Canonical's popular Linux distribution, Ubuntu, is about to hit version 11.10 - also known as Oneiric Ocelot - bringing some major improvements to the platform following a somewhat ill-received reboot of the distribution six months ago.
The launch of Ubuntu 11.04 - also known as Natty Narwhal - in April this year was a tough time for Canonical's pet project: a move from the traditional GNOME desktop to a home-brew interface known as Unity caused ructions in the community, and bugs in the initial roll-out caused a fair few defections to alternative distributions.
With Ubuntu 11.10, the company is hoping to repair some of the damage caused by its earlier release. While Unity is still in-place - demonstrating a commitment to using its home-brew interface, on top of the GNOME 3 environment, that Canonical has repeatedly stated won't change - it's been drastically improved, to the point where Canonical finally feels comfortable enough to remove the 'Ubuntu Classic' option that allowed 11.04 users to boot into a traditional GNOME environment.
"Ease of use, stylishness and key tasks such as safe web surfing, document sharing, office productivity and personal clouds for music, files and photos are central to the Ubuntu experience." claimed Canonical chief Jane Silber at this afternoon's launch. "That’s why Ubuntu is now a global phenomenon - not just for system administrators, developers and expert users, but for a growing community of home users that want a simpler, safer way to use the PC."
That connected vision is clearly evident in the areas that Canonical is choosing to highlight: improvements to the Ubuntu Software Centre, an on-line repository for software which pre-dates Apple's App Store, offer improved searching, rating and integration within the Dash evironment; Ubuntu One - a cloud-based storage system offering all Ubuntu users 5GB of free space - allows for music to be purchased from Canonical's own service or Amazon's MP3 Store for streaming on almost any device; and improvements to the Dash itself make cloud-based data as readily accessible as local data.
Canonical is clearly aiming for the mass-market with its latest release. In addition to improvements to the appearance of the distribution, the company is making a web-based demo of the distribution available for the first time. As a result, those looking to switch from proprietary systems like Mac OS X or Windows can get a feel for the interface before downloading the CD, which can then be used as a 'live' environment before a decision to install is made.
For server users, Ubuntu 11.10 brings a major first: a technical preview of an official ARM build, which features support for OpenStack and other Infrastructure-as-a-Service platforms thanks to Canonical's investment in the LXC virtualisation container technology. With increasing numbers of datacentre companies investigating low-power ARM cores as a basis for many-core servers, Canonical is clearly looking to lead the way.
"Ubuntu 11.10 gives forward-looking companies a chance to road-test the cloud and desktop technologies that will change the game for IT cost and performance” Silber explained, clearly aware that many enterprises will wait for the launch of the Long Term Support edition in April next year before upgrading. “We’re thrilled to deliver multiple firsts with this release: a technology pre for the ARM architecture on servers, cloud infrastructure and Juju service orchestration in the box."
Sadly, the software isn't quite available yet: while the beta has been downloadable for quite some time, Canonical's performing some last-minute tweaks to the distribution before it is officially made available for public download on Thursday the 13th of October.