Ubuntu 11.04, the 'Natty Narwhal' is now out marking the first release of the popular Linux distro in 2011.
The 11.04 release provides new features for both desktop and server users as well as new cloud technologies. The Natty release also provides the most visible change to the Linux desktop in years with the new Unity interface. For Canonical, the lead commercial sponsor behind Ubuntu, the 11.04 release is a big step forward in its effort to help attract Windows users over to Linux.
"For Windows users, all of the attributes of Ubuntu, including the security, fast boots and the stability, are things we take into Ubuntu 11.04." Gerry Carr, marketing manager at Canonical, told InternetNews.com. "What was missing before and stopping us from getting more into the mainstream was a complete and compelling, different experience for PC users."
Carr added that with WindowsXP now nearing the end of its life, he expects there will be renewed interest in different operating systems. He noted that consumers have become used to non-Windows operating systems thanks to what has happened in the smartphone market, with the success of the iPhone and Android operating systems.
"There is a hunger and an interest in exploring new technologies in this space, and we hope that will lead to the PC itself, where it has been a single supplier for so long," Carr said.
One of the primary reasons Windows has dominated the PC space is because it is preloaded on hardware. Carr noted that Canonical is working with a range of vendors on getting Ubuntu preloaded.
"We know based on what we've signed and what we're looking at that we'll see more Ubuntu shipping in the next 12 months that is preloaded onto machines," Carr said. "The primary access point will remain downloads, but I think that will balance out as we get towards the end of the year."
Ubuntu's Unity Interface
The new Unity interface is Ubuntu's take on what the next-generation Linux desktop shell should look like. Ubuntu split with the broader GNOME desktop community on the interface issue, rejecting the GNOME Shell approach that other distros, including Red Hat and its Fedora Linux, are taking.
"The whole big design philosophy behind Unity is about prompting the user at the right point to do the right thing," Carr said.
The Unity interface, however, is not for everyone. Unity requires users have graphics hardware acceleration to support the system. For those that choose not to use Unity, Ubuntu 11.04 also provides the 'Ubuntu Classic' experience. Carr noted that the Ubuntu Classic provides what is essentially an older GNOME 2.29 interface in 2D.
Canonical is also trying to make it easier for new users to test drive Ubuntu 11.04 with a new online service. Users can try out Ubuntu 11.04 from any operating system through their web browsers.
"We see it really as the first staging post for someone that is curious about Ubuntu," Carr said. "Users just go to Ubuntu.com and can register for a trial and then will experience an 11.04 image that can do more or less anything they could do with the full Ubuntu product."
Carr noted that Canonical will be serving the Ubuntu 11.04 web version from the Amazon cloud. The service will be able to support up to 800 concurrent users at any one time.
The next Ubuntu release is currently scheduled for October and will be codenamed the Oneiric Ocelot.