Ubuntu Linux Desktop Builds on App Store, Cloud Service Strengths

Ubuntu 10.10, code-named Maverick Meerkat, brings a number of software updates and an overhauled user interface for its netbook edition.

Ubuntu 10.10, the latest version of the popular Linux distribution from Canonical and the Ubuntu community, hit FTP servers Oct. 10, bearing a slate of open-source software updates along with enhanced tools for locating and installing those applications.

The new release, also known by the code name Maverick Meerkat, also sports an overhauled user interface for the distribution's netbook-optimized edition, and new functionality for Canonical's set of personal-cloud services, Ubuntu One.

For a closer look at Ubuntu 10.10 features, check out eWEEK Labs' slide gallery.

In my tests of Maverick, I've been really impressed by the enhancements to the distribution's Software Center tool for finding and installing applications. The thousands of open-source applications that sit packaged up and waiting to be installed in the project's networked repositories have long been a differentiator for Ubuntu, and the improved software tools that ship with the OS do a great job of showing off this resource.

New Ubuntu releases drop about every six months, with so-called Long Term Support releases being spaced out every two years. Maverick follows April's release of "Lucid Lynx," the most recent LTS version. As one of Ubuntu's faster-moving, shorter-lived releases, Maverick will best suit desktop users who are willing to upgrade their OS version at least once a year or so, and who are prepared to debug an issue if they hit one.

Organizations running or considering running Ubuntu as a client OS would do best to stick with Ubuntu 10.04 LTS, although the sharp new interface in Ubuntu's netbook edition might make an earlier upgrade worthwhile for mobile users.

Ubuntu 10.10 is freely downloadable and comes in 32-bit and 64-bit desktop editions, as well as a 32-bit netbook edition. Ubuntu 10.10 is also available 32 and 64-bit server editions-watch for coverage of the server edition in a future issue.

The download page includes very clear, OS-specific instructions for creating CD- or USB-based installation media from a Windows, Mac or Ubuntu machine. Ubuntu installer discs include bootable OS environments, which are great for testing the system without modifying your machine's hard drive.

Maverick Meerkat in the lab

Perhaps chief among the advantages that Ubuntu inherited from the Debian GNU/Linux project is the deep catalog of open-source software applications that are available for installation on Ubuntu systems (not to mention the processes and people responsible for maintaining them). I've spent many hours trawling through that catalog, learning about and trying out the myriad applications the open-source community has created.

Over the past few Ubuntu releases, the project has focused on making this catalog more accessible to its users through the Ubuntu Software Center-a sort of app store, albeit one limited to freely downloadable applications. In Version 10.10, Ubuntu's Software Center can be used to purchase applications, as well, although at launch time there was only one app available for purchase: a $25 DVD player application from Fluendo.

During Maverick's beta period, I tried out the paid application functionality by buying a $1 test application. The payment process, which required the same sort of Ubuntu SSO (Single Sign-On) account used for logging into the Ubuntu One service or for reporting bugs at the project's Launchpad site, was similar to buying an app through Apple's App Store. I used a credit card for payment, and the app I'd purchased remained available for reinstallation when I shifted to a new machine.