance, said analyst Brett Waldman at IDC. "In that respect, they're a leader in that Linux space," he said. In other respects, though, Canonical is middle-of-the-pack, said Waldman.

Java servlet capability based on Apache Tomcat is featured for running lightweight Java Web applications under Ubuntu Linux. "The importance of that is [if] you want to use Ubuntu to deploy a Java-developed app, then you can do that now. And particular, in a case where you need full Java EE (Enterprise Edition) capabilities," George said.

A client for the Landscape system management tool is bundled with the server release, offering reporting at each login. Mail server capabilities in the product provide for spam detection and virus filtering.

The tool chain for compiling Ubuntu has been updated with security features such as glibc functional call fortification. With this version of the Server platform, it is harder for bugs to be turned into exploited vulnerabilities,

Encrypted private directors are mounted when users log in. Sensitive data is kept secure even if a system is stolen, Canonical said.

An "Uncomplicated Firewall" feature makes it easier to manage a host firewall through the addition of application profiles, Canonical said. Services like apache and bind9 declare which ports they use so the administrator only has to enable a network service rather than a set of ports.

Also, RAID capabilities have been improved with support for SATA RAID controllers via DMRaid, and system administrators now can configure booting from a degraded RAI array.

Ubuntu's Linux distributions are free of charge, but Canonical does sell support services.

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