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Canonical ships its Ubuntu 12.04 in beta version, but beta it is...

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March 2, 2012

Canonical said earlier this morning that is has started to ship the beta version of its Linux Ubuntu 12.04, code-named Precise Pangolin. This is the fourth major release and the first featuring the Unity Desktop.

Ubuntu users may have already made the leap to Unity, many of Canonical's actual customers have likely been waiting for this release.

Overall, LTS editions of Ubuntu are delivered every two years and have extended support from Canonical.

They also set the pace of the coming years' releases.

As with previous LTS releases, the emphasis in Ubuntu 12.04 isn't on new features or must-have upgrades, but on stability, polish and support for those who deploy Ubuntu on a larger scale.

Indeed there is almost nothing in the way of new features in the current beta. Instead, you'll find a number of small tweaks designed to polish up Unity and get it ready for the real world of an LTS release.

This isn't just the primary Ubuntu LTS release that's being polished-- Canonical has also introduced a new Ubuntu "remix" dubbed Ubuntu Business Desktop Remix.

Business Remix, a new feature integrated in 12.04, is aimed squarely at the corporate market and strips out features like the Rhythmbox music player and the various games included in a standard Ubuntu package. Instead, Business Remix users will get VMWare View meaning there's an ELUA OpenJDK 6 and other business workflow software.

In a measure of how seriously it's taking business users, Canonical has also extended the length of support for the 12.04 desktop LTS from three to five years the same as the Ubuntu on the server.

But as can be expected, the Business Remix isn't for the everyday Ubuntu user. In announcing the new remix, Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth was careful to say that Ubuntu isn't creating its own version of the RHEL/Fedora arrangement. Instead, he emphasised that the Business Remix was just another example of Canonical doing more for its customers.

While most Ubuntu users have likely either made their peace with Unity or else moved on to another distribution or the desktop, Ubuntu 12.04 may well be the first-time corporate users encounter Unity. That's why a considerable portion of the effort behind this release has gone into mundane but important tasks such as fixing security holes and polishing the look and feel of Unity.

And don't look for the controversial HUD displays which will one day replace traditional application menus in Unity to turn up in Precise Pangolin.

What Unity does offer in this release is a slightly more polished, and in a few cases, more flexible interface. A new set of fonts are coming with a variety of weights that give Unity a more unified look. Also welcomed is the new option to hide the Launcher, revealing it only when your mouse rolls over the specified area of the screen.

The second alpha release of 12.04 also featured a slider in the Appearance panel to easily resize the Launcher icons, but this had been removed as of the nightly build we tested on the eve of the beta release.

The Ubuntu Software Center has also been tweaked slightly with some small, but nice new features like an opt-in "Recommendations" feature for custom tailored app suggestions (based on what you download after you turn it on). The Software Center also offers multiple screenshots for applications, though as of the beta not many software packages actually have more than one screenshot.

While the improvements and polish in Unity are noticeable, some rough edges still remain. For example, the application and document search features remain very primitive and buggy in this beta version. We installed G-Vim through the Software Center, fired up Unity's search tool and typed in "Vim." Nothing happened. We then switched to the application "lens" and tried again, but still G-Vim was nowhere to be found in the search results.

Clicking on "show more" next to the Installed Apps category finally revealed G-Vim buried amidst three dozen other search results. Thinking perhaps there was some bug that was causing Unity's search feature to not automatically refresh when new software was installed, we restarted the VM and tried again. Still nothing.

Now, you could argue that searching for "Vim" instead of "GVim" was the problem, but in this day and age a search tool that can't figure out you mean GVim when you type "Vim" should not really claim to be a search tool, correct?

But this is just a beta release, so for now we won't hold a grudge for the notification messages or the overall sluggishness of the interface, but the search feature has been plagued since it debuted and if Canonical expects people to rely on the search tool, it's time to place some serious efforts into improving the results and so far in 12.04, that hasn't happened ast all.

The emphasis on polishing up Unity is slowly yielding results, but there are still plenty of bugs and you would be wise to restrict your use to a virtual machine or non-vital drive.

In other Linux news

Support for Intel's new Lynx Point chipset will soon be available, but more is on the way for Intel Haswell graphics driver code, the semiconductor maker has said today. Intel will soon be releasing its open-source Haswell graphics driver code as the company prepares to provide Linux hardware enablement support for this next-generation Intel CPU micro-architecture that is still one year away, with Ivy Bridge not having been launched yet.

Lynx Point is the chipset that will be launched in conjunction with Intel's Haswell processors next year, just as Sandy Bridge launched with Cougar Point and Ivy Bridge will have Panther Point as its new chipset option.

The Linux patches for supporting Intel's Lynx Point chipset have been arriving on public lists. Among the Intel Lynx Point patches having been presented thus far have been for its HD audio controller, SMBus controller, IDE and AHCI SATA support, TCO Watchdog, and various other areas for the Lynx Point PCH.

Overall, most of these Linux patches for the Lynx Point Project were authored by Seth Heasley at Intel. For all of the Linux kernel-related bits, they should be merged by the Linux 3.4 kernel.

Hitting Linux version 3.4 will ensure that the initial Intel Haswell-Lynx Point support is entering Ubuntu 12.10, Fedora 18, and other H2'2012 Linux distributions.

Intel's Haswell support will certainly be improved and more stabilized with the Linux 3.5 kernel, just as it took Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge to mature for a few kernel cycles, which hopefully will be the kernel to make the cut for Ubuntu 12.10 and others.

But besides enabling the general chipset functionality of the Lynx Point Project and the forthcoming graphics support patches for Haswell's competitive graphics processor, initial GCC and LLVM compiler support for Haswell is already out in the public spotlight as well.

The compiler work for Haswell adds in support for AVX2 (Advanced Vector Extensions 2), FMA and other new CPU instructions that will be introduced early next year when Haswell starts shipping.

In other Linux and IT-related news

Linux solutions provider Red Hat said that it has updated its core Enterprise Linux operating system stack to version 6.2 three weeks ago, and its Enterprise Virtualization commercial-grade KVM server hypervisor to version 3.0 Friday. So it consists of a new release of a special stack of Linux and systems software dubbed 'MRG' (Messaging, Real-time and Grid) targeted at business-intensive messaging services, MySQL database replication and high performance computing workloads where generic Linux simply isn't enough anymore.

The MRG project actually started back in December 2007 when a number of computer grids and high-speed financial trading customers convinced Red Hat that it needed a special version of its Enterprise Linux kernel that had a real-time system that could provide consistent and predictable performance at very low latencies. The kernel is a lot faster and is more robust than the standard Red Hat implementation, the vendor assures us.

Novell, which owned SUSE Linux at the time, had just put its SUSE Linux Enterprise Real Time, or SLERT, variant of its Linux OS into the field, so Red Hat had didn't have any other choice than to join the party.

In addition to offering a real-time kernel, Red Hat's MRG weaved in the Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP), an open source and standard message queuing stack similar to messaging server brokers such as IBM's WebSphere MQ, Microsoft's Message Queuing Middleware, Tibco's Rendez-Vous financial transaction messaging, and the Java Messaging Service.

Eventually, the Condor open source computer grid project from the University of Wisconsin was added to the platform, allowing it its 'G' at the end. In December 2009, Red Hat updated MRG to the Linux 5.4 code base, and has been tweaking it over the past two years.

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MRG version 2.0 was launched in June 2011 and was based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux v. 6.1 which debuted back in May 2011 and which already supports most of the current and impending x86 implementations such as the new Opteron 4200 and 6200 processors from AMD, and the impending Xeon E5 processors from Intel, as well as other technologies such as PCI-Express 3.0 slots and USB 3.0 ports.

The critical modifications with Enterprise MRG 2.1 is that the underlying RHEL stack is sporting the Linux 3.0 kernel. It is based on the "Santiago" RHEL 6.1 Linux variant Red Hat available in December 2011 and hardened as the core of its RHEV 3.0 hypervisor.

Like previous MRG rollouts, the real-time Linux kernel and the updated Condor grid software is shipping now, but the AMQP messaging components for MRG 2.1 won't be shipping for another few months yet. It is expected they will ship sometime in May or June of this year.

The kinds of applications that use MRG would be high frequency stock, commodity and forex trading systems, and other kinds of mission-critical apps that depend on speed and reliability.

So Red Hat's engineers have cooked up some less-intrusive methods of doing this using event-based sampling that also cut down on some of the uncertainty in measuring using prior methods.

The main new features in Red Hat's new MRG 2.1 kernel are that the messaging broker can now maintain sequential order of messages across distributed receivers, so that you can maintain proper transaction orders in message-based systems, which is important in determining who made and who lost money in a trading system.

The Condor grid portion of the MRG stack now has SSL encryption through its Aviary API, but it isn't clear from the release notes what level of Condor is supported in the stack.

Overall, the grid scheduler can now be clustered for high availability using Red Hat's own cluster suite, and the AMQP messaging stack is now integrated with Red Hat's own JBoss Enterprise SOA and Application platforms as well as Microsoft Visual Studio 2010, and it also supports IPv6 as a transport protocol.

There is a whole slew of bug fixes for the messaging, real-time, and grid portions of the code, however, as you expect this in any new release.

Overall, Red Hat has never been clear about what Enterprise MRG costs, and that certainly hasn't changed with MRG 2.1. The idea back four years ago was for a MRG support contract to cost about twice as much as a RHEL support license of equivalent depth and speed.

Source: Canonical.

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