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In Pictures: Ubuntu 14.04: The good, the bad, the Unity

Ubuntu 14.04 Long Term Support/LTS (Trusty Tahr) proves that it doesn’t matter if you’re Oracle, Microsoft, or Canonical: Bringing a fleet of products into new release revision synch is tough.

  • Ubuntu 14.04 Long Term Support/LTS (Trusty Tahr) proves that it doesn’t matter if you’re Oracle, Microsoft, or Canonical: Bringing a fleet of products into new release revision synch is tough. Canonical is trying to cover the bases of cloud, server, desktop, smartphone/tablet, plus management and support and services add-ons. In this release, Cloud and Server get much attention; Desktop not so much. And the Ubuntu smartphone/tablet bits aren’t reviewed here as there are no “production” versions in the wild.

  • This version of Ubuntu promises five-year support, which is a good thing. While there aren’t any blockbuster improvements in this latest version, Canonical does a good job wrapping up the various incremental changes from the last few releases.

  • Canonical has released a version of Ubuntu designed for smartphones/tablets. Only problem is that none of the smartphone manufacturers are biting, so the smartphone/tablet offering moves into the category of “looking for partners.” Ubuntu tried crowdsourcing to finance the Ubuntu Edge, but the company failed to reach its goal and the project was scrapped.

  • The Linux 3.13 kernel update most notably has a change in Linux firewall security, as the iptables firewall has been updated to nftables, a firewalling methodology that’s backward-compatible with iptables via translation utilities. The translation utilities allow updates so that the new firewalling can be scripted. Nftables creates a virtualized kernel space where packets can be inspected in ways that permit more fine-tuned acceptance/rejection criteria. The kernel also has updated memory handling, and better multi-core CPU handling.

  • Canonical isn’t shy about including teaserware in its releases — not ready for production apps that attempt to give a lift to features Canonical supports in Ubuntu. The big one is Docker, and the great hope that LinuX Containers (LXC) might put a serious dent into Type 1 virtualization schemes. Like prior Canonical teaserware initiatives, this wasn’t ready for production at product release time, and even Docker.IO warned that it wasn’t ready for production. Magically, Docker went from 0.6 to 1.0 in one rapid leap, about the time Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 (Red Hat is a major Docker supporter) went live.

  • There may be more Ubuntu instances in public clouds than anywhere else. Certainly in this release, the highest amount of attention Canonical has paid is visible in the Cloud and Server Editions. The Cloud versions of 14.04 are based on “certified” images that are ready to host internally, or port to specific cloud vendors. OpenStack is the preferred provisioning methodology, and Canonical has updated their Juju bus-communications apps with Juju charms that allow tailored deployments with rapid deployment, teardown, configuration, and management components.

  • Canonical released Ubuntu Desktop 14.04 without the graphics stack they’ve been hoping to employ, Mir. This means that cross-device graphics are still currently in modest revision sync, and also means that if Ubuntu’s usual LTS schedule holds, a five-year supported Mir won’t emerge for perhaps two years, which is forever at the pace set by competition. Graphics stacks weren’t built in a day, and achieving the lofty goals of Mir—retiring an X-windows framework that goes back to the near-Dark Ages of computing (the greybeards will remember Motif and SmallTalk) isn’t easy.

  • If you blinked a few times, you wouldn’t see much change in the 13.10 to 14.04 server releases, as most items are software updates to existing packages — but as a group they receive Long Term Support. These deploy using the Metal-as-a-Service app. There are some additional components that now allow somewhat incredible scale-out potential for Ubuntu server instances, like those seen in the public cloud at Amazon Web Services, Joyent, Rackspace, and others that employ OpenStack. There are updates to several key packages. Ubuntu 14.04 supports via LTS, Apache Tomcat v7, Postgresql v9.3, Qemu 2.0, Libvirt v1.2, LXC v1, and MySQL v5.5.

  • While the desktop version of Ubuntu is basically solid, there are still some issues. We’re not thrilled with the Dash (dashboard) search functionality, but at least it can be turned off. The Unity interface has windowing behavioral changes that we found odd. There is a default global windowing policy that spawns child windows that are subsidiary windows of the parent, but the child windows don’t behave like the parent. Also, underneath various Web apps is Ubuntu’s own browser, one that’s comparatively immature compared to Chromium or Firefox.

  • Away from our privacy criticisms relating to the Dash search functionality, and other minor concerns, the Desktop edition is strong and needs only browser behavior maturation or change-out. No one seems to borrow Unity for their use on the desktop, but the underpinnings of the desktop edition are used quite successfully for other desktop-focused distributions, like LinuxMint, and have remained otherwise solid in this Desktop release.

  • If you’re looking for a home run, this release isn’t it. Canonical hits a few singles with this release, wrapping up some advances in prior releases and offering long-term-support, but there’s nothing earthshaking here. In a sense, it seems like Canonical has taken on too much and is a bit stressed in this release as it tries to be everything to everybody.

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