Ubuntu Hits Launch Target for 7.10 Linux Release
Published: October 23, 2007
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
It is not often that you hear about software projects coming out on time. And it is even rarer still when you hear about the feat being done again and again by any software development organization. But Canonical, the software support organization behind the Ubuntu variant of Debian Linux, has managed to put seven releases into the field more or less exactly as planned, now that it launched Ubuntu 7.10 for desktops and servers last week.
"One of the things that we are most proud of is that in these Ubuntu releases, we have never slipped more than a day," bragged Mark Shuttleworth, Canonical's founder and a dot-com multi-millionaire who has all the time and money in the world to build his own Linux distribution. "It will go out exactly as scheduled, and this is a remarkable track record."
Shuttleworth, his team of 70 programmers at Canonical, and the developers who work with and through the Ubuntu community on multiple variants of Ubuntu for servers and desktops with different graphical user interfaces and application stacks all seem to have come to the intelligent conclusion that Linux should be developed on a regular, six-month cycle, and that rather than be too aggressive about adding features to the Linux stack it is better to not bite off more than you can chew. After all, there is always another release cycle only six months away. Moreover, the support contracts from which Canonical derives its revenue are not tied to a particular Ubuntu release, so the only hurry to get a particular feature into the operating system is the one that is being forced on the Ubuntu community because it wants or needs that feature. Upgrade cycles do not drive revenue cycles, as is the case with most proprietary software. Since October 2004, when Ubuntu 4.10 was first delivered, Canonical has put seven releases in the market in three years and has had a combined six days of slippage based on targeted ship dates for software. (Ubuntu release numbers are the latest digit of the year followed by the month of the year it came out, so there is no Ubuntu Version 1, 2, or 3.) Microsoft wishes it had a statistic like that. But, then again, it wouldn't be Microsoft if it did have a statistic like that.
Ubuntu 7.10, code-named "Gutsy Gibbon," went through the normal alpha and beta cycles following the hammering out of its feature set in April. About 80 of the features scheduled for the release make it to the code freeze, and Shuttleworth says that the main way that Ubuntu sticks to its schedule is that it makes a very early call for when to push out a new feature. Staying on schedule is that important to Canonical, since it is trying to foster a regularly innovated release that is nonetheless amenable to corporate desktops and servers--the kind people spend support money on.
The new release comes in desktop and server variants. Ubuntu 7.10 Desktop Edition detects the graphics hardware on the PC or laptop it is being installed on and automatically defaults to the Compiz Fusion 3D graphics extensions for the Gnome user interface when it finds the right iron. The software also includes the same printing subsystem used by Apple Computer's Mac OS X operating system, which itself is a variant of the open source FreeBSD Unix operating system with an Apple GUI woven into it. And because Canonical is trying to differentiate itself from other Linuxes when it comes to broad hardware support, the Ubuntu 7.10 release has a new driver framework that allows the Ubuntu community to update existing drivers or provide new ones within the current release, which will be supported for 18 months with patches and updates. The operating system also includes support for natively accessing Windows NTFS partitions on machines, which helps considerably with Windows-Linux interoperability; this support includes both read and write operations on NTFS file systems. Desktop search has also been integrated into the platform (Tracker), and the Gnome 2.20 interface is the default GUI. (There is a Kubuntu 7.10 release that is maintained outside of Canonical that KDE users can get if they prefer KDE to Gnome.)
The AppArmor security framework is also embedded into Ubuntu 7.10. AppArmor was put into the open source community by Novell as an alternative to SE Linux, which is a mandatory access framework developed and promoted by Red Hat. Ubuntu now supports both security measures, since its main themes for Ubuntu are simplicity and security. Ubuntu 7.10 Desktop Edition now has a bunch of Firefox browser plug-ins preloaded and certified to work by Canonical, and AppArmor profiles for many of the applications in the Ubuntu stack are also included.
While Canonical has been in the Linux desktop business for three years, it only formally jumped into the server side of the IT business last June, when it launched Ubuntu 6.06 Long Term Support, or LTS for short. The LTS releases are special variants of Ubuntu that are supported on desktops for three years and on servers for five years, and they include much deeper and broader application certification as well as longer support contracts. Ubuntu 7.10 Server Edition is not an LTS release, but a kicker to Ubuntu 7.10, called Ubuntu 8.04 LTS, is in the works. This LTS release has been in the planning stages since September and set for the kickoff to development at the end of October, when Canonical will host a meeting of techies in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to hammer out what needs to go into the 8.04 LTS software, code-named "Hearty Heron" for those who care.
Ubuntu 7.10 Server Edition has optional support for the "tickless" Linux kernel, which is being created by Intel and the Linux community to allow Linux to run with less power consumption. (See Vendors to Squeeze More Juice Out of Linux for more on the tickless kernel.) The AppArmor security enhancements will be more useful for servers than for desktops. The Ubuntu 7.04 release included support for the Kernel Virtual Machine hypervisor, which is now part of the Linux kernel, and Ubuntu is already supported on VMware's ESX Server hypervisor. This time around, the new Linux kernel has been streamlined for supporting hypervisors and their guests, and Ubuntu is benefiting from many of the improvements for using paravirtualization and hardware-assisted virtualization for supporting multiple instances of Ubuntu on the same server. Ubuntu is also including a substantially improved Postfix, which has better hooks into the Linux kernel to make it run more efficiently.
The Samba file server has also been revved in Ubuntu 7.10 Server Edition, and Canonical's Web-based Landscape online management tool is now out of beta and woven into the server; it is now the means for accessing Canonical support, and makes it easier to manage large deployments of Ubuntu. With prior releases, the Ubuntu setup had an option to deploy a pre-packaged DNS server or a LAMP stack server; with this release, pre-packaged email, print, and database servers have also been added.
Ubuntu 7.10 will be officially available for download on Thursday. Support for Ubuntu desktop clients starts at $250, and for servers costs $750 per machine for business-class (9x5) support; server support prices rise for customers who need 24x7 support.
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