Pondering Ubuntu 8.04

by Emmett Dulaney 6/6/2008

Did the few minor tweaks included in the latest version of Ubuntu actually warrant a new release? Emmett's not so sure.

Make no mistake about it: I think Ubuntu is the best Linux distribution for the corporate/institutional desktop available, and I'm not likely to change my mind. With that said, however, I have to question the logic behind the latest release.

Version 8.04 was officially launched this year in April (hence the "04") and Canonical, the company overseeing Ubuntu, has been fairly good at keeping to the new-release-every-six-months schedule. Likewise, back in the early days of PCs, Microsoft seemed to release new versions of operating systems around every turn -- but was often lambasted for it.
(Interesting: What we perceived as iniquity in Microsoft then, we attribute to advancement in Linux now.)

This Ubuntu release is notable in that it's the first Long-Term Support (LTS) release in a while (about two years). Because it's LTS, support for its desktop implementation is guaranteed until 2011 and for the server implementation until 2013, with all other releases identified as short-term support.

But aside from this distinction, there's nothing else that makes this release truly stand out -- leading me to wonder whether it was released to meet an actual need or to simply prove that something new can come out every six months. After all, for the most part, 8.04 is just an update of the collection of software applications that accompany the OS; it's not really an update to the OS itself (aside from a few tweaks to the printer setup and some other little things).
In contrast, 8.10 -- which will be released at the end of October -- actually looks like it will have some new and noteworthy components. While the code for 8.10 is a long way from freeze, expected in that release are two key items:

  • A new desktop. This has been talked about for a while but was withheld from recent releases to undergo further development. If you took a screenshot of Ubuntu now, you wouldn't be able to identify whether it was from 8.04, 7.10 or an even earlier release.
    A focus on "pervasive Internet access."

    On that last one, here's what Mark Shuttleworth, the chief executive officer of Canonical, had to say:
    A particular focus for us will be pervasive Internet access, the ability to tap into bandwidth whenever and wherever you happen to be. No longer will you need to be a tethered, domesticated animal -- you'll be able to roam (and goats do roam!) the wild lands and access the Web through a variety of wireless technologies. We want you to be able to move from the office, to the train and home, staying connected all the way.
  • By the way, to understand the reference to goats, you should know that while the public names for the operating system are 8.04 and 8.10, their code names -- what the developers and many users actually use -- are derived from the names of animals that move around a lot, in alphabetical order. For example, 8.04 was known as "Hardy Heron" ("h" is the eighth letter of the alphabet) and 8.10 is "Intrepid Ibex" ("i" is the ninth). If I had any input at all, my one suggestion would be to get rid of the code names. No administrator wants to put in a purchase order for 500 PCs running Hardy Heron and have to explain to a dozen people what he's talking about.

Back to the topic. If you have never used Ubuntu in your environment before and are contemplating doing so, you'll find that 8.04 is as good an implementation as you can choose (as was 7.10). On the other hand, if you've used any implementation of Ubuntu within the past two years, there's no reason to move to 8.04. In fact, I would highly recommend you stick with what you have -- at least, until 8.10 comes around.

Emmett Dulaney is the author of several books on Linux, Unix and certification, including the Security+ Study Guide, Third Edition. His blog can be found at http://edulaney.blogspot.com and he can be reached at edulaney@insightbb.com.



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