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Review: Canonical continues cloud push with Ubuntu 15.04

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Nicolas Rougier

Product reviews - open source

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According to the latest statistics from The Cloud Market, Ubuntu now accounts for 59% of all images on the Amazon EC2 platform. Windows has 8%, and the other distributions of Linux split the remaining 33%.

Ubuntu’s popularity is due to the operating system's regular updates, easily accessible images, and availability of enterprise-grade support. And, of course, the lack of license fees.

With its most recent release, Ubuntu 15.04 -- "Vivid Vervet" -- Canonical builds on this advantage with continued emphasis on cloud features.

For example, cloud providers have differences in their infrastructure, from the kernel to the virtualization layer. Ubuntu has had certified images for Amazon, HP Cloud, and Microsoft Azure since 2013, and has recently also added support for the Google Cloud Platform, Joyent, CloudSigma, and Fujitsu, among others.

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Ubuntu has also been supporting the OpenStack cloud computing infrastructure project since 2011, and has expanded its support for OpenStack in its latest release.

OpenStack support

Vivid Vervet supports the latest version of OpenStack, "Kilo." This release includes updates to the network stack and to its identity federation service.

Vivid Vervet also introduces the new LXD Linux container hypervisor, which works with OpenStack. According to Ubuntu, LXD can launch new machines in under a second, with hardware-guaranteed security to prevent applications from spying on one another.

Typically, cloud applications are kept isolated from one another by having each one run on its own virtual machine, with each machine, in turn, running its own operating system and libraries. Containers allow applications to be isolated from one another, while sharing a common operating system, increasing efficiency and decreasing spin-up times.

LXD shares some common elements with Docker, a popular container platform, and Canonical promises to bring some of LXD's security and isolation features over to Docker.

Canonical also says they're working on building connections between containers and storage and network interfaces, similar to the ones that virtual machines already offer.

And speaking of containers, Vivid Vervet is the first release to have a stable version of the Snappy Ubuntu Core, a slimmed-down edition of the operating system designed to work inside containers and in small devices.

In June, Canonical also announced certified Ubuntu images for Joyent's Triton containers, which eliminate layers of virtualization and run directly on bare metal.

Familiar desktop interface

On the desktop, there are few visible changes for the end user in the latest version of Ubuntu. All the major applications are updated to their latest versions, the default background is now purple instead of orange, and applications now have local menus by default.

If you're having trouble finding the Ubundu Developer Tools Center, it's been renamed Ubuntu Make and has been streamlined to make it easier to install developer tools, editor, libraries, and software development kits.

Behind the scenes, Ubuntu 15.04 replaced the Upstart initialization system, which runs when the system is first booted up, with the Systemd alternative recently adopted by Debian.

Ubuntu continues its push to the social web, integrating with Facebook, Flickr, Google, AIM, Windows Life, Salut, Japper, and Yahoo.

For example, users searching for photos and documents can search on their social networks and cloud drives as well as on the local computer. Unfortunately, the Unity Dash may also return weather results, Wikipedia entries, and other results that they might not want to see. This can be changed in the Privacy & Security section of System Settings.

Home users running Ubuntu as media machines will have to install the media codecs, which don't come pre-installed because of patent issues. However, Ubuntu will prompt for it during installation, and users can also install it later from the Ubuntu Software Center.

The operating system took up about 600MB in our installation, on a 64-bit, 8GB laptop with an Intel quad core I5-3230M CPU running at 2.6 GHz. We also installed it on a slightly faster desktop.

Overall, installation and bootup were both noticeably fast, and the computer was usable right after login. The default installation, in particular, was painless and user friendly. However, as with previous releases, custom installation was anything but intuitive.

The application launcher is still in the left-hand sidebar, with Firefox and the LibreOffice word processor, spreadsheet and presentation applications just one click away.

Not for the average consumer

Linux’s market share on user desktops has grown very slightly over the past decade, from under 1% to nearly 2% today.

OpenOffice -- or LibreOffice -- has long been a worthwhile alternative to Windows Office. And cloud-based applications are quickly evolving to the point where they can replace pretty much any other software a typical user ever needs. In theory, Linux now has a window of opportunity for mainstream adoption. And Ubuntu, as the leading Linux distribution, should be a prime contender.

Unfortunately, even with this release, Ubuntu is not in the running as a Windows successor.

Ubuntu offers a slightly cheaper, less user-friendly alternative that doesn't run legacy applications. Given a choice between staying on Windows 7 a little longer and switching to Ubuntu, the practical response is to stay on Windows 7.

Ubuntu on mobile devices

There are, as of this date, just 1,756 apps in the unofficial Ubuntu app store, uApp Explorer. There is no official online store, although you can search for apps from the Ubuntu mobile devices themselves. Most of the must-have ones are missing or are simply links to or packaged versions of the websites.

There's no DropBox app. No Angry Birds. No Netflix. No Hulu. No Snapchat. No Pandora. Google Maps is a web app. So is Facebook, Instagram, and Spotify.

The 2048 game is native, but not from the original developer. In fact, what few native apps there are in this store mostly seem to be clones.

This chicken-and-egg problem is significantly worse for Ubuntu than for Microsoft, with the added disadvantages of no brand name recognition, and no deep pockets to entice developers to bring their apps over.

There might be a small market of developers out there who need a phone or tablet that converts to a regular Ubuntu desktop when docked. But this isn't a replacement for anyone's regular smartphone or media tablet.

Final verdict

Ubuntu 15.04 isn't one of the long-term support releases. That means it will only be supported for nine months, and then retired.

The next long-term release, Ubuntu 16.04, is expected out in April 2016, and will be supported for five years. .

Unless there's something specific needed from this release, most Ubuntu users will be better off waiting.

Korolov is a freelance writer. She can be reached at Boston-based freelance writer Anastasia Trombly contributed to this report.


Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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