The Philosophy and Features of Ubuntu 8.10
Last week, I had the pleasure of getting some unique insight into the Ubuntu 8.10 release ("Intrepid Ibex") from Canonical's marketing manager, Gerry Carr. The finalized server and desktop editions of the 8.10 release will be available for download October 30th, and host a variety of new tools and features.
Carr said that one of the key considerations the Ubuntu team took into account when planning Intrepid was that people are increasingly leading "digital lives," and embracing digital mobility through small devices such as netbooks and smart phones.
It isn't always possible (or practical) to rely on wifi hot spots to make network connections. Carr said this was one reason why it was important for Ubuntu 8.10 to improve the network manager. Configuring a device to connect to a 3G network can be difficult, and the process can be complicated further depending on the hardware used (inbuilt 3G modems, cell phones, 3G dongles) to make the connection. This is an area where Ubuntu wanted to focus, and build on the "it just works" philosophy so many have come to appreciate.
The 8.10 release offers 3G connectivity management through a single networking interface, and auto-detects many popular devices.
The 8.10 release also has a "guest session" feature. From within a running "normal" user session, a guest user can launch a new desktop that acts, Carr said, as a kiosk-style arrangement. No "host system" user information is available while in the guest session, and when the guest using the machine signs off, any personalized or identifying information on the guest account is deleted.
Guest access combined with the ability to easily write Ubuntu to bootable USB drives could entice users trying out the distro on friends' computers to give Linux a closer look. The USB disk creation tool is also quite handy, Carr pointed out, because the image that Ubuntu creates can also be configured to include modified data. If a guest creates a document, and wants to hold on to both the file and the operating system, it's not an issue (though an administrator password is required to start the USB image creator application).
Another new feature in the 8.10 desktop is media delivery. Ubuntu has teamed up with the BBC to offer streaming content through the Totem Movie Player and Rhythmbox. This content may vary from region to region due to licensing issues, but is available in high quality formats and much is accessible without needing proprietary codecs.
Carr said that the BBC is the first provider that Canonical has onboard to stream content, but that the company hopes to bring in other media outlets in the future. Carr says that additional providers could be added any time during the distribution release cycle and that Canonical is especially interested in media outlets that appeal to a global audience.
Though many people associate Ubuntu as a desktop-oriented distribution, there has been an increasing interest in the Ubuntu server. Carr mentioned Wikipedia's recent switch from a mixed server environment to Ubuntu, and said that a number of large data centers are choosing Ubuntu for reasons such as virtualization.
Ubuntu server ships with the JeOS Virtual Machine builder. It also integrates an updated KVM that allows administrators to adjust virtual system memory allocations without the need for reboots, and it supports running as a paravirtualized guest on Xen hypervisors.
Other server features include full support for OpenJDK and Apache Tomcat, which allows for the development and deployment of Java applications in production settings. ClamAV and SpamAssassin are now part of the main Ubuntu server repositories, host firewalls are easier to configure, RAID support has improved, and encrypted private directories are supported to protect sensitive data if a machine is stolen or compromised. The Landscape Client from Canonical is included with this release to easily access system statistics and information.
The Intrepid Ibex release on the 30th offers many new features for a community that is clearly growing. Carr says an estimated 650,000 users are on the Ubuntu support/community forums, and there are 170 LoCo (Local Community) groups. With the addition of the USB image creation tool, guest accounts, and quick and easy 3G connectivity configuration, it seems this number is only set to increase.