I, and a few tens of millions of other Ubuntu users, have been waiting for the new release of Ubuntu 16.04 and our wait is over. The latest version of this popular desktop, server, and cloud Linux is here.
As Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, Ubuntu's parent company, said in a statement "The leading cloud-based operations and the most advanced robotics run largely on Ubuntu, and this new release is the basis for the next wave of their innovation. We are proud to serve the needs of the enterprise, and research, and millions of personal and non-profit users, with one single shared free-software platform."
To be more precise, Dustin Kirkland who leads platform strategy at Canonical, explained, "The addition of 'snaps' for faster and simpler updates, and the LXD container hypervisor for ultra-fast and ultra-dense cloud computing, demonstrate a commitment to customer needs that sets Ubuntu apart as the platform for innovation and scale."
Borrowing from container concepts, snaps enable developers to deliver much newer versions of apps to Ubuntu 16.04 LTS enabling users to stay on a stable base for longer while enjoying newer applications. They do this by containing all a program's dependencies. This has several advantages over traditional deb or rpm based dependency handling. The single biggest is that a developer can always be assured that there are no regressions triggered by changes to the system underneath their app.
According to Olli Ries, Canonical's director of client computing software engineering, "snap packages enable developers to bring much newer versions of apps to Ubuntu 16.04 LTS. ... The complexities of packaging and providing updates have prevented us from delivering them in the past."
Ries continued, "The security mechanisms in snap packages allow us to open up the platform for much faster iteration across all of our flavours as snap applications are isolated from the rest of the system. Users can install a snap without having to worry whether it will have an impact on their other apps or their system. Similarly, developers have a much better handle on the update cycle as they can decide to bundle specific versions of a library with their app. Transactional updates make deployments of snap packages more robust and reliable."
To create snap packages, developers can use Snapcraft. This open-source tool makes it easy for developers to package their apps and dependencies. It also gives programmers an environment to write and test their applications directly on their desktop, rather than being forced to use a virtual machine.
This doesn't mean Canonical is giving up on its traditional deb packages. These two packaging formats can live quite comfortably with each other. There is, however, a major exception. Commercial applications will be migrated from debs to snaps by Autumn 2016. Canonical promises to work with the developer community to support that transition with tools, training and documentation.
This new Ubuntu also comes with one controversial feature. The Free Software Foundation (FSF) disapproves of the use of the ZFS file system dues to its licensing, but Canonical has included ZFS. ZFS is a combination of a volume manager and file-system which enables efficient snapshots, copy-on-write cloning, continuous integrity checking against data corruption, automatic file-system repair, and data compression. It's often used in cloud and servers.
This isn't the only new storage mechanism in Ubuntu. This version also introduces support for CephFS. This is a popular distributed file system that's often used for Big Data and cluster computing enterprise storage.
With this release Ubuntu continues to expand beyond its PC roots. Ubuntu 16.04 is also available on IBM mainframes. Ross A. Mauri, IBM z Systems and LinuxONE general manager, said "With the release of Ubuntu 16.04, IBM will be able to offer our LinuxONE, z Systems and Power Systems clients a simple, affordable high-performance Linux distribution that will better equip them to take advantage of hybrid cloud."
And, shocking as it still is to some, Microsoft continues to support Ubuntu. "With Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, customers can take advantage of the powerful combination of Canonical's latest release of Ubuntu with Microsoft Azure," said Scott Guthrie, Executive Vice President of, Microsoft Cloud and Enterprise division in a statement
Ubuntu 16.04 is also a Long Term Support (LTS) release. That means it will be supported and maintained by Canonical for five years, making it suitable for long-term, large-scale deployments.
Whether you use Ubuntu on your desktop, or in your cloud, or on your server, this new version adds many new features. I wouldn't put it into production quite yet. You'll need to do your due diligence after all. But, I can see using it for work sooner than later.