Ubuntu gets a facelift with Precise Pangolin 12.04

The 12.04 long-term support release of the popular Linux distribution brings the divisive Unity desktop to enterprise customers, along with business-friendly features and what Mark Shuttleworth calls 'the future of the menu'
Written by Jack Clark, Contributor

Precise Pangolin, the 12.04 update to the Ubuntu distribution of Linux, has arrived, bringing the Unity user interface to enterprise users.

The long-term support update, released on Thursday, adds more usability features and software management tools to the operating system. However, Ubuntu-backer Canonical is stressing the design changes in Precise Pangolin. These include its Unity interface, which has divided Ubuntu supporters, and its associated file-search tool, the Head-Up Display (HUD), described by Ubuntu Project founder Mark Shuttleworth as "the future of the menu".

Precise Pangolin

The 12.04 long-term support release of the popular Linux distribution brings the divisive Unity desktop to enterprise customers.

"There's a significant set of aesthetic changes for users, and ultimately beauty is a feature," Steve George, head of communications Canonical, told ZDNet UK. "Users enjoy their environments more when they look beautiful and modern."

"The significant thing if you were comparing [Lucid Lynx] 10.04 and 12.04 is some of the embedded search capabilities that Unity comes with," he added. "The embedding of the search capability within Unity is ultimately the critical idea."

The HUD is a context-sensitive search tool that lets people control applications by typing in familiar commands. For instance, if the user opens the HUD when in an image-editing program and types in 'blur', the image blur tool should load.

Unity has sparked argument within the Linux communty, with some users complaining that it is not intuitive and difficult to navigate. However, Canonical, which engineered the software for Ubuntu, has defended the decision to revamp the distribution's user interface.

Enterprise server features

Because Ubuntu 12.04 is a long-term support version, users will receive maintenance and security fixes through to 2017. The next Ubuntu release, 12.10, is named Quantal Quetzal and should come out in October, while the next LTS release should come out in around two years.

Precise Pangolin has been upgraded to version 3.2 of the Linux kernel, up from version 3.0 in Oneiric Ocelot 11.10, released in October. The new kernel brings "both performance and stability, whether for filesystem improvement or in terms of page commits", said Mark Baker, a server product manager at Canonical.

Another enterprise-friendly feature is Metal-as-a-service, a 'bare metal' server management tool that takes its cues from virtual instance management. This simplifies the management of server clusters and how applications run on them.

"For large enterprise deployments with long-term planning processes, Ubuntu 12.04 LTS is our best desktop yet," Jane Silber, Canonical's chief executive, said in a statement.

Additionally, Canonical has worked behind the scenes to get hardware makers to support the technology: last week, Canonical announced HP will certify and support 12.04 on some of its ProLiant servers. The OS also supports the Ext4 filesystem, which should help when storing large files.

For large enterprise deployments with long-term planning processes, Ubuntu 12.04 LTS is our best desktop yet.
– Jane Silber, Canonical

It integrates the Essex distribution of the open-source OpenStack cloud management framework. In a break from typical LTS policy, future OpenStack releases will be back-ported to 12.04 LTS, letting companies base their private clouds on the technology.

Juju, an orchestration tool, has been updated to let developers deploy technologies like Hadoop and Cassandra onto their desktop or even an un-virtualised 'bare metal' server.

Precise Pangolin has also been qualified to run on low-power ARM processors.

"This marks a critical ecosystem milestone on the path to highly efficient hyperscale web, cloud and big data infrastructure enabled by forthcoming ARM-powered servers," Tom Lantzsch, ARM's executive vice president of corporate development, said in a statement. "ARM welcomes the availability of Ubuntu 12.04 LTS as the first enterprise Linux distribution for ARM technology-based servers."

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