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Ubuntu targets smartphones, clouds

Canonical lays out ambitious roadmap with latest release

By Tom Henderson, Network World
December 19, 2011 12:09 AM ET

Network World - Ubuntu 11.10 has some jagged edges and documentation isn't easy to locate, but Canonical is certainly dreaming big with this latest update, dubbed Oneiric (dreamy) Ocelot.

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The dreamy part is in the fact that Canonical is brushing aside criticism over its recent move to replace Gnome with the new Unity interface, and is forging ahead with ambitious plans to take the Ubuntu open source desktop OS to the cloud, the server, the tablet and the smartphone.

We're starting to get used to Unity, and we found it works on many more display adapters and display types than the previous version, but the exact types that are compatible are still a moving target. In our testing, we couldn't find a machine that wasn't Unity compatible — including as a virtual machine on MacOS and Parallels. However, we wish that Canonical would publish a Unity compatibility list. (See Ubuntu's Unity interface.)

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We were able to hack Unity into two tablets, an Android-based Motorola Xoom and a WebOS HP TouchPad, but it took a bit of work. We believe that Ubuntu is likely to be seen on commercially marketed tablets soon.

A quotient of formerly passionate Ubuntu users have expressed deep dismay over the Unity UI, although it's not that difficult to swap it out for the familiar Gnome UI-window/program manager.

To the server and smartphone

Ubuntu 11.10 features server support for the ARM family of processors. Canonical has an engineering department known as Ubuntu Core that ostensibly supports TI, Marvell and Freescale ARM, along with x86 families of processors.

While ARM is known for small, often low-power devices, ARM CPUs are also the crux of very high CPU density, low-power servers. Organizations like HP have announced, and SeaMicro/Dell are delivering, high-density ARM server platforms — albeit in the 32-bit world that somewhat limits potential performance.

Apple uses ARM-based CPUs, and while mainstream servers used in virtualization platforms are CISC based — and ARM is a RISC processor — there is much interest in multi-CPU ARM platforms — even in smartphones. Canonical seems to be covering the roulette table.

To the cloud

Ubuntu 11.10 has replaced the Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud construct with Ubuntu Cloud Infrastructure. The UEC strategy has taken several rapid turns since our review of Ubuntu 10.04, and Canonical introduces more amalgamation of efforts identified by Ubuntu Orchestra.

The Ubuntu Orchestra project combines four efforts into one initiative. We found the results are good, but mercurial. Canonical personnel have described the effort as purposefully lightweight, rather than enterprise — meaning complex, by their description.

Orchestra's four components are a provisioning server, management server, logging server and monitoring server. The four components are designed to be the framework for bare metal server provisioning on a fleet scale. Compared to other Linux releases, there are any number of components missing, however, some of the infrastructure can be combined with Puppet (found first in Ubuntu 11.04), along with other bits and pieces.

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