Ubuntu 8.10 Charges Up the Mountain

The hot story-of-the-week this week is, of course, the ninth release of the popular Ubuntu Linux distribution, officially designated Ubuntu 8.10 but far more recognizable by its colorful code-name, Intrepid Ibex. The release comes with much more than just a flashy name, though.

Among Intrepid's shiny new packages are upgrades to core portions of the operating system including the kernel itself, which has been updated to the 2.6.27 release. The latest version of X.Org, 7.4, which appeared in September after months of repeated delays, is included, and boasts improved hot-plugging for keyboards, mice, and other input peripherals, a failsafe mechanism to provide better troubleshooting for startup glitches, and for many users, the end of the xorg.conf configuration file.

Of course, the latest GNOME release (2.24) is also snugly at home in Intrepid. Among the new GNOME features is a tabbed interface for the Nautilus file browser, as well as a variety of new Deskbar applets, improvements to the File Roller archive manager, the inclusion of XRandR 1.2, and the latest — and greatly improved — version of GNOME's very-own IM client, Empathy. One disappointment, however, is that the Ekiga 3.0 video/audio conference package is not included in Ubuntu 8.10 — early reports that it would be included were based on an erroneous press release.

Other improvements and additions are included, among them Samba 3.2, Network Manager 0.7 — including the much-anticipated addition of 3G support, the ability to manage devices with static IPs, PPP/PPPOE connections, and multiple active devices, and an end to the need to log-in to obtain a network connection. Several packages have been upgraded to the main repository, including SpamAssassin and ClamAV, as well as OpenJDK, the Open Source implementation of the Java development kit, and Apache Tomcat 6. There is also a new PAM authentication tool, Dell's KDMS tool for rebuilding kernel drivers, and the ecryptfs-utils package for creating encrypted private directories. Other additions and upgrades can be found in the release's Technical Overview.

One interesting feature added to Intrepid's media lineup is a plugin designed to end a longstanding feud of sorts between Linux users and the British Broadcasting Company. For quite some time, the BBC has made their content available online through their iPlayer — which uses Windows-based DRM — much to the outrage of Open Source advocates. According to the BBC, they've heard the voice of the people and have teamed up with Canonical to offer a no-DRM BBC Totem plugin to allow Ubuntu users — to start with, though expansion to other distributions is "currently under discussion" — to share in the streaming goodness. Sadly, the share is rather meager: none of the popular BBC shows available through the DRM-player — Doctor Who, for example — will be available. What will we be getting? "[M]ainly radio shows from the BBC Audio & Music team." There's a host of other matters to contemplate — a mix of free and un-free formats, restrictions on non-UK users — but if nothing else, it's a step in the right direction, and shows they're listening.

No release comes without a few wrinkles to work out, and Intrepid is no exception. One hiccup encountered with 8.10 involves the proprietary drivers for certain nVidia video cards — including the GeForce & TNT lines — which are not compatible with X.Org 7.4. Affected users will be automatically switched to the free nv driver during the upgrade, however, the nv driver does not support 3D acceleration (i.e. No Compiz Fusion). UbuntuStudio users have been left without SMP support in their real-time kernel; the official recommendation is to not upgrade to UbuntuStudio 8.10 if you require SMP — no word on whether a fix will be forthcoming or not. A number of other issues, ranging from minor annoyances to network troubles to full-out system crashes have been documented in the Release Notes.

Aside from known-issues, users also have to be on their toes, ready to patch the vulnerabilities that will inevitably come to light — after all, no system is perfect. One such issue — a "regression" not a vulnerability — was announced and patched within hours of the Ibex hitting the shelves. Apparently, the 2.6.27 kernel fiddled with the order of options in TCP headers — something which was perfectly RFC-compliant — but which borked older routers, causing them to refuse to route as long as TCP timestamps were enabled. A quick-fix was duly applied, and the regression replaces that fix and returns the TCP options order to it's pre-2.6.27 state. If you've already picked up your copy of Intrepid, be sure to update.

The end of a release cycle is of course a time of change, and Ubuntu is no exception to this. While Hardy Heron gives up its spot as the stable release to Intrepid — of course, Hardy retains its Long Term Support status — a new name is waiting in the wings, the even more colorfully named Jaunty Jackalope, to become the development version. It won't be waiting long, however, as come Monday morning, Ubuntu Open Week — the week-long series of IRC-based seminars aimed at getting new contributors up to speed for the release cycle to come — begins in #ubuntu-classroom on the freenode network. With all beginnings come endings, and for Ubuntu, it's Version 7.04 — Feisty Fawn — that has come to its end. Ubuntu announced earlier this month that as of October 19, Feisty will no longer be supported: Security Notices will cease, and updates will no longer be available. Anyone still using Ubuntu 7.04 — which was released over a year and a half ago — is most strongly advised to upgrade to the latest version of Ubuntu.

Interested users can download Ubuntu 8.10 Desktop and Server editions (32-bit & 64-bit) as a bootable Live-CD or a text-based "alternate" installer from Ubuntu's download site. BitTorrent, DVD-based installers, and the Wubi installer for Windows systems are also available, as are downloads for Ubuntu 8.04 LTS (Hardy Heron), which will be supported through April 2011 on the desktop and April 2013 on the server. The system requirements to run/install Ubuntu are available from the Ubuntu Documentation site.

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