Ubuntu gets Gutsy, but is Linux ready?

Millions of end-users to test the Linux water

The Canonical-backed Ubuntu open source community chalked up another milestone today with the release of version 7.10 of its flagship Linux operating system with a swag of user-friendly updates, but its real test will be how well it is adopted by non-technical consumers.

Ubuntu 7.10, or "Gutsy Gibbon", upholds the regular six-month release cycle for the operating system; however, it is differentiated by the inclusion of new software designed to make it easier to use and hence more appealing to most computer users.

Gutsy ships with the new GNOME 2.20 desktop environment, the Compiz Fusion 3D desktop effects software, Tracker for desktop search, fast user switching, dynamic screen configuration and a new graphical display configuration tool, automatic printer installation software, and NTFS-3g to enable reads and writes to Windows partitions.

Other improvements aimed at a better user experience are a Firefox plug-ins finder wizard that allows users to search and install packaged plug-ins, like Adobe's Flash player, easily and in keeping with the rest of the Ubuntu system, and a restricted driver manager that can now fetch and install non-free firmware required for some chipsets.

Notebook computer users may appreciate the work done to reduce power consumption via a Linux kernel update that allows the CPU to use less power and produce less heat.

The general consumer desktop is a relatively new frontier for Linux, and while the adoption of Ubuntu has been impressive, the user-centric interface designs and device driver integration of Windows and Mac OS X have sustained their popularity over the freely available open source operating system.

Many IT industry observers have long spoken of the "year" for mass-market Linux adoption on the desktop, but with giants Microsoft and Apple still garnering most of the consumer's mindshare, its rise remains very much evolutionary.

Training services director for Canberra-based IT consulting firm Looking Glass Solutions Ashley Flynn said he has been waiting for this release which will improve desktop usability.

"The trouble with Ubuntu has been dual monitor support so we're looking forward to making use of dual monitor support as most of our desktops are dual screen," he said, adding Gutsy is likely to have the same user experience as the previous version.

"We encourage business to use it as it is easier to install and use than Windows," he said. "Haven't had any device support issues and it supports the latest Dell hardware."

Flynn, who runs Ubuntu training courses, says cost is a big factor in choosing Ubuntu over Windows and Mac OS X.

"Linux on the desktop will be a gradual process, not a tidal wave," he said. "We push it as the preferred desktop, but it is steady and we haven't seen any avalanche yet."

In addition to user-centric improvements, Ubuntu Gutsy will beef up security with the option to encrypt hard disks (or individual partitions) to protect data from prying eyes, particularly on mobile computers.

The AppArmor security framework will also be included.

As always, Ubuntu 7.10 will be released as a desktop and server edition, which has new pre-configured installation options for a mail server, file server, print server, and database server, in addition to the existing LAMP and DNS options.

Thin client support has also been improved for Gutsy.

The Litmus test for Ubuntu, and Linux on the desktop, will come when people try Gutsy as an alternative to Windows and Mac OS X. With more device driver integration and automatic configuration built in, Linux may eventually shred its command-line hacker moniker.

Questions or comments about this story? Please e-mail Rodney Gedda at rodney_gedda@idg.com.au.

The Ubuntu Linux distribution is online at www.ubuntu.com.

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Rodney Gedda

Computerworld
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