June 18, 2012, 1:27 PM — With Ubuntu 12.04, Canonical has delivered a much improved product that spans desktops, servers and the cloud in a bid to become the cross-platform mainstream product that Apple's Mac OS might have been had Apple not abandoned the server market.
Dubbed Precise Pangolin (an anteater-like mammal), the latest version of Ubuntu sports a new feature called "machine as a service," or MaaS, which allows network admins to quickly distribute the operating system to desktops, servers or cloud resources.
Precise Pangolin reaches across many platforms, although not to IBM's Power processor-based server family. Few will grumble, we believe, as IBM's Power server family is statistically comparatively small. There are two basic ports for Ubuntu 12.04, a 32-bit and a 64-bit. There are also variants for 32-bit ARM processors.
Despite the ARM support, 12.04 is somewhat experimental on tablets, as OEM hardware makers are required to work directly with Canonical, much like Microsoft plans no retail-installable versions of Windows RT. Few Ubuntu ARM-based tablets have been seen in the wild and none were officially released at the time of our testing. Our port of Ubuntu onto a zombie HP tablet was as simple as the last time we tried it. We've also seen demos of Ubuntu smartphones, but could find no U.S.-based samples running even the beta of Ubuntu 12.04.
Unity interface evolves
The Unity interface, which Gnome users love to hate, has improved a step or two from when we last visited its updates on Ubuntu 11.04/11.10. Unity now strongly features Ubuntu One personal cloud resources, and we were only mildly miffed that it took four authentications to play a music sample from the Ubuntu One media store. It must install a proprietary Fraunhofer IIS MP3 license for the codec that translates MP3 digital files to audio output. That's unless you thought of that at initial installation; most won't, we believe, because they're not used to making choices of free vs. closed (yet financially free) choices at installation time.