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Ubuntu targets the mainstream

Canonical adds 5-year support, improved interface and slick deployment tools to OS that spans desktop, server and cloud

By Tom Henderson, Network World
June 18, 2012 12:03 AM ET

Network World - With Ubuntu 12.04, Canonical has delivered a much improved product that spans desktops, servers and the cloud in a bid to become the cross-platform mainstream product that Apple's Mac OS might have been had Apple not abandoned the server market.

Dubbed Precise Pangolin (an anteater-like mammal), the latest version of Ubuntu sports a new feature called "machine as a service," or MaaS, which allows network admins to quickly distribute the operating system to desktops, servers or cloud resources.

10 things we like about Ubuntu Linux 12.04

Precise Pangolin reaches across many platforms, although not to IBM's Power processor-based server family. Few will grumble, we believe, as IBM's Power server family is statistically comparatively small. There are two basic ports for Ubuntu 12.04, a 32-bit and a 64-bit. There are also variants for 32-bit ARM processors.

Despite the ARM support, 12.04 is somewhat experimental on tablets, as OEM hardware makers are required to work directly with Canonical, much like Microsoft plans no retail-installable versions of Windows RT. Few Ubuntu ARM-based tablets have been seen in the wild and none were officially released at the time of our testing. Our port of Ubuntu onto a zombie HP tablet was as simple as the last time we tried it. We've also seen demos of Ubuntu smartphones, but could find no U.S.-based samples running even the beta of Ubuntu 12.04.

Unity interface evolves

The Unity interface, which Gnome users love to hate, has improved a step or two from when we last visited its updates on Ubuntu 11.04/11.10. Unity now strongly features Ubuntu One personal cloud resources, and we were only mildly miffed that it took four authentications to play a music sample from the Ubuntu One media store. It must install a proprietary Fraunhofer IIS MP3 license for the codec that translates MP3 digital files to audio output. That's unless you thought of that at initial installation; most won't, we believe, because they're not used to making choices of free vs. closed (yet financially free) choices at installation time.

Those running Ubuntu 10.04+ and Linux Mint 10+ will find that an upgrade installation isn't difficult. Just remember that if you're already joyously happy with your current user interface (especially Gnome), Unity will likely be installed right on top of that favored user interface if you're not careful; a fresh, bare-metal installation with subsequent restoration is recommended. But we feel Unity has evolved to the point where there's not much difference between a skinned Unity UI and one from KDE or Gnome.

Much care has been taken to retain compatibility with Debian, which is a conservative implementation of Linux, GNU and other applications. But that's where existing users won't complain. It's the installation of Canonical's Unity user interface that provides a radical change, and users of prior editions had flipped out. There's much less to loathe now; Unity performs well and supports two monitors, if the supporting hardware does.

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