After months of widespread anticipation, the latest version of Canonical's popular Linux distribution -- Ubuntu 12.04 LTS “Precise Pangolin” -- was released in its final form on April 26.
“For PC users, Ubuntu 12.04 supports laptops, desktops, and netbooks with a unified look and feel based on an updated version of the desktop shell called 'Unity,' which introduces 'Head-Up Display' search capabilities,” wrote Ubuntu Release Manager Kate Stewart in the official announcement. “Finding and installing software using the Ubuntu Software Center is now easier thanks to improvements in speed, search, and usability.”
As a Long Term Support (LTS) release, Ubuntu 12.04 will be supported for a full five years on both desktops and servers, making it a particularly attractive choice for business users.
Though Canonical's servers appeared to be swamped by demand on Thursday morning, the free and open source operating system is available for download from the Ubuntu site. Users of Ubuntu 11.10 “Oneiric Ocelot” will be offered an automatic upgrade.
A Three-Way Choice for Productivity
A raft of improvements are included in the server version of Ubuntu 12.04 as well, including the Essex release of OpenStack and Canonical’s new Metal as a Service provisioning tool, but the desktop release is particularly compelling because Canonical is aiming it squarely at business desktops.
In addition to five years of guaranteed updates and the option of commercial support, the software features a matured Unity interface along with native office apps and support for leading desktop virtualization solutions from Citrix and VMware as well as Microsoft RDP 7.1.
As a result, enterprise users of the software have a three-way choice for office productivity: remote delivery of desktop applications, browser-based cloud solutions like Google Docs, or the native, Microsoft-compatible LibreOffice suite that comes pre-installed.
'A Great Time to Look at Open Source'
“Over the past two years, the ties that bound people to proprietary solutions are going down, so barriers to using Ubuntu as a primary desktop are decreasing,” Steve George, Canonical's vice president of communications and products, told me in a briefing on Tuesday.
Canonical has also forged numerous partnerships with hardware vendors including Dell, HP, and Lenovo, so “everything should work perfectly,” he added. The software is already certified to run on more than 20 laptops and desktops, with more to come.
Particularly as Windows 8 looms on the horizon, then, “this is a great time for people to look at open source as a desktop solution,” George said.
A Refined Unity
Users who upgrade to Precise Pangolin from the last LTS release -- Ubuntu 10.04 “Lucid Lynx” -- will have their first experience with the new Unity interface, which was introduced 18 months ago.
Though it has been controversial in some quarters, Unity has gone through significant refinement since then, George told me, and “tests very well with both new users and power users.”
Tweaks in this latest release focus on user experience and search capabilities, he added.
'We Hope People Will Be Excited'
Also new in Precise Pangolin is the Head-Up Display (HUD) interface through which users can work without having to navigate menus.
“We wanted to put it out so people could start playing with it,” George explained. Though it's essentially still a preview of expanded capabilities yet to come, “we hope people will be excited about it,” he added.
In the meantime, rigorous code optimization over the past two years has resulted in a release that boots faster and is more robust than its predecessor as well as offering a much longer battery life.
'See What's Possible'
I'll definitely be upgrading to Precise Pangolin soon, but I'm especially excited about its potential as a Linux-powered alternative for those facing the big Windows 8 decision.
“In the course of this year, lots of people will be considering the upgrade to Windows 8,” George pointed out. “Ubuntu is a great platform for people to explore open source, see what's possible, and give it a try.”