On Your Marks, Get Set...Gutsy Gibbon!
Welcome to a new on-line column here at LinuxJournal.com, "Linux Products Insider". I'm James Gray, Products Editor at Linux Journal. After the spam has been deencrusted and hucksters repelled, I'll use this space to update you on the latest and greatest products and services that I find using my secret channels. This week, I had the chance to take part in a press conference with Mark Shuttleworth, Founder of Ubuntu. Read on to learn why Shuttleworth's is so fired up about the new Ubuntu 7.10 "Gutsy Gibbon" (available this week), as well as why he thinks Ubuntu is so darned successful.
I came away from this event with a positively reinforced view of Mark Shuttleworth, impressed by his reserved confidence and vision for both Ubuntu specifically and free software in general. While Shuttleworth might lack the oratory power of, say, a Barack Obama, listening to him is amazingly inspiring and informative. Temperamentally Shuttleworth is much like Linus Torvalds with his combination of a reserved manner and immense intellect.
The goal of today's meeting was to prime the 'press pump' and get us talking heads to turn our attention to the new Ubuntu 7.10 "Gutsy Gibbon", which will roll out on Thursday, October 18th. (The other variants such as Kubuntu, Edubuntu, etc. will also be available then.) Shuttleworth focused on three key areas - the Ubuntu development process, desktop innovations and server innovations.
Of the above three areas, Shuttleworth devoted not only the most breath but also the most enthusiasm to Ubuntu Server and how, in one short year, it (starting with Ubuntu 6.06) has seen "fantastic levels of adoption". He cited how both Alfresco and Zimbra report that Ubuntu is now the second most popular Linux OS on which their applications are deployed. Such popularity is not lost on the Ubuntu development team, which has ramped up its development on the server side. Nevertheless, Shuttleworth pointed out that the server platform shares the same philosophy with the desktop OS that has made Ubuntu so beloved worldwide - its focus on simplicity and security. Furthermore, Ubuntu plans to stick to its twice-a-year update schedule, even with the growing attention to the server and each release being enterprise-class and deployable and not just a test release.
Other improvements to Ubuntu Server include integration of AppArmor (nope, it's not just a SUSE/Novell thing anymore), tickless idle mode, easier mass deployments and the Landscape system management tool. Just into closed beta, Landscape is a Web-based systems management tool that allows organizations to manage both small and large numbers of systems, including software management, system inventory, performance reporting, user management and more.
Over on the Ubuntu Desktop, Shuttleworth discussed a number of important new developments, as well. Firstly, one can expect better printer support in Version 7.10. Essentially, because Ubuntu's printing system is similar to that of a Macintosh, any printer compatible with a Mac should also be compatible with Ubuntu 7.10. Secondly, Shuttleworth said to look for a streamlining of integration of Firefox browser extensions, which will be even easier to utilize. Thirdly, Ubuntu 7.10 integrates Compiz for dramatic 3-D desktop effects, which will be set up automatically if one's hardware is suitable for it. Fourthly, Ubuntu has created an open-source-based method of both reading and writing to the NTFS partition where your Windows OS resides. Incidentally, Shuttleworth was asked whether such a solution infringes on any Microsoft patents, to which he replied that it does not. He further expressed his conviction that Microsoft "will not put itself at risk of a real rebuttal and take action on Linux" since its case would have no merit. Shuttleworth sees a bigger threat in "patent trolls" who are out looking for lawsuits.
So how is it that Ubuntu can deliver both server and desktop versions and keep it on a schedule that the Swiss railway would admire? Part of the secret lies in Ubuntu's twice-yearly Developer Summit, which rotates between the US, Europe and soon Asia, too. While developers work and contribute from all corners of the globe, the Developer Summit is a chance for intensive planning and face time. Furthermore, Shuttleworth claims that these summits are really a "nexus of discussion for the whole Linux Community" and are a "pulse of innovation" for the whole free software stack.
Ubuntu 7.10 was 'hatched' at a Developer Summit in Seville, Spain five months ago when developers gathered to lay out a concrete vision and a set of goals for this release. Then, a few months later, part of the team checked in to assess its progress.
The cycle starts again in late October in Boston as the Ubuntu team will meet to envision the next release of Ubuntu.
One final note of interest involves the popularity of Ubuntu around the world. At one point Mark Shuttleworth estimated that over 6 million people have deployed Ubuntu. Several of us journalists pressed him for hard data. One editor insisted that they should be able to at least count all of the times that an essential file was downloaded and extrapolate from there. Unfortunately, however, Shuttleworth says that due to its strict adherance to its privacy policies, Ubuntu/Canonical does nothing to track the users who access its software repositories. Instead, all of its estimates of user numbers are gathered through indirect means and are by no means precise.
Of course there was so much more packed into this hour-plus long press event. I hope I've distilled it down in such a way to give you some good take-home nuggets. If you are interested in learning more about Ubuntu 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon, visit Ubuntu's Web site at: http://www.ubuntu.com
James Gray is Products Editor for Linux Journal.