Canonical Ubuntu 12.10 brings the Internet closer to the desktop

Canonical's latest Linux distribution provides easier access to Internet services

Canonical has released both the server and desktop editions of 12.10 Ubuntu, which offers a glimpse of how this Linux distribution will evolve in the next few years.

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Ubuntu 12.10 "effectively sets out the future direction of how Ubuntu will develop over the next two years," said Steve George, who is Canonical's vice president for communications and products. "The Internet has become an intrinsic part of user's experience so we've been focusing on integrating online and offline services."

The previous release, Ubuntu 12.04 released in April, was a long term release (LTS), meaning that Canonical focused on making that version as stable as possible, and will support it for two years. LTS releases are designed for enterprise users, which upgrade on fixed yearly cycles and tend to prefer fewer bugs over newer features.

In contrast, work around Ubuntu 12.10, code-named Quantal Quetzal, focused on setting the stage for the new ways that the distribution may be used, George said.

For this release, Canonical has loaded its Dash desktop search interface with additional online capabilities. Now during a search, the software will return not only a list of all the system's applications and documents that match that search term, but also some results from the Internet.

For instance, it can search through documents stored in a user's Google Docs collections. And, in a controversial move, it will also return results from Amazon, in case users are searching for items to purchase. Canonical gets a percentage of the proceeds from any Amazon sales made through Ubuntu.

This is also the first version of Ubuntu to include WebApps, which gives a Web application developer a way to place an icon on the Ubuntu desktop that, when clicked upon, opens the Web application in its own stand-alone window. From the user's experience, the Web application "looks like an normal application," George said.

For the enterprise, Quantal Quetzal offers remote desktop log-in to machines running Microsoft Windows, using Windows Terminal Server.

With this software, Windows applications on a remote machine can be run, through virtualization, from the Ubuntu system. The administrator can place an icon on the desktop which when clicked runs the remote application. "It gets a lot of attention from corporate clients," George said of the remote log-in capabilities.

The server edition of Ubuntu 12.10 comes with a number of new features as well -- many of which are aimed at streamlining Ubuntu's operations in the cloud.

"General online Web infrastructure still represents a huge proportion of Ubuntu's use," said Mark Baker, Canonical server product manager. "But increasingly, the cloud is becoming very important."

To help in cloud usage, Canonical has speeded the boot times of server software by removing some of the less-used applications from default installation. "There is no point in putting on a Web server on by default, or MySQL by default. We let the administrator decide what to include," Baker said. This version also comes with the latest edition of the Tomcat servlet container -- version 7 -- and the latest version of the OpenStack cloud software, Folsom, released in September.

This is also the first version to include Ceph, a distributed file system that provides file storage, block storage and object storage capabilities. Ceph will be useful for "storing and managing large volumes of data," Baker said. Ceph eliminates the need for purchasing a separate SAN (storage area network) because it can manage petabytes of storage by using commodity servers and disks.

Canonical has also updated its Juju workload orchestration tool, software that provides a way to provision services in cloud environments. Juju now has a GUI, which should ease usage. Canonical has also compiled almost 100 new Charms -- Ubuntu's name for a configuration package for Juju--covering applications such as Memcache, Hadoop, Tomcat, MongoDB, MediaWiki and WordPress.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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