Canonical Updates Ubuntu Linux with 7.04 Release
Corrected: April 19, 2007
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
The latest iteration of the Ubuntu Linux distribution was put out by Canonical yesterday, including both a new desktop and server distribution at release 7.04. Ubuntu is, of course, itself an offshoot of the Debian Linux distro, which is just about to release its own update, code-named "Etch."
Canonical is a British company that provides commercial support for Ubuntu and that does the testing and certification for the distro so it can do that support. Canonical controls the evolution of Ubuntu, and is backed up by the Ubuntu Foundation, which was set up in July 2005 by Canonical's founder, Mark Shuttleworth, with a $10 million endowment. The Ubuntu distribution was created by Shuttleworth in October 2004, and the foundation ensures that Ubuntu development can continue even if something untowards should happen to Canonical.
According to Jane Silber, director of operations at Canonical, the company takes a snapshot of the unstable branch of the latest Debian development release every six months. Then, Canonical spends the next six months hardening the code and getting it ready for commercial distribution. So the upcoming Ubuntu release, dubbed 7.04 (which is derived from the year, 2007, and the month, April) and code-named "Feisty Fawn" (no, it is not a reference to Silber and, yes, I asked), is basically where the development release of the Debian Etch product was about six months ago.
Canonical has traditionally put out Ubuntu releases in April and September each year, which are then backed up by support contracts that are priced on an annual basis; a release is supported for 18 months, typically. The prior significant release of Ubuntu, called "Dapper Drake" and released as Long Term Support 6.06, was a bit different in that Canonical agreed to support the desktop version for three years and the server version for five years, giving customers a predictable, stable platform on which to build their applications. Silber does not expect Canonical to kick out another LTS variant until a year from now. LTS 6.06 went into beta in April 2006, but took a bit longer to harden to bring market, as the name shows.
Ubuntu 7.04 based on the Linux 2.6.20 kernel and has support for the new quad-core processors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices and can also make sure of the on-chip virtualization support features called VT and AMD-V, respectively, from those vendors' most recent X64 processors. The standard kernel in Ubuntu 7.04 supports up to eight processor cores in a single system image on either a desktop or server box, and with the BigSMP kernel extensions, it can span up to 64 cores, just like other Linuxes.
Ubuntu 7.04 does not feature integrated support for the Xen virtual machine hypervisor from XenSource, but it is getting close. (The Debian "Sarge" 3.1 distribution could support Xen, but Xen itself and the underlying chip hardware have been changing so fast in the past year that it has been hard to offer out-of-the-box support.) Red Hat has only a few weeks ago delivered integrated Xen support with Enterprise Linux 5, and Novell probably jumped the gun last July with Xen support in SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 and SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10. Canonical is just starting to work with the OpenVZ project set up by SWsoft to open source its Virtuozzo virtual server hypervisor. (With a virtual machine hypervisor, each virtual machine is loaded with a complete operating system, while with a virtual server environment, multiple operating systems are put in software sandboxes but share a single kernel and file system.) Both Xen and OpenVZ support are available through an Ubuntu repository as an add-on to Ubuntu 7.04. Earlier Ubuntu releases supported VMware's VMware Server and Workstation, but this release does not as yet. Ubuntu 7.04 also has support for a relatively new virtual machine hypervisor called Kernel Virtual Machine, or KVM, which is now part of the Linux kernel and which makes use of the VT and AMD-V features to provide virtual machine partitions for different Linux distributions; KVM requires a modified version of the QEMU hypervisor. The KVM hypervisor support is a technical preview, but it is woven into the kernels that come as part of Ubuntu 7.04.
Canonical was hoping to get a 3-D interface on the desktop version of the product (as Novell did with SLED 10), but it did not happen in time for this release. The code for Beryl, the 3D interface, is included with Ubuntu 7.04, but it is not enabled by default. (Ubuntu uses the Gnome interface, but as in the past, a KDE variant of Ubuntu 7.04 will be available as Kubuntu 7.04, as will the XFCE variant, Xubuntu.) Ubuntu 7.04 does include a multimedia codec wizard that can automatically help users surf the Web to download the closed-source codecs they might want to use for multimedia applications. The rules for these codecs vary by country, and Ubuntu 7.04 is aware of where you are and presents you with a list of alternative codecs that you can choose from.
Another feature designed for desktop users is a Windows migration tool, which will grab your Web bookmarks, your screen background, and your instant messaging buddy lists from a Windows partition on your machine and bring those settings into the Ubuntu setup at install time. Silber says that this is a one-off, first-time process, not something that is updated with Windows each time the machine is booted. Ubuntu also includes an automated upgrade tool that allows customers to move more smoothly from an earlier Ubuntu release to 7.04. The number of dependencies in most Linux installations is pretty large, and sorting through them is a big pain in the neck for Linux newbies. (Canonical says that the update process it uses never makes users have to cope with these dependencies.) Ubuntu has also been equipped with a bug reporting tool that is similar in concept to the one created by Microsoft for Windows, which allows that operating system provider to search through information users forward to it (with permission, of course) after a piece of software crashes. Wireless networking has been improved in the Avahi feature as well.
Ubuntu 7.04 comes with all the usual suspects: The Gnome 2.18 interface, the Apache 2.2 Web server, the PostgreSQL 8.2 database, the OpenOffice 2.2 office automation suite, the GCC 4.1.2 compiler suite as well as Python 2.5 and PHP 5.2.1.
The development cycle for the next release of Ubuntu will kick off in May at the Ubuntu conference in Seville, Spain. Six months from now, Canonical will take a new snapshot of the Debian unstable development release and harden it, and that will come out in October or so as Ubuntu 7.10. A new snapshot will be taken and it will be locked down to be delivered as LTS 8.04.
Support for the Ubuntu 7.04 desktop version costs $250 per year per machine, while support for the server version costs $750 per server per year. This is the price for 9x5 business hour support.
It is hard to say how many people are using Ubuntu, which was aimed primarily at the desktop and at making Debian more people-friendly. Silber says that Canonical estimates that there are a minimum of 4 million Ubuntu users worldwide, and that it can easily show that the number could be as high as 6 million to 8 million. Based on the number of security updates the Ubuntu site does, the number of Ubuntu users has been growing at 10 percent or more per month for the past few years, which is an astonishing growth rate. While servers are not yet important in terms of numbers, Canonical makes most of its money on server support, so it sure is important to Canonical. Ubuntu is the first Linux to be ported to Sun Microsystems' Sparc T1 multicore processor, and is seeing some traction in this area, too.
This story has been corrected since it first ran. We said that the Ubuntu Foundation controls the development process for Ubuntu and that Canonical delivers the commercial variant of the Ubuntu distribution. This is not correct. Canonical controls the distro and the Ubuntu Foundation is an endowment to ensure that Ubuntu can outlive Canonical. We also said that Ubuntu has much broader support for VMware's server virtualization products than it actually has. For instance, Ubuntu Linux is not supported as a guest operating system on the ESX Server 2.X or 3 hypervisors, nor is it supported on earlier releases of GSX Server, according to VMware. IT Jungle regrets these errors. [Corrected 04/19/07]
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