Ubuntu 13.04 release: Laying the groundwork for OS' phone and tablet future

The 13.04 release of Ubuntu will be made available tomorrow, with Canonical claiming the release brings improvements designed to support its future as a phone, tablet and PC OS.
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor

Ubuntu 13.04 goes on general release tomorrow – bringing with it improvements to support the open source OS' transformation into a platform that runs across phones, tablets, PCs and TVs.

The release demonstrates consistently faster boot speeds than earlier versions — down to about 40 seconds on Intel and AMD-based Acer Veriton desktop machines — shrinks memory usage by as much as 50MB, reduces image size and cuts power consumption, according to Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu.

"We've been driving Ubuntu to be a coverged OS across different client form factors – tablet, phone, desktop. A lot of underlying work to make that happen has been happening in this development cycle," said Canonical CEO Jane Silber.

"From the user perspective I think what people will notice is a real increase in speed and the visual smoothness of the experience. It's a polishing of the user experience."

Canonical is working on bringing the OS to two reference phones and two tablets, including the Nexus 7. The Ubunutu community already has the OS in some sort of working order on about 40 devices, said Silber.

At present there are code differences between the Ubuntu 13.04 release and Ubuntu Touch stack targeted at phones and tablets, but Silber says the two will converge with a future release, probably with the 13.10 Ubuntu release due out in October. 13.10 will see the X windows system used in 13.04 replaced with the MIR display server, which Silber said will make for a streamlined code base that can be more easily updated to support a range of devices. MIR is available as an option for developer testing of Ubuntu.

While producing a unified OS for multiple devices and form factors is"a big challenge", according to Silber, she said the work is simplified by relying on a common core platform.

"In some ways it's increasing the work, but probably less than you would imagine. We've been working on Unity as an environment for several years now. From the outset we've designed it as an environment that appears differently in different form factors," she said.

Mark Baker, product manager for server at Canonical, said: "We're a relatively small company in comparison to the people operating in the spaces we're looking to push into: the tablet, phone and thin client space. We have to find a model that allows us to scale that development.

"That means having the core Ubuntu platform - the kernel, libraries, APIs and other bits and pieces – that's common across the whole Ubuntu product set. What varies is the presentation layer. Therefore while it's more work than previously it's a lot less work compared to say Apple that has completely different platforms based on the form factor or device they have. We're at least compiling Ubuntu from that common platform."

Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth shows off Ubuntu on a Nexus 10 tablet. Photo: Ben Woods / ZDNet

Other incremental changes to the UI in 13.04 include new preview animations in the Dash homescreen, a new fuzzy search algorithm in file search, revamps of system menus for Shutdown and Bluetooth.

The Smart Scopes feature was left out of 13.04 because it was not felt to be ready. The feature would add the ability to search online sites and services like GitHub and Google Drive from the Dash.

The release of 13.04 also sees Canonical halve the support period for the regular non-long term releases of Ubuntu to nine months — something that Silber said was driven by there was driven by a lack of demand for the longer support period and desire to be "as quick and agile as possible".

"We're looking at how we can improve our planning process and move to essentially monthly iterations of planning and development, compared to our previous six monthly iterations. That doesn't mean a new release every month, but in terms of that planning and checkpointing we think we can increase velocity overall if we shorten that planning cycle from six months," said Silber.

The Windows-based installer for Ubuntu Wubi has also been dropped with this release and Silber said she is not aware of "any plans for it to reappear". Parker said there was "some concern over the quality of Wubi as it hadn't been updated in a while" and over whether it would work with Windows 8.

Ubuntu 13.04 also includes the Developer Preview SDK for developers to build native applications for Ubuntu devices. Using this SDK, developers can make a single application for all Ubuntu form factors and publish it in the Ubuntu Software Centre with a single upload. Developers have already started to create applications for Ubuntu across different devices.

Ubuntu Server

Also released today is Ubuntu Server 13.04. Ubuntu Server 13.04 is bundled, and has been tested, with the open source cloud management software suite OpenStack, the latest 'Grizzly' release.

"OpenStack is installed in a high availability configuration where we have all the components set up in a failover or multi-master way, so if one of the pieces goes down the cloud as a whole is not affected," said Parker.

The release includes the Ceph object, block and file storage system, integrated with its OpenStack implementation. A common use for Ceph's is enabling object storage clusters to be set up using commodity hardware.

This release of Ubuntu brings substantial enhancements to the Juju, the GUI tool that Ubuntu provides for managing distributed and cloud environments, which provides a visual representation of the relationships between services running on clouds like Amazon EC2 or OpenStack.

The release increases the number of Juju 'Charms', definition files for deploying services to cloud platforms, to more than 130 common cloud workloads. The collection of Charms includes major web development frameworks such as Node.js, Django and Ruby on Rails, enabling rapid orchestration of web applications using any of these frameworks on EC2 and OpenStack clouds. This delivers a flexible PaaS experience and freedom to choose the cloud that best meets enterprise needs. Charms are also available for the databases that underpin web applications, including MongoDB, MySQL, PostgreSQL and Cassandra.

Canonical's Landscape management tool now has OpenStack awareness built-in, and supports critical workflows for production cloud environments, such as live updating of host kernels and other components in a running cloud.

This release of Ubuntu has been tested running on multiple hypervisors, including KVM, Microsoft's Hyper-V, VMWare's ESX and Citrix Xen — with VMWare ESX and Nicira NVP network virtualisation now part of Ubuntu's continuous integration testing.

Canonical will provide commercial support for OpenStack and will collaborate with VMware on issues related to vSphere or NVP running with OpenStack.

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