In releasing updates to its client and server Ubuntu Linux distributions today, Canonical will enable users to turn off a search option in its client product that has raised some eyebrows over privacy issues. A whistleblower, however, remains unimpressed with Canonical's handling of the situation.
The company will release Ubuntu 12.10, following a beta period that saw some privacy protests over the incorporation of Amazon.com searches in Ubuntu's Unity Dash search interface. The intent was to give searchers a view of Amazon's shopping catalog, but query terms were sent to Amazon unencrypted. Steve George, Canonical's vice president of communications and products, said the company has responded by enabling the capability to be turned off, individually, on each desktop. Canonical also worked with Amazon to strip out information identifying a user.
[ In June, Canonical began enabling desktop Ubuntu users to access Internet services without opening a browser window. | Subscribe to InfoWorld's Technology: Open Source newsletter to track developments in open source. ]
Etienne Perot, a software engineering student at McGill University who has protested Canonical's intentions, remains unconvinced, although he acknowledges some improvement. In a detailed response, Perot cites outstanding issues, such as with privacy in searches, contending search terms from Amazon are still not made anonymous. "This has not been fixed, but it has been acknowledged as a flaw on the Canonical blog," Perot said.
But Canonical did take steps to make search data anonymous on its own end, he said. "It's not a perfect solution, but it is pretty close to the ideal one. Real anonymizing solutions (routing through Tor etc.) would make the search way too slow to be practical, so I can understand the decision here -- which doesn't mean that I agree with it."
Elsewhere in the in the desktop version of Ubuntu 12.10, Canonical has added the ability to automatically launch Web applications via screen icons. Canonical has been developing icons for Facebook and Google Mail, but users can create scripts to add other sites to the launching process, George said.
On the server, Canonical is emphasizing cloud capabilities and services accommodations in version 12.10. The upgrade supports the latest version of the OpenStack cloud stack, called Folsom, enabling groups of servers to be treated as one unit for private cloud installations, said George: "It looks like a really large cluster and you can deploy multiple virtual instances into that cluster." Administrators are saved from having to install applications multiple times to cover the cluster.
Version 12.10 also features the latest version of Ceph distributed storage technology, which handles massive increases in data. "What Ceph is aiming at is basically petabytes of storage," George said. Ceph 0.483 is supported, featuring bug fixes.
Another feature added to version 12.10 is the Juju service orchestration layer for deploying and managing applications. Juju, Mason said, understands dependencies such as connecting a database server to a website.
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