Christopher Tozzi, Contributing Editor

April 28, 2011

4 Min Read
Ubuntu 11.04: What to Expect in Every Open Source Flavor

With Ubuntu 11.04 nearly upon us, it’s time to take a look at the features which headline this latest and greatest version of the world’s most popular open source operating system. Here’s a look, broken down by Ubuntu flavor …

First, though, some quick notes for those in the dark: Set to be officially released April 28, Ubuntu 11.04 represents the midway point between the last longterm-support release of the operating system in April 2010 and the next one, a year from now. If you’re a normal person you’re probably content to stick with the LTS releases, but geeks — and those curious about the latest development trends in the open source channel — will want to upgrade their Ubuntu installation.

And if for some reason the release doesn’t happen as planned, you can always test out the daily build of Ubuntu 11.04 — after all, as we’ve written before, specific Ubuntu release dates are kind of arbitrary and not much is likely to change between now and the “official” release.

For Desktops

So what exactly do users have to look forward to in the upcoming Ubuntu release? On the desktop, the changes new to Ubuntu 11.04 are easy to sum up: they virtually all revolve around Unity, the desktop interface built with Canonical’s lead which will now become the default environment for all new installations of Ubuntu. (Traditional GNOME, meanwhile, will remain available as an option.)

Inspired by the interfaces popular on mobile devices, according to Canonical representatives, Unity is designed to make more efficient use of screen space and to provide an overall simpler user experience. It brings a number of changes which might seem radical to many eyes, and its introduction as the default face of Ubuntu has hardly been without controversy.

Personally, although I was pretty skeptical at first, I’ve since warmed to Unity — but I’m waiting for it to hit the screens of millions of users before making any conclusive call on its prospects to please users long-accustomed to tried-and-true GNOME 2.x.

For Servers

Since Ubuntu servers don’t ship with a graphical environment installed by default, Unity doesn’t mean much to them. But server administrators need not despair; they have not been neglected in this latest Ubuntu release. In particular, they can look forward to:

  • Improved power efficiency thanks to PowerNap 2.0 — Canonical claims improvements of up to 14 percent.

  • Linux kernel 2.6.30, bringing with it updated driver support and other new features. Most notably, btrfs and other filesystems have received updates, and AppArmor is now baked into the kernel.

  • libvirt, the virtualization API central to Ubuntu’s open source virtualization infrastructure centered on KVM and Xen, has benefited from bug fixes and the introduction of new features.

Of course, since administrators of production servers tend to stick to LTS releases, which enjoy much longer support cycles, it’s likely that the features above will be subject to experimentation and exploration much more than serious deployment in this Ubuntu release. But these updates add to the selling points of which Canonical will be able to boast next April, when Ubuntu 12.04 server debuts with the improvements above and more.

For the Cloud

The cloud has been a central component of Canonical’s strategy for Ubuntu for several release cycles, and this latest is no exception.  On the server end, the new version of the operating system brings updates to Eucalyptus, OpenStack and the cloud-init package, all of which make it easier to deploy clouds from Ubuntu.

On the desktop front, the focus on Unity for this release cycle has meant that updates to the Ubuntu One service, the chief component of Canonical’s efforts to integrate the cloud into Ubuntu desktop, has received only incremental improvements; most notably, an official release of the Ubuntu One client for Windows, currently in beta, has been promised soon.

Another exciting development that falls under the cloud category is the introduction of a new service that will make it possible to preview instances of both Ubuntu server and desktop editions directly from a Web browser, making it easier than ever to test Ubuntu. This technology, set to debut along with the official release of Ubuntu 11.04, is based on Amazon’s cloud services, and represents one of the most concrete instances to date of the use of the cloud for delivering desktop services — even if those services are, for the time being, intended to be used only for testing, not production.

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About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Contributing Editor

Christopher Tozzi started covering the channel for The VAR Guy on a freelance basis in 2008, with an emphasis on open source, Linux, virtualization, SDN, containers, data storage and related topics. He also teaches history at a major university in Washington, D.C. He occasionally combines these interests by writing about the history of software. His book on this topic, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” is forthcoming with MIT Press.

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