Its an exciting time of year for Linux fans. A time when Canonical gets ready to roll out a new Long Term Service release (or LTS) of their Linux based desktop operating system, Ubuntu.
Yesterday morning I did what I always do first thing and logged into Google Plus. Much to my surprise in the ‘trending’ section was #Ubuntu. I scanned down through the feed and I have to say the response and support Ubuntu was getting was astonishing. I wanted to contribute in some way so i decided id write up a review of 12.04 codename Precise Pangolin, in its current state before launch.
So how does this release fair against the last few? A lot of subtle enhancements and some big ones.
With the release of 11.04 came the introduction of the Ubuntu netbook remix interface (which was released with version 10.04) called unity as the default desktop environment. This move got a huge amount of criticism as it was a radical departure from what came before it (Gnome 2, which at stage was becoming antiquated) and was disliked by a lot of people mainly due to the fact they didn't understand it fully and felt it affected productivity, but also as it wasn't feature complete, its design was clunky and it was a pretty big resource hog. Thankfully however with the next iteration (11.10) came a much more streamlined desktop which had many of the features missing from the prior release. Now with the release of 12.04 we see a better polished beast.
So whats new in 12.04? A lot.
The OS is now based on the 3.2 Linux kernel, which has been rebranded as the Ubuntu kernel.
The default browser, which is still Firefox (and not Chromium as I had hoped) has been updated to the latest stable release, version 11.
Historically Rhythmbox has been the default music player in Ubuntu but from 11.04 to 11.10 it was replaced by Banshee. Banshee however was based on the .NET clone Mono and since Ubuntu are no longer ships (the rather large) Mono libraries with their releases they have reverted to using Rhythmbox as default, this time at version 2.96.
The two stock themes, Ambience and the lighter Radiance have been overhauled keeping them more in line with Gnome 3's default theme, Adwaita and a tweaked version of the purple light-patterned background
has been included along side a new Pangolin themed one (It has been tradition to include to include wallpapers which depict the animals which the releases are codenamed after).
Unity also got bumped up to version 5.10 bringing a whole host of goodies including the removal of the oversized novelty icons which resided in Dash (the main menu) favorites section, replacing them with search lenses for files and folders, video, music and applications as well as a global option for wide-spread searches.
This update also intorduced a new progress animation in the launcher bar for the installation of apps from the software center (which now include the ability to buy and sell more content than before) and so on.
The icons that reside in the launcher can be resized to allow for more or less screen real-estate usage and it now has better support for multiple-monitors or “dual head” mode.
Another big update in 5.10 is the inclusion of the HUD or heads-up-display which acts to supplement (and will eventually totally replace) application window menus.
Otherwise, there has been various version updates for the built in applications such as LibreOffice, Ubuntu one (which got a rather nice UI overhaul) Thunderbird mail client, alongside the removal of the advanced synaptic package manager and the inclusion of the Landscape management service which allows administrators to monitor, manage and update an entire network of Ubuntu computers all from a single point. Thats a lot of good stuff right there.
My personal take on the release is very positive and while it doesn't sound like they have done anything too groundbreaking in 12.04, with each release the focus on the user becomes more and more evident, culminating with this, Ubuntu’s Unity finally stating to leave that dark tunnel and enter into the warm light of general acceptance.
This release, even early on has felt solid, smooth and WAY more user centric than not only any other version of Ubuntu before it but any other flavor of Linux i have used to date. In fact it ran marginally better (i.e quicker) than Mac OS X 10.7 on the iMac that was being tested on, but Shhhh dont tell anyone.
In my opinion all of the above is what makes Ubuntu a fantastic poster boy for Linux on the desktop. I wish canonical the greatest of successes with the release of 12.04 Precise Pangolin in a few days time. I think they might be on to a winner with this one.
Also on a side note, if you are on the fence on wether or not to give Ubuntu a try and you are a Lady GaGa fan, the Queen of bizare herself uses Ubuntu as her full time system of choice, so now you have no reason not to.
The latest version (Currently Beta 3) is available here with more up-to-date daily builds (which i strongly recommend to get an as near to final experience as possible) available here