Now I'll be the first to admit that I am a bit of a fan. I measure the real life relevence of a Linux distribution not by what it can achieve, but what it does. I have loved and run many distros where everything was there for me if I could just compile this, find a package repository for that or just get my music playing and while that was fine for me it still wasn't something I could recommend to my non technical friends and family. But a little polish, easily available media playback and full hardware support go a long way. Ubuntu brought that to me, and more important it brought that to my father who now happily runs Ubuntu Feisty on a daily basis. So pending the upcoming beta release of Hardy later this week I take a look at the sixth alpha release to get in the spirit of things.
This release of Ubuntu will be the latest LTS or Long Term Support release which means it will have more of a focus on stability and longevity than the addition of new features. But Ubuntu being its inimitable self they never let you down on having some late great technology. On first boot you will see that you are immediately prompted to ask you which language you wish to boot in. The kernel hasn't even loaded yet and we're already getting into accessiblity which is a commendable advance. And the language on the boot menu has been softened for the benefit of new users; the first option is "Try Ubuntu without any change to your computer".
The bootsplash is the familiar screen from Feisty currently though I am curious to know if there will be any change there. Recently there has been talk of a smoother boot which wouldn't feel as segmented. Running this alpha through Qemu I find that my X server has failed to start but I am greated by the X graphical configuration tool first introduced in the last release. It is touches like this in any distro that will encourage wide adoption of Linux on the home desktop. A click through there accepting defaults and I am greeted by a new colourful desktop wallpaper. Considering some of the recent mockups for the final desktop this may be only the start of the changes made here.
Down to features the first thing you should notice is the broken volume control. Never fear! Your sound isn't broken nor should you panic. This is in fact the result of the implementation of the exciting new PulseAudio] which is to be implemented fully for the final release. Sound should work for the most part with a few glitches, but hey this is an alpha[ release. Back on the useability side of things we now have a keyboard selection panel app loaded by default which should be quite useful for the first time run.
The next stop is a quick browse through your Applications menu which is where your average Joe will find the differences between release. In this case something jumped out at me; Avahi browser. Under Internet you should find 'Avahi ssh Server Browser' and 'Avahi VNC Server Browser' which make use of the excellent Avahi service discovery protocol. What does that mean to your Grandma? No more looking for IP addresses of local clients for ssh/VNC connections. Well Grandma might not find that very useful but it is quite handy to have on a home network and can greatly simplify remote connection and file transfer.
where your average Joe will find the differences between release. In this case something jumped out at me; Avahi browser. Under Internet you should find 'Avahi ssh Server Browser' and 'Avahi VNC Server Browser' which make use of the excellent Avahi service discovery protocol. What does that mean to your Grandma? No more looking for IP addresses of local clients for ssh/VNC connections. Well Grandma might not find that very useful but it is quite handy to have on a home network and can greatly simplify remote connection and file transfer.
Across to the System menu and you will find yet again some softening of language. The 'Restricted Drivers Manager' is now known as 'Hardware Drivers' which should be less intimidating to those not already in the know. This kind of touch embraces the users of tomorrow instead of alienating them - it really is amazing how much difference a small change can make.
Still on the System menu you will find that the move to Policykit has kicked off with some configuration tools being modified to support this framework. In place of running an entire application as root using [b]gksu[/b] or [b]sudo[/b] these tools are being rewritten to only run the required part with elevated privelege. Note that instead of instantly darkening the screen and prompting for your password, you are now instead offered the chance to 'Unlock' if change is required.
There are several other upgrades to packages such as Firefox, which is expected to be 3.0 in time for the final release. The kernel is version 2.4.24 introducing scheduler and hardware improvements. In addition the default CD/DVD burner is now Brasero, which is a simple but effective tool that gets the job done. Hey, it's no K3b but it gets the job done and is native to GTK/Gnome so as to keep memory use down.
Overall I have tried to refrain from the negative on this, as we are looking at an alpha release which is really only a preview of things to come. Sure lots of stuff is either broken (as in the case of the volume applet) or only partially integrated (Policykit) but there is a lot of promise here. There is a lot more to be found even in this alpha and I'm looking forward immensely to the beta release this week. Though what they have shown me so far has raised my expectations and made it that much harder to please me.
Let me put it in another way... Other distros don't get their betas looking this good.