Saucy Salamander Gets Legs

Oct 22, 2013

Ubuntu 13.10 takes a step toward convergence, with lots of mobility, but Mir only partly here. 

Canonical has announced the release of Ubuntu 13.10 "Saucy Salamander." Alternative Ubuntu variants such as Kubuntu (KDE desktop), Xubuntu (Xfce desktop), Lubuntu (LXDE desktop), Edubuntu (educational version), UbuntuKylin (Chinese language version), and Ubuntu Gnome appeared simultaneously.

The latest release reflects Ubuntu's emphasis on "convergence" of server, desktop, and mobile computing. An important puzzle piece for this convergence is the Mir display server, a complete rewrte of the X Window system designed to scale easily between tiny mobile screens and conventional desktop displays. Due to technical difficulties, Mir didn't make it into the Ubuntu 13.10 default configuration for desktop configurations, although it is available for manual installation. (Mir is the default for smartphones.) With Mir, Canonical has promised dramatically better performance for games and optimized access to the built-in graphics hardware.

Despite the setbacks with Mir, Canonical is still calling 13.10 "...the first true mobile release of Ubuntu." The company anticipates upcoming negotiations with phone vendors and OEMs to include Ubuntu on smartphones, tablets, and other mobile platforms. According to Rick Spencer, head of Canonical's comsumer-facing engineering, the convergence has already arrived. “This is a milestone in computing history. The exact same Ubuntu OS runs on ARM phones and modern HP Moonshot ARM servers, and provides exactly the same capability as x86 platforms."

Ubuntu Touch, the smartphone version of Ubuntu, brings a touch interface for smartphone users. The arrival of Touch will help with Canonical's goal of talking a hardware vendor into a partnership in 2014, but until then, Touch is still experimental, with a "known problem" section in the release notes that includes numerous technical issues.

The emphasis on hardware versatility and mobile convergence have clearly occupied the attention of the developers, with relatively fewer new features for the conventional desktop. Highlights of the press release celebrate the web browser , calendar, clock , and calculator. An optimized SDK will help future app developers work on the next round of tools.

Ubuntu's controversial Scopes feature, which integrates desktop and Internet search, has seen further improvements. (Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth envisions the Scopes tool as a revolutionary means for merging local disk and desktop content with all the world's knowledge, but privacy advocates have complained about Internet companies getting access to user information.) A bundle of scopes known as SmartScope now combines the results of more than 50 scopes, turning up results from simultaneous searches of online services such as Wikipedia , Amazon, Google News, and Flickr. In tests, it worked only partially, turning up some results with little relevance. But the intermediate server should gradually learn to deliver better results. Canonical has announced that it will address the privacy issues by anonymizing results forwarded to search companies.
The installer now comes with an additional window through which the user can set up a profile for the Ubuntu Ubuntu One cloud service . An indicator icon in the upper right corner of the desktop lets the user select a different keyboard layout. Under the hood is Linux kernel 3.11. The Upstart init daemon is in version 1.10. The OpenStack cloud environment is also on board, with the brand new version 2013.2 Havana release, as well as a new version of the service orchestration tool Juju. Other enhancements include new versions of the qemu and libvirt virtualization tools, as well as Ceph 0.67.4 with improved performance for block device encryption.

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