Ubuntu's 11.04 release ("Natty Narwhal") is going to be an important
inflection point for the project, and for Canonical. The company is banking
on its users, and potential users, embracing a user interface (Unity) that differs significantly
from the previous Ubuntu release as well as other familiar desktop
UIs. Further, the target release date is less than three months away and
significant chunks of the Unity interface are still unfinished. The second
alpha release on February
3 shows promise, but there is significant work left to be done.
The most interesting, or at least most visible, change is in the shift to Unity. Canonical began work on Unity during the 10.10 cycle for the Ubuntu Netbook Remix. Despite the less-than-exuberant reception for Unity on 10.10, where some vendors opted to remain on 10.04 for netbooks, Canonical decided to push ahead and make Unity the default shell in 11.04 rather than adopting GNOME Shell from GNOME 3.0.
Why has Canonical chosen to take this route instead of GNOME Shell? In part because of differing visions for the desktop. Ubuntu developer Jorge Castro pointed to different ideas, for example, about Application Indicators. While GNOME Shell and Unity have some similarities, the projects also diverge significantly. Initially designed to use the new GNOME window manager (Mutter), Mark Shuttleworth has said that Canonical was unhappy with its performance — which has led to using Compiz instead. There were also problems with getting the Zeitgeist data engine fully integrated with upstream GNOME.
The second alpha lives up to the alpha name. You don't expect that an alpha will be ready for prime time, but this
alpha has more bugs than is expected from an Ubuntu development
release due to Unity development and some major shifts in underlying
packages. Specifically, the alpha was
pushed out very shortly after the transition
to X Server 1.10 and the rest of the X.org
stack, which breaks the proprietary Nvidia and ATI drivers and has a
few bugs when using the Intel drivers as well.
Booting the standard desktop ISO to install or test 11.04 alpha 2 on
many systems (or under VirtualBox or VMware) is unlikely to result in much
joy due to the changes in the X.org stack. This, however, is likely to be resolved by the time that the third alpha ships in March. For determined developers and testers, it is possible to get a working install. Users that have been running the first Natty alpha will escape the problems in the transition, as the upgrade won't replace the affected X packages. I was also able to upgrade a system running Ubuntu 10.10 in place to Natty without problems, though it required manually installing the Nouveau driver to be able to use the default Unity interface. Unity is now no longer dependent on Mutter (as it was in 10.10), and is instead using Compiz.
Unity's UI consists of the Launcher on the left-hand side of the screen, a Panel at the top of the screen, and a Home button (also referred to as the Big Freaking Button) on the extreme left on the panel. The BFB now brings up, or should, the Dash (dashboard) with applications and a search bar that allows the user to search the system for applications, files, etc. In this alpha, however, it simply brings up a blank Dash that's approximately the size of a netbook screen. Castro said that it will eventually be re-sizable so users can expand it to fit the whole screen or just part of the screen at their preference.
The Launcher holds icons or items, which can be for individual applications (such as Firefox) or "Places." What's a Place? One example is the Application place which should display the most used applications as a top row and then all installed applications grouped by category, or displayed alphabetically. But the hope is that developers will create Places that are much more specialized. Castro described it to me as "like a Firefox special search on steroids." Eventually, Castro says, developers should be able to create Places for all manner of things — one example would be an IMDB "place" that would allow users to search IMDB via a launcher and see results in an overlay from the Launcher.
The top panel implements a global application menu that works with most applications. This means that instead of displaying the standard "File, Edit, View," etc. menu items in each window, they are displayed in the Panel. This works with standard GNOME and Qt applications, but there are some outliers — like Firefox, LibreOffice, and Eclipse to name just three — that don't use GTK or Qt menuing. For Firefox (and Thunderbird) this is being implemented as an extension by Chris Coulson that should be ready in time for 11.04. However, it seems likely that there will be at least some percentage of applications that will not quite fit in the standard Unity UI for some time.
Whether the switch to a global application menu is preferable or not is left as an exercise to the reader. The per-window menu mode is deeply ingrained for many of us, so even when the menu works properly for all applications it's going to take some getting used to. Having it implemented for most, but not all, applications is likely to irritate many users.
Unity also has a workspace switcher that allows users to view all workspaces in a tiled view, move applications back and forth between workspaces, or switch between them. This is not dissimilar to the way that GNOME Shell works, or Spaces in Mac OS X.
Overall, the release (if you can get it running) is usable but not entirely stable. A helpful tip, if Unity crashes but the desktop session remains open, you can restart and refresh unity with
unity --refresh. But you have to use a terminal emulator to run this, as Unity does not yet have a run dialog that can be called with Alt-F2 implemented. Castro said that they're likely to use the GNOME Completion-Run Utility, but it hasn't been decided yet.
Though not yet implemented in the alpha, by the time 11.04 ships, there will be an API in place for applications to have a progress meter and/or number on the launcher. If you've used an iOS or Android device, you've probably seen something similar with the application icons on those devices. Castro says that the idea is to stop cluttering the system tray with application-specific notifications and move them to the application icons, keeping system-level notifications and controls (such as the sound volume or network indicators) in the system tray. A mockup can be found on Castro's post about the libunity library. One might wonder, what happens on other distributions without libunity with applications that have implemented these features? Castro says that they'll still run fine on other distributions without any problems, though without the notifications.
What if you don't have supported 3D hardware? Natty will fall back to the standard GNOME 2.32 interface, even though Canonical is working on a 2D Unity interface based on Qt for Ubuntu on ARM. Why not default to Unity 2D for the x86/AMD64 releases of 11.04 as well? The primary issue here is making space for the Qt libraries on the installation CD. However, the plan now is to make space for those libraries in time for Ubuntu 11.10.
Users also won't be seeing an option for GNOME 3.0 in 11.04, either. In fact, they won't be seeing the option in the Software Center. The decision was made mid-January and announced by Sebastien Bacher on the ubuntu-desktop list, where Bacher said "we don't feel integrating GNOME3 with a high quality level in Ubuntu is a job which can be done in one cycle and we prefer to delay it to be default next cycle."
Specifically, Bacher says that "it's not really possible to bring some updated components or [software] in without bringing the GNOME3 desktop" which left the desktop team to decide whether to switch to GNOME 3 in the 11.04 cycle. The decision ultimately was to remain on GNOME 2.32, which is the basis for Ubuntu's 2D fallback. There's also the small matter that GNOME 3.0 would probably not be ready in time for the feature freeze for 11.04 toward the end of February. At any rate, users will need to seek out a Personal Package Archive (PPA) for GNOME 3.0 on 11.04 if they prefer that interface. Castro did indicate that Ubuntu was open to making available an Ubuntu-based release with GNOME 3.0 at some point if there were contributors interested in doing the work.
For contributors interested in working on Unity, there's plenty of room. The project has a collection of small bugs and projects under the "bitesize" label that should be a good option for new contributors. It should be noted, however, that even "bite-sized" patches require agreement to Canonical's contributor agreement, which is less than universally loved by free and open source software developers.
Though buggy and incomplete, the implementation of Unity as it stands now looks interesting. It's unlikely to appeal to GNOME 2.x stalwarts, but it's unclear whether GNOME 3.0 will either. It's an interface that may appeal to non-Linux users, if Canonical can find hardware partners to ship it pre-installed.
Comments (60 posted)
Actually power users install Gentoo from memory, it's really not much
more, than untarring two tarfiles, editing a few configs, making the
kernel and installing the bootloader.
-- Antoni Grzymala
To cut a long story short - lots of people who use centos dont
understand what the project is about, what we do, why we do it and how
they can help. On the other hand, we also seem unable to hold people's
attention ( and i mean people at large, not just the centos community )
in order to get them thinking about the project ( and not the distro,
remember project != distro, needs of the hour are trivial, needs for the
project to sustain and exist are more important ).
-- Karanbir Singh
Comments (1 posted)
A set of release candidates for CyanogenMod 7 - a rebuilt and enhanced
version of the Android "Gingerbread" release - has been announced
"These are builds that are feature-complete and fairly well tested,
but still have some minor tweaking that needs done. You should find them
stable for everyday use though!
" This terse
gives some sense of what's included in this release.
Comments (25 posted)
The Mageia project has announced
the availability of the
first alpha release of its Mandriva fork. By all indications, this release
will be on the rough side; it seems to be, as much as anything, a
celebration of the fact that the project's build and distribution systems
are now up and running. "We know that this release may not impress
you that much, nor will it bring anything revolutionary for the moment and
this is not one of our goals yet; as we first plan to have a rock solid
factory and system.
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Mandriva has released
the first Alpha of Mandriva 2011. "As promised some weeks ago, the
Mandriva 2011 Alpha1 is following the lead of Mandriva 2011 Technical
Preview, sorting out some of the issues we noticed in it.
are a number of updated packages including kernel 2.6.37, GCC 4.5.2, with
plugins enabled by default, Systemd 17, enabled and activated by default,
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Oracle Linux 6 was first released
for customers with an Oracle Linux support subscription. Then RPMs were
made available on the public yum server and DVD images were also
published. "Oracle Linux 6 is free to download, install and use. The
full release notes are here...
Oracle Linux 6 comes with the "Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel" by default. A
Red Hat compatible kernel built from RHEL source is also available.
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The Extra Packages for Enterprise Linux (EPEL) project has announced
the release of EPEL 6. "A community project, EPEL 6 is a collection of open source projects packaged specifically for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6, which was released in November 2010, and other compatible systems. These supplementary applications, tools and libraries are maintained and supported by volunteers for the convenience and advancement of the community. Though EPEL is under the umbrella of the Fedora Project, it is not commercially supported by Red Hat.
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The Debian Volatile archive was discontinued with the release of Debian 6.0
("Squeeze"). "It is replaced by the suite squeeze-updates on the
official mirrors. Its management will move to the Debian Release Team, who
already manage regular updates to Debian stable and oldstable.
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Planet Edited is a blog aggregator for Fedora-related content. "The adjective edited came from the fact that this planet will be maintained and edited by a group of people (the editors), that will make sure appropriate and relevant content gets posted.
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Ubuntu's Natty Narwhal (11.04) will have a second beta instead of a release
candidate. "After reviewing the plans at the end of this release, it
was felt that a release candidate release on April 21st showing up just
before the easter holiday would be a bit late.
" Beta 2 is scheduled
for April 14.
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Ubuntu Developer Week will be happening February 28 - March 4 in
#ubuntu-classroom on irc.freenode.net. There will be speakers and sessions
on Getting Started with Ubuntu Development, Rocking with Unity, and several
Full Story (comments: none)
Newsletters and articles of interest
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Over at Linux.com, Nathan Willis looks
at how to get involved with MeeGo, either by working on the core of the distribution itself or by writing applications for the platform. "You can also use the community OBS to host a personal or team package repository, which makes it easy to distribute your work to testers and end users. The community OBS will power the MeeGo Garage, a third-party application repository for community-created, open source applications. It has not launched yet, but it is a direct descendant of the successful Maemo Garage project. You certainly are not required to use the community OBS or MeeGo garage, however: you can distribute your applications individually, or through third-party repositories or 'app stores.'
Comments (30 posted)
Over at Network World, Joe "Zonker" Brockmeier describes
a change to the default music store for Banshee in Ubuntu 11.04. "Banshee is a media/music player for Linux that has support for purchasing music via Amazon MP3. The revenues have always gone directly to the GNOME Foundation. Historically, the default music player in Ubuntu has been Rhythmbox, but that's changing in 11.04 to Banshee. The problem, at least as Canonical seems to see it? Amazon MP3 support in Banshee competes with Ubuntu's own offering, Ubuntu One — which also has support for purchasing music. The alternative? Canonical offered to leave the Amazon Store on by default, but take a 75% cut by changing the affiliate code and then passing a paltry 25% on to GNOME. The good news is that Canonical conferred with the Banshee team and gave them the option, so they elected to disable the store by default. Users can re-enable it if they are aware of the Amazon store, but defaults are powerful: Many users may never even realize that the Amazon store is an option.
Comments (87 posted)
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