Ubuntu Linux will try for the business desktop

Ubuntu has long been popular on the Linux enthusiast desktop, but, so far it hasn't been very popular on business desktops. Canonical plans on changing that with its next version.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Say hello to Ubuntu Unity with its built-in cloud.

Say hello to Ubuntu Unity with its built-in cloud.

I use the Linux desktop at work, but I'm in a tiny minority. Most people use Windows. Canonical, Ubuntu Linux's parent company, plans on getting at least some Windows users to switch though with its next long term support (LTS) release.

Canonical has announced that it would be extending the support and maintenance period for the April 2012 LTS Ubuntu Linux release for desktop users from three years to five years. The move comes in response to what the company claims is "increasing demand for Ubuntu desktops in corporate environments where longer maintenance periods are the norm. It brings the desktop product into line with Ubuntu Server which continues with five years of support for LTS releases."

In a blog posting, Ubuntu's founder, Mark Shuttleworth, expanded on this. "We need to do justice to the fact that 12.04 LTS will be the preferred desktop for many of the world's biggest Linux desktop deployments, in some cases exceeding half a million desktops in a single institution. So 12.04 is also an opportunity to ensure that our desktop is manageable at scale, that it can be locked down in the ways institutions need, and that it can be upgraded from 10.04 LTS smoothly as promised. Support for multiple monitors will improve, since that's a common workplace requirement."

That desktop, by the by, is going to stay Unity. There will be no return to a GNOME 2.x style desktop, never mind GNOME 3.x. According to Shuttleworth, "The nail-biting transitions to Unity and Gnome 3 are behind us, so this cycle is an opportunity to put perfection front and center. … That's an opportunity to work through the whole desktop interface and make sure we're using exactly the right weight in each place, bringing the work we've been doing for several cycles fully into focus."

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Shuttleworth expects that there will be a lot of fit and polish work to come before Ubuntu 12.04 LTS is ready to deploy on the corporate desktop. He continued, During UDS [Ubuntu Developer Summit] we'll build out the list of areas for refinement, polish and 'precisioneering [sic]', but the theme for all of this work is one of continuous improvement; no new major infrastructure, no work on pieces which are not design-complete at the conclusion of the summit.

When Shuttleworth says no big changes, he means it. "While there are some remaining areas we'd like to tweak the user experience, they will probably be put on hold so we can focus on polish, performance and predictability," said Shuttleworth. "I'd like to improve the user experience around Workspaces for power users, and we'll publish our design work for that, but I think it would be wisest for us to defer that unless we get an early and effective contribution of that code." In short, the Unity interface you see today is pretty much the Unity you'll see in April 2012.

Canonical wants to make darn sure that the desktop is mature and ready to go because according to their own research, "LTS releases have become particularly popular with Ubuntu business users. Canonical's own survey data shows over 70% of server users are deployed on LTS versions of the product. Bringing this extended support to the desktop is a response to similar popularity in businesses of the desktop LTS releases."

Here's Ubuntu's Long Term Support Plans

Ubuntu's Long Term Support Plans

What does LTS mean for business users? According to the company, "The first two years of the LTS period will benefit businesses by including hardware updates (through regular point releases) allowing them to keep up to date with the latest hardware upgrades. Maintenance updates will continue for a further three years. Businesses can now rely on always running an LTS version regardless of their hardware refresh rate."

In addition, "PC manufacturers can now standardize their business-focused range of PCs on an LTS release with a five year support period. This is a more compelling proposition to bring to their customer base especially aligned with the Ubuntu Advantage support programs from Canonical which will fully support the new LTS period."

Can they do it? It's possible. I've looked at Windows 8 and I sure don't see anything about Metro, its new interface, that business users are going to want.

In addition, Ubuntu already has baked-in cloud-computing. While no one has announced an Ubuntu Unity tablet, I keep looking at Unity and I keep seeing a tablet interface. In short, Ubuntu's already a post-PC desktop, and that will be no small advantage in the twenty-teens.

In the past, users stuck with XP rather than upgrade to Vista. Indeed, it's only been in the last few weeks that more people have finally moved from XP to Windows 7. I expect most users to stick with Windows XP or 7 in the next three to five years, but as the desktop wanes and more and more of us use smartphones and tablets for our business computing, there just might be room for a well-supported desktop Linux to gain a niche to call its own.

Want to know more about why you might want to use Ubuntu for your business desktop? Check out Canonical's business desktop site.

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