In this article we will look at pre-releases of Ubuntu and openSUSE.
The latest versions at the time were Ubuntu 9.10 Alpha 4 and openSUSE 11.2
Milestone 6. We will look at the planned features and see how each one is
Ubuntu Karmic Alpha 4
Back in February, Mark Shuttleworth announced Karmic Koala and
revealed the plans for an even speedier boot process, a new look, and new
applications for cloud computing. "During the Karmic cycle we want
to make it easy to deploy applications into the cloud, with ready-to-run
appliances or by quickly assembling a custom image." Since then the
blueprints for Karmic have been updated with the plans for new
So far Alpha 4 looks much the same as 9.04, with minor changes
in the GDM login screen and a new default wallpaper. According to the release schedule,
the artwork deadline won't be until September 24, 2009, so while the Karmic incoming
artwork page shows a lot of activity, we'll have to wait to see the
final choices for the new appearance.
Alpha 4 enables GRUB 2 by default for
new installations. Overall, testing this new feature was painless. The boot
loader found and listed all operating systems on the test machine, just
like GRUB 1 did. The setup on the test machine is plain, however, without
LVM or password protection, which is noted not to work in the Alpha 4 release
announcement. For more detailed information please refer to the GRUB 2 testing wiki
page, which contains the results of the community testing.
Ubuntu 9.10 targets the 2.6.31 Linux kernel, so the current alpha ships
a kernel based on 2.6.31-rc5. HAL deprecation, which started in Alpha 1,
moves storage device and hotkey handling over to the DeviceKit subsystem.
Again, the transition went relatively smoothly, since the hotkeys and disks
were managed almost as well as in 9.04. The wireless key now switches
on wifi and bluetooth together.
The Intel video driver architecture is being moved from EXA to UXA
during the Karmic release cycle, which should solve the performance
regressions in Jaunty. Unfortunately, the test machine we used is based on
Nvidia graphics, so we couldn't test this. According to this Phoronix
article, the problem wasn't solved in Alpha 3:
We also wanted
to deliver new OpenGL results from Ubuntu 9.10 Alpha 3 using an Intel 945
IGP found in the Dell Mini 9, but that was to no avail. The Intel graphics
performance was bad in Ubuntu 9.04, but at least World of Padman,
OpenArena, Tremulous, and Urban Terror were able to run successfully. With
Ubuntu 9.10 Alpha 3 on the Dell Mini 9 and with each of these games being
run through the Phoronix Test Suite, the system would lock-up at various
Ext4 is now the default filesystem for new installations. This gives a
performance boost to Karmic, at least my system seemed faster than it did
using 9.04 on ext3 partitions.
Like Alpha 3, Alpha 4 ships GNOME 2.27.4, which introduced a default
instant messaging application transition from Pidgin to Empathy. It seems
that Ubuntu developers were thinking only about the technical benefits,
since there is no tool for account and data migration. Other Ubuntu
applications are shipped with new versions, like OpenOffice 3.1.1 RC1 and
Firefox 3.5.2. Ubuntu One,
Canonical's cloud computing storage service is enabled by default during
Karmic development, providing the company's service out of the box. That's
not all, Alpha 4 introduces Karmic Amazon EC2 test images, as mentioned in
the original announcement.
Over in Kubuntu land, KDE 4.3 is still being integrated into Alpha 4.
This release continues Kubuntu's Netbook effort, with the Plasma Netbook
shell addition. Netbook shell is planned for Kubuntu 4.4, but thanks to
the cooperation between Kubuntu and KDE developers, it is planned to be
integrated in Karmic. The Kubuntu Netbook Remix is very nice, stable and
fast, with some interesting ideas and concepts. At the same time, this
effort depends on the Intel video driver subsystem progress. A full list of
new features in the latest Kubuntu Alpha is available here.
Ubuntu Alpha 4 is interesting release. Fresh software, GRUB 2, Ext4,
Empathy and Ubuntu One by default, and the Kubuntu Netbook remix are some
of the new features already implemented. We will have to wait for the beta
release to see the new look, even faster boot times and GRUB2
optimizations. The performance improvements we experienced during the test
are mostly related to the filesystem speed up and the SQLite performance regression that was solved
in the latest kernel releases.
openSUSE 11.2 Milestone 6
The latest openSUSE 11.2 milestone was released just after two important
announcements. It was decided that KDE would be the default desktop in 11.2 and
newer releases, as proposed in openSUSE's openFATE feature tracking
system. Also openSUSE 11.2 and beyond will
be supported 18 months after the release (2 release cycles plus 2
months). Previous releases received updates for 24 months.
According to the roadmap, features were frozen
at Milestone 5. Patches for software on the DVD will still be accepted
during Milestone 6, but this pre-release is feature complete. From here on
its bug fixes and some spit and polish.
All the planned features were working during the installation process.
OpenSUSE has finished it's ext4 transition, marking it as a default for new
installations. A new partition interface is there too. 11.2 will be based
on the 2.6.31 kernel, so Milestone 6 uses the 2.6.31-rc6 "desktop flavor."
Milestone 5 introduced the desktop kernel flavor by default, optimized for
desktop and laptop machines.
The first testing steps in the freshly-installed Milestone 6 system
revealed a bug. For some reason, KnetworkManager failed to connect to the
wireless network, without any error or notification. I eventually used the
terminal to connect to the internet. Ubuntu accomplished this task
The new YaST QT4 interface was speedy and well organized, and showed
improved package and repository management. The package management system
distribution upgrade feature (like Debian's dist/full-upgrade) will be
supported officially from 11.2 and on.
11.2 ships with KDE 4.3 which provided a smooth, fast and elegant
desktop experience. The new default desktop theme is Air. The GNOME
desktop is also shipped with a new appearance, named Sonar. GNOME 2.28 is
targeted for 11.2 so v2.27 ships with Milestone 6. The latest versions of
other popular programs are on the DVD and live ISOs, including Firefox 3.5
and OpenOffice 3.1. There is also social networking support on the desktop
in the form of a microblogging plasmoid and applications including Kopete
and Pidgin, Facebook support, KDE Twitter and the Identica client Choqok).
GIMP is available on the KDE live CD, showing an effort into integrating
GTK applications in KDE4. OpenOffice comes with the KDE4 theme and file
choosing dialogs, Firefox is shipped with the Oxygen theme.
Nearly all of the planned
features for 11.2 are present and working, so Milestone 6 is quite close
to what the final 11.2 will look like, which is promising overall. YaST
seems to be faster than it was in the past, desktops and applications run
faster thanks to ext4 and improvements in the new releases. The only
problem we had was the previously mentioned connectivity issue. According
to the 11.2 roadmap, the
remaining milestones and release candidates will focus on bug squashing,
polishing and localization. The final release is expected in November so
openSUSE 11.2 should be a very good release indeed.
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