So as we have all heard by now (at least those of us who use Ubuntu Linux every day), Ubuntu 13.04, otherwise known as Raring Ringtail, may be the last ‘named’ release in the Ubuntu family. Canonical is (still) debating on moving to the ‘rolling release’ lifecycle for their desktop distribution outside of their ‘LTS’ offerings. What this means is that they are tightening up support for upcoming releases (shorter support windows) and will not release new LTS version as often. Let’s take a quick look at a late Alpha of Ubuntu 13.04.
If It Looks Like A Duck…
…and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck right (or in this case, a Ringtail)? As you can see from the screen shot below (in a virtual machine, I am curious, not crazy), it does not look any different than previous version of Ubuntu on the default Unity desktop (which I was hoping for some cleanup on, in particular, the week icon artwork – are we stuck in the 90s?):
One of the main criticisms I have for any of the Linux desktops are… the desktop. The ‘experience’ is leaps and bounds above what it used to be, everything is smooth, you can even get the compositing eye candy running on generations ago video hardware, but the look of the desktop is so… OS/2?
What Has Changed?
After a lot of criticism, during installation, there is a giant legal notice that lets you know that when you do a search in Unity that results will be pulled from your local system as well as from the internet, including various Canonical partners unless you indicate you don’t want them to. I realize Canonical is trying to make money and, as the most visible Linux distribution if not the most ubiquitous, take advantage of their market share. In our society, I cannot fault them for the effort even if I am aggravated that it has made it’s way to my distribution of choice.
One of the big changes for Raring is the inclusion of kernel version 3.7.x. This kernel has a number of new features, including the first kernel to have full ‘multi-platform’ support for ARM processors. Riding the tails of the ‘Ubuntu Phone’ platform, having this in the cards (particularly for low power, low speed devices outside the United States) was a must have for Canonical and, if there are delays to the release schedule, the likely cause. Optionally, a very useful security enhancement, is the ability to digitally sign kernel modules. This will make it harder for a compromised system to be exploited since it will preclude any user (including root) from installing a kernel module not signed with the right key.
Finally a number of filesystem changes and enhancements have made it into the new kernel – performance improvements for EXT4 and JFS as well as support for the SMB2 protocol (the successor to the SMB and CIFS filesharing protocol).
What Hasn’t Changed?
Same old Unity. The good news is that if you like Unity and have video hardware that can run it well and is supported well by proprietary binary or open source drivers AND have plenty of memory AND a powerful CPU, you will continue to like it. The bad news is that some users will continue to like it. It’s still slower than it should be, it’s still buggy as all get out (I realize it is an alpha, but simple icon selections should work) and changing it’s behavior is still a pain. Oh, and still using Compiz for compositing? Really? The only developer on the entire Compiz project left, what happens when it breaks? Are they rolling it under the Canonical development umbrella?
What Ubuntu does well is install applications. The Ubuntu Software Center looks pretty much the same at this point (and that is not a bad thing, it is the best integrated software installation tool in any distribution):
Applications, both free and paid, are easy to find, easy to install and show up immediately in the menu. I realize that anyone coming from a Windows background shakes their head when we appreciate something like an installed application creating a menu entry correctly, but we have all suffered from the ‘I know I installed that, where the heck is it?’.
Although there are no official ‘Alpha Milestones’, the build(s) I have been reviewing would still be classified as Alpha even though release is still scheduled for 4/25/2013 at this point (although if they make that, I may eat my socks). However Canonical decides to move forward (rolling release or not), I hope that it buys them the flexibility to polish up their releases. We all appreciate stability and flexibility, but if we are truly to make any headway in the user space (phone, tablet or desktop), the UI has to receive a lot more attention to detail. The polish is missing which detracts from the sheen of an otherwise smooth ride.