The release of Ubuntu 12.04 on Thursday 26th April is a big one, as this latest LTS version is not only going to be supported for some time, but it’s also bringing with it improvements and new features. While the Wendy Windows and McZee’s of this world might have their own problems, here are five great reasons to look out for the impending release.
“[The work on the Dash] is all building out from the original Dash specification, and we’ve now added in the ability to filter by specific content sources.” said Neil Patel, Technical Lead on Unity, when we asked him about the upcoming Unity changes, “If you don’t want to see a specific content source it will remember it. If you don’t want to see applications that are available for download, you just deselect the software centre from the list.”
Users who experienced problems with keyboard controls for the Dash have had their worries answered, as full keyboard control has returned. Where as before you may not have been able to start typing straight into the search box or navigate with the arrow keys to the desired application, in Precise these bugs have been fixed.
With the popularity of programs such as MyUnity, allowing you direct control over some of the more advanced Unity settings in a graphical interface, Canonical have decided that now is the time to give users an “official” way to tweak the environment. Available in the Appearance settings are now options for the size of the icons in the side launcher, and advanced settings for the behaviour of the side bar. Intellihide has been removed this release as well due to inconsistencies in the way it worked.
Probably the biggest new feature though that did make its way into Precise is the HUD, Canonical’s take on how the standard desktop UI menu system would be designed in modern times. Neil Patel, Technical Lead on Unity, again gave us a bit of background on its development:
“It’s something we’ve been thinking about for a very long time, just over 3 years. We’ve been thinking about it and discussing it and doing some initial work. But this is the first actual implementation. It’s an additional way to interact with applications. The idea is it’s an intent driven interface, that you type what you want, and we find it, and we supply that option. You don’t have to think so much, you don’t have to think about how you would rotate a circle and make it blue, you just rotate it and make it blue”
HUD learns from your actions, deploying a weighting system for menu options based on your usage history. Patel specifically said that there’s a 30 day expiration period for menu options you’ve only used once, resetting their weighting. There are no HUD “profiles” as such, so your settings and preferred search terms won’t sync over, say, Ubuntu One between machines.
HUD doesn’t get rid of the current keyboard commands, nor does it affect your normal work flow, so the added ability to search for commands that you don’t know the shortcut for can be used well here.
With the recent announcement of Ubuntu for Android and its subsequent demos at Mobile World Congress, getting the full Ubuntu OS running on ARM has been a priority. Dave Walker, Technical Lead for Ubuntu Server, gave us some insight on its development over the past 6 months:
“We’ve got very good relationships with the key players, having at least weekly communication with them. We basically trying to pre-empt what’s going to hit the market….some work went into it at the end of last cycle, and there’s been a focus on it in this cycle. It’s a totally different instruction set in the ARM processor, and we found that some work loads that aren’t directly compatible. We’ve had to spend some time fixing these problems, and there’s been a number of people who have been tasked with that”
The continued work on ARM isn’t just for the benefit of Mobiles. Ubuntu TV is also being optimised for ARM processors, as a lot of set top boxes and smart TVs tend to use the smaller chipsets. There’s even benefits for the server side, with ARM Servers supposedly gaining steam with the recent advancements in the technology according to Walker:
“It’s because of the amount of computing power you can get into a small area, the significantly lower power consumption, and because of all that it’s much cooler. So [in terms of server rooms] the noise isn’t attached to it…at least 50% of power in a data centre is used for cooling, so there’s massive power savings there as well. It’s even better priced commercially. People who want to process a lot of data will be attracted to ARM in the near future”
Ubuntu Server is extremely popular among enterprise users and administrators, with a recent survey finding that is was one of the most pervasive server operating systems. As an LTS release, the new server edition is going to be desirable for a lot of sysadmins.
Since the last LTS release, the Linux Kernel has gone through some major changes, and even a version upgrade, and according to Dave Walker, Server Technical Lead, this is a great thing:
“Two years ago, at this point in the cycle, I was personally experiencing kernel issues myself, and I’ll be posting about my problems. Now what I’m seeing is that it’s pretty faultless. We’re looking at enabling more features rather than fixing issues, which is a position we’d like to be in.”
There have also been a lot of development in the cloud, something the team have made sure to keep on top of as Walker explains:
“[OpenStack] have tied their release schedule to ours, so Essex’s release is the same as our release. We put some work into OpenStack ourselves, such as testing, so when someone commits code upstream we run a series of tests on a 12 node cluster which basically puts it through its paces…we’ve been able to support an issue other distros don’t notice, something native to Ubuntu. We’ve been making this part of our drive for precision.
“One of the other really exciting things is nested virtualisation. What that allows you to do is have a virtual machine inside a virtual machine. Particularly with the cloud being available, it’s easy to start a machine and then run a machine within that machine and get near host performance. [Using] Bare Metal, you could very easily have a cloud within a cloud. That’s very experimental, but it’s quite exciting.”
Due to its LTS promise, the development cycle has focused more on improving the core experience and fixing bugs, as well as a fit-and-finish approach to UI elements.
“The schedule for an LTS is actually different from normal procedures,” explains John Lea of the Ubuntu Design team, “We apply a higher bar to new features entering, we generally focus the whole cycle along more on quality and stability. It’s really a shift in focus, and this goes into the selection of the applications. We’re looking very much at how things will be supported over the next five years, and what the best choices are that we can make given that we’ve tied ourselves into 5 years of support”
This stable approach is also being applied to the server side, explains Ubuntu Server Technical Lead, Dave Walker:
“Really it’s just been a progression to build upon what’s been in previous releases. This is our LTS release so there’s been a strong focus on stability, precision…[as well as] being conservative, but also pushing the boundaries where we can. Part of my job that has been quite tricky is balancing this aspect. We really have an amazing and enthusiastic team here, and we’ve managed to do a lot”
Ubuntu 12.04 will be out on the 26th April 2012. You can read more about the release of Precise, Ubuntu for Android, and Ubuntu TV in Linux User & Developer 112, currently on sale.