Canonical moves on desktop, server Linux

Version 8.10 of Canonical's Desktop and Server Linux distributions are being announced.

Canonical, which wants Linux to challenge Apple's Macintosh in usability on the desktop, is unveiling on Monday upgrades to its Ubuntu Linux distributions, offering 3G and virtualization improvements. Version 8.10 of Canonical's Desktop and Server Linux distributions are being announced Monday and will be available Thursday.

At the O'Reilly Open Source Convention in Portland, Ore. in July, Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth set forth a goal to have Linux on the desktop match the usability of the Macintosh. While version 8.10 does not yet attain that goal, it is a step in that direction, said Steve George, director of corporate services at Canonical. "That continues to be what we're working towards," George said.

"I think Linux on the desktop is definitely picking up speed. The new netbook category [of smaller, mobile laptop systems] is a great opportunity for Linux," said George.

The Desktop release features 3G network support for moving from wired and Wi-Fi networks onto 3G cell phone networks while traveling, Canonical said.

An analyst lauded the 3G capabilities. "This allows users of Ubuntu to connect to a variety of 3G networks worldwide with no complex configuration," said Stephen O'Grady, principal analyst at RedMonk.

Users of the Desktop edition can start a "guest session" and let someone use their computer to surf the Web or check e-mail while maintaining security and integrity of their own data, Canonical said. Ubuntu's Desktop can be put on any USB key and installed on any machine.

The Gnome 2.24 desktop environment in the release offers a new instant messaging client, a time-tracker and the Ekiga 3.0 video and audio conferencing tool. Also, file management has been improved, as has support for multiple monitor use.

Another feature in the Desktop release is programming from the BBC, including streamed content available through default media players in Ubuntu 8.10. A mixture of video, radio, and podcasts will be available.

Another analyst, however, was skeptical of Canonical's desktop ambitions.

"Ubuntu is a nice Linux distro for both the server and the desktop," said analyst Gordon Haff, of Illuminata. "That said, the suggestion that Ubuntu will bring Linux onto the desktop in a big way, I just don't buy it. With Internet-based computing going where it's going, I just don't see a lot of enthusiasm for another desktop OS in the Windows or OS X mold. That's not to say that you won't see Linux, maybe Ubuntu, on some laptops (especially specialized ones like netbooks) but you have to distinguish some penetration from going mainstream."

Ubuntu 8.10 Server Edition, which will be maintained for 18 months, offers capabilities for virtualization, Java development, and system management.

In the virtualization space, improvements have been made in setting up virtual machines, with the release building on the Just Enough Operating System, which was launched last year and is configured for virtual appliances. The Server product offers a Virtual Machine builder to allow virtual machines to be built from the command line in fewer than five minutes. Custom virtual images can be built. Virtual Machine builder offers a component to a provisioning process for virtualization, Canonical said.

Xen technology is featured as a "paravirtualized guest," providing for efficiency in running a virtualized environment, George said.

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