Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, the latest long-term support version of Canonical's open source, Linux-based OS, debuts this week. And it will be packed with new features for desktops, servers and IoT, including robust LXD container support and "snap," a new way to install software.
For the past several years, new Ubuntu releases have tended to include only relatively minor updates, like a few new software packages or incremental updates to app versions. But Canonical is using Ubuntu 16.04 to advance key parts of its business strategy across the open source ecosystem.
The change that desktop users are most likely to notice is the introduction of "snap" packages, which offer a new method for installing software. Yes, you'll still be able to use apt and traditional Debian packages. But snap packages are an alternative to apt that represents a key part of Canonical's strategy for "converging" Ubuntu across desktop, server, mobile and IoT platforms -- as well as building new momentum within the development community. That's because, unlike traditional Debian packages, snap packages can be installed quickly. They can also be rolled back seamlessly. They're part of the transactional-update strategy that provides more nimble and faster access to apps for all types of platforms, making it easier to use Ubuntu on mobile and IoT platforms, where apt does not work as well.
Since you likely haven't heard of snap (or snapcraft, the tool for managing snap packages) until now, you might be wondering whether these packages are really ready for production, or just a sort of experiment. But Canonical is firm in its insistence that they're ready for primetime: "snap packages on the desktop are fully supported in Ubuntu 16.04 LTS," the company said in a press call.
The other big feature in Ubuntu 16.04 LTS is full support for LXD, the LXC-based container platform that Canonical has been developing since 2014. (Confused about how LXC and LXD relate to one another? Check out our explainer.) Although LXD remains relatively new for enterprise deployments, Canonical is confident that it's ready to handle everything DevOps teams cab throw at it. LXD is now "a battle tested foundation that is very widely used in production," Canonical told reporters.
LXD in Ubuntu 16.04 is important for the channel because it means Canonical now has a production-ready answer to other container platforms, like Docker and CoreOS. Although LXD is designed for different types of workloads -- specifically, ones that require virtualizing a complete OS instead of just one app inside a container -- its functionality overlaps to a certain extent with other container tools, and it should help Canonical to build new partnerships in the container space.
Speaking of partnerships, Ubuntu 16.04 serves Canonical's channel interests regarding servers, too. The new release adds support for IBM Z and LinuxONE servers, which is significant because Canonical hasn't done much in the traditional server market in recent years. It has focused instead mostly on mobile, IoT and containers. But the new release is a sign that the company remains committed to servers, and to building out partnerships with companies like IBM.
The cloud has not been left out of the picture, either. Ubuntu 16.04 introduces support for CephFS and ZFS, open source scale-out storage solutions for the cloud.
Canonical will release Ubuntu 16.04 LTS this Thursday, April 21.