The final release of "Natty Narwhal," or version 11.04 of Canonical's Ubuntu Linux distribution, may still be more than a month away, but project founder Mark Shuttleworth on Monday officially inaugurated work on its successor with the announcement that version 11.10 will be called "Oneiric Ocelot."
The "skunkworks" on Ubuntu 11.10 are "in high gear right now," Shuttleworth wrote in a blog post Monday.
In naming the new version of the open source operating system, "what we want is something imaginative, something dreamy," he explained. "Something sleek and neat, too. Something that captures both the competence of ubuntu-devel with the imagination of ayatana."
Explaining the project's choice, "oneiric means 'dreamy,' and the combination with Ocelot reminds me of the way innovation happens: part daydream, part discipline," Shuttleworth wrote.
Given Natty Narwhal's planned release date of April 28, the software's six-month release schedule leads to an October release for Oneiric Ocelot.
'A Stretch Release'
Natty Narwhal is anticipated with considerable excitement, not least for the radical changes it will be the first to reflect. Though the Wayland graphics system won't be ready in time for its debut, 3D-enabled Unity has replaced the GNOME shell as the default desktop interface, for example.
A 2D version of Unity is also available, and Ubuntu 11.04 uses the Compiz window manager rather than Mutter by default. LibreOffice is now included, and a raft of other changes are planned for the software as well. The third and final alpha version of Natty Narwhal was released last week.
"Natty is a stretch release," Shuttleworth explained in his post. "We set out to redefine the look and feel of the free desktop."
The latest stable release of Ubuntu is version 10.10, or "Maverick Meerkat," while the current Long Term Support (LTS) version is Ubuntu 10.04, dubbed "Lucid Lynx." Version 12.04, due in April 2012, will be the next LTS version.
What can we expect in Oneiric Ocelot? Well, first off, it may well be the release in which Wayland makes its debut.
Shuttleworth also recently announced that future versions of Ubuntu, post-Natty, will incorporate the Qt user interface libraries and may include applications based on the Qt framework.
"Our desktop has come together beautifully, and in the next release we'll complete the cycle of making it available to all users, with a 2D experience to complement the OpenGL based Unity for those with the hardware to handle it," Shuttleworth wrote.
The introduction of Qt, meanwhile, "means we'll be giving developers even more options for how they can produce interfaces that are both functional and aesthetically delightful," he added.
What effect Nokia's sale of its Qt commercial licensing and services business to Finnish company Digia might have remains to be seen.
No More 'Quit'?
Key decisions must still be made about which cloud platforms will be supported in version 12.04 LTS, Shuttleworth noted. Natty Narwhal is expected to support both the OpenStack and Eucalyptus cloud platforms.
Then, too, there's the announcement on Monday from Canonical designer Matthew Paul Thomas that Ubuntu will phase out the "quit" command, though which version that might appear in isn't yet clear.
What we can be sure of, however, is that exciting new changes are on the way for Ubuntu. Not only that, but we've all now learned another word. Oneiric -- who could have predicted it?
Follow Katherine Noyes on Twitter: @Noyesk .