Ubuntu 11.04 'Natty Narwhal' makes splashy bebut

Users around the globe gain a free, cutting-edge Windows alternative.

Culminating months of increasingly eager anticipation, Canonical on Thursday released the final version of Ubuntu 11.04, also known as Natty Narwhal.

The free and open source Linux distribution, which entered beta about a month ago, is now ready for download for laptops, desktops, netbooks and servers from the project's Web site, offering computer uses around the globe a no-cost, feature-packed alternative to Microsoft Windows and other operating systems.

Users of Ubuntu 10.10 will be offered an automatic upgrade to 11.04 via the Update Manager. Further information about upgrading can be found on the Ubuntu site.

"11.04 continues Ubuntu's proud tradition of integrating the latest and greatest open source technologies into a high-quality, easy-to-use Linux distribution," the project team said in its press relese.

Standard maintenance updates will be provided for Ubuntu 11.04 for 18 months, through October 2012. The current Long Term Support (LTS) version is Ubuntu 10.04, with another one expected in April 2012. The next major release following Ubuntu 11.04 will be 11.10 "Oneiric Ocelot," which is slated to arrive in October.

From GNOME to Unity

I've already looked fairly extensively at Natty Narwhal, including both a slideshow and a detailed report on some of its key features.

Certainly the most widely discussed new feature in Natty is its Unity interface, which first made its debut in Ubuntu 10.10's Netbook Edition last fall. Offering a multitouch-enabled alternative to previous Ubuntu versions' traditional GNOME interface, Unity mimics the clutter-free look of many mobile operating systems.

When it's downloaded, Ubuntu 11.04 will automatically determine if the user's graphics card supports Unity. If not, the software will provide a "classic" experience instead.

Regardless of their hardware, users can also choose the classic experience if they prefer it.

Free Trials in the Cloud

Search has also been integrated into Natty Narwhal such that users need only enter a few letters into the top search bar in Ubuntu's Dash feature and it will list files, folders and applications in terms of those used today, yesterday and recently, making it easier for users to find what they need.

On the server side, Ubuntu Server 11.04 has made it easier both to provision servers and to reduce power consumption, the project team says. Ubuntu Server 11.04 for UEC and EC2 also has a new kernel and improved initialization and configuration options.

Another first in Natty Narwhal is that Canonical is offering free one-hour trials of the software in the cloud, making it easier than ever to get a taste of the operating system without committing anything in advance.

An overview of the release's features and new additions can be found on the Ubuntu site.

There's little doubt this has been the most closely watched Linux release of all time, and I'm expecting it to captivate more new users than any other. Now that the final release is here, why not check it out for yourself?

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