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Ubuntu 10.10 beta – an insider’s view

Ubuntu 10.10 has strived to build on the choices of Lucid, bringing bleeding edge versions of software whilst maintaining the stability that Lucid provided. Join Ubuntu developer, Dave Walker, as he takes an insiders look at Maverick Meerkat as it approaches completion…

This article originally appeared in issue 92 of Linux User & Developer magazine.

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Some of the features we are seeing in Maverick are, as usual, newer versions of applications. This release potentially has a larger jump in versions, as Lucid synchronised and merged from Debian Testing; but Maverick reverted to the usual practice of importing from Debian Unstable, which has higher version numbers. One of the surprises that came out of Debconf (the Debian conference) was the announcement of their feature freeze, which meant that Debian stabilisations commenced mid-cycle for Maverick in preparation for their next stable release.

The superb timing, which I believe is less than accidental, is actually beneficial to both distributions. It allows Ubuntu to maintain an approach of largely getting the latest and greatest, whilst also maintaining quality of bug fixes only. The benefit to Debian is that it is easier for Ubuntu developers to pass patches back to Debian, as the chance of running the same version (with same bugs) in both projects is greater. I feel this is partly the realisation of Mark Shuttleworth’s controversial suggestion of unification of development cycle ‘cadences’, although this could equally be good fortune.

The desktop has seen a range of changes, and although this isn’t the area that my development has been targeted this cycle; I have been running Maverick as desktop on a few of my machines for some time. Over the last few weeks I have witnessed some of the changes introduced at a subtle pace. The most noticeable change is usually the desktop theme, and this time we have an additional polish of the themes introduced in Lucid which are Ambiance (dark), and Radiant (light).

Some criticism was raised in the Lucid cycle, with the revolutionary theme developed quietly and dropped into the archive towards the end of the cycle. The design team made great efforts to rectify this, with working more publicly, and documenting their work on the Ubuntu Planet, via the new design blog. The new Ubuntu font has occupied much of their time, and the end result is now quite pleasing to the eye.  Some of the subtle improvements include window button design enhancement, a slight emphasis on what menu item is selected and a nifty Rhythmbox widget bundled under the Sound volume indicator App.

With the server, which has been my primary focus this cycle, we have been working on a number of areas. The poster child of Ubuntu Server is, Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud (UEC) which incorporates Eucalyptus (the private cloud) into a distribution which has some tweaks and enhancements to enrich the experience for Ubuntu users.

This has been a particular personal challenge for myself this cycle. One of the things I’ve been working on is the introduction and stabilisation of Eucalyptus 2.0 (Lucid shipped 1.6.2), this has involved regular communication with the upstream project by both email and phone, and much needed assistance from the Ubuntu QA (Quality Assurance) team to help uncover potential new bugs and regressions. It was also useful to be able to develop and provide packages, and have another separated party verify the fix in quite a short time frame. When I have previously worked with QA teams (outside free software), I haven’t enjoyed the experience – but the helpfulness of the Ubuntu QA team was a huge benefit.

Ubuntu Netbook Edition (UNE) has possibly seen the one of the largest leaps in design this focus with the introduction of “Unity” which is possibly best described as a replacement gnome-panel targeted at netbooks. The key difference is the default placement of having it stick to the left side of screen. The idea being that netbooks tend to have limited vertical screen space, and using this horizontal approach makes the use of available screen resources more efficient. I personally hope that we have the opportunity to see more netbooks shipping UNE, as it is one of few operating systems that have put real consideration into the small machine factor.

Whilst the community team have been working in many areas, this cycle we have seen a huge visible difference in the LoCo directory. This is a resource for the Ubuntu Community to increase visibility, and organise events. It’s completely open source, and this has enabled many contributions and without this; there is little doubt it would have achieved what it has in limited time. It’s well worth looking at, and contributing code if inclined to do so.

It’s at the point, that contributors start seriously contemplating what they want to achieve for the next release. In this instance it will be for Natty Narwhal (11.04), due April 2011. Anybody can raise ideas, and they can be raised at a simplistic level with Ubuntu brainstorm website, but for a more formal initial specification can be drafted on Launchpad (the project and bug management website).

You can read more on Ubuntu 10.10 here, or see what else features in the latest issue of Linux User & Developer here

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