Things are obviously very exciting at Canonical Ltd. this week as the latest version of Ubuntu, the Linux operating system it supports and maintains, goes live on April 19.
Originally codenamed Feisty Fawn, the OS is now version 7.04 and includes a slew of upgrades on the desktop and server fronts, said Canonical director of operations Jane Silber.
In this interview with SearchEnterpriseLinux.com, Silber provides a quick update on Ubuntu's latest additions and why she believes Ubuntu should see a strong showing in the server room in 2007 and beyond.
SearchEnterpriseLinux.com: First let's give readers an idea of what's new and improved in Feisty on the server.
Jane Silber: On the server side, we have increased support for virtualization, and Ubuntu now supports a number of virtualization technologies. We have been working with VMware on some performance testing with Ubuntu as a guest operating system and as the host OS. We have seen very good performance numbers there. We also have Xen in the universe repository, and we've added [Kernel-based Virtual Machine] support.
KVM is an addition we would consider a technology preview, however. Support for KVM is in the [Linux] kernel, but the software itself is not mature enough for the main Ubuntu universe repository. We think there is a lot of promise there, but it is very new software.
Another new server feature is the auto upgrade tool. On the server side [with previous Ubuntu versions] the upgrade from old to new versions has been a manual process that systems administrators have had to undertake. With Feisty, this is a text-based tool that automates the upgrade process in a more reliable way. It gives systems administrators more control over how the upgrade is undertaken.
Ubuntu is a very successful desktop option for many users. What can they expect in that department?
Silber: With the Ubuntu desktop, many of the improvements are under the hood, but in terms of tools that people will be using, there's a new Windows desktop migration tool. When a new user installs Ubuntu next to Windows in a dual boot, the migration tool can detect that and import into Ubuntu all of the common things desktop users are used to seeing. For example: bookmarks and wallpapers. We're really trying to make it even easier to migrate from Windows to something like Ubuntu.
Ubuntu also features easy-to-install multimedia codecs. This is because Linux is faced with patchwork legal restrictions in the many countries where it is used today. What is legal in one place might not be elsewhere, and to address that we implemented some guided wizard capability. Depending on where the user is located, Ubuntu will help install the right software.
A third point on the desktop side is that we implemented Avahi. What this does is allow the user, when joining a wireless network, to automatically discover all of the other people on that network who are willing to share information. This can include access to printers, music, etc. -- all of which is designed to make the network presence more transparent.
There's also a new automated debugging and reporting tool in Feisty Fawn. Could you describe what developers and users were doing before and how this tool will help?
Silber: With any OS, issues happen, and sometimes they crash. This tool will help capture information about what was going on at the time of the issue. Then, if users are willing to help us solve that problem, they can submit an automated bug report to the Ubuntu developers. With this process the users are able to see what kind of conversation is coming from the developers, as everything is logged publicly. People are always concerned about privacy, but nothing secret is being sent back to us from their machines. All this does is help us expand the vast community of people striving to improve Ubuntu.
What are some specific events you've seen over the past six months that lead you to believe you can really take some market share on the server this year?
Silber: Milestones like getting support from Sun Microsystems Inc. for Ubuntu on their Niagara line of servers and having SpikeSource certify Ubuntu for their open source application stacks have been very important. Partnerships like those are good for us, but they also make it easier for users who might have had some qualms about Ubuntu adopt it. We expect more partnerships like SpikeSource this year, but not necessarily any more with hardware vendors.
Has the typical Ubuntu customer changed at all with Canonical's renewed focus on the server?
Silber: The customer base for Ubuntu has always been pretty broad. It includes a fair amount of SMBs, but we see it in very large enterprise deployments as well. In those larger environments, we are seeing it in portions of their network. Lots of times we see IT managers place products on top of Ubuntu, on both workstations and the server. It is not yet used as a primary OS in these environments and instead makes its start on the network edge. Our customer base is primarily found in North America and Western Europe. These are the customers paying for support from Canonical. The user base, on the other hand, is much more distributed than that, with more of a focus in traditional brick and mortar countries like Brazil.
Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth also announced an 'ultra free Ubuntu' to be released alongside the next release, Gutsy Gibbon. Could you explain what the focus of that OS will be?
Silber: The Ubuntu philosophy is not changing, but there are people in the Ubuntu community that disagree with some of the compromises we have made in the past. We still only ship open source applicators with Ubuntu, but we've made compromises in areas like firmware and hardware enablement. For example, we now ship a binary-only wireless driver, which was an important sacrifice to make because we believe it gets the network running more easily. However, some people in the community take a more stringent view of what is acceptable in terms of open source and proprietary software. This ultra free version would be a new flavor of Ubuntu without those compromises that we have made in the core Ubuntu code.
What else exists in Ubuntu that helps IT managers and users looking to migrate off of Windows?
Silber: If you'll stay tuned, we'll be better prepared to answer that in about six weeks, but it doesn't pertain to the Feisty release.