Zesty Zapus is out, but its release has been overshadowed by the demise of Unity, the death of Canonical’s convergence dreams and layoffs at the company
I took the view that, if convergence was the future and we could deliver it as free software, that would be widely appreciated both in the free software community and in the technology industry […]
I was wrong on both counts
Mark Shuttleworth, 5 April 2017
April 13 2017 was the release date for Zesty Zapus, version 17.04 of the Ubuntu Linux operating system from Canonical. Its release brings the number of currently supported versions for Ubuntu up to an impressive four – the new release will sit alongside the most recent version – 16.10 and the two current LTS (Long Time Support) versions, 14.04 LTS and 16.04 LTS. As a non-LTS release (the next version with long-term support will be 18.04), Zesty will receive only nine months of official support but will be more ‘cutting edge’, which means more of the latest features, but potentially more bugs. If the potential for instability is an issue, that is why the LTS releases exist.
So what are we to expect from the new release of the world’s most widely used Linux distribution? It’s worth mentioning first what not to expect – despite widespread speculation to the contrary, Unity 8 is not the default desktop environment for this release – and with Canonical’s new move towards Cloud and IoT technologies, it never will be. Few topics are as divisive in the Ubuntu community as Unity, with many mourning its passing and just as many celebrating. Many curious readers will have tried Unity 8 on 16.10 and then realised exactly how far away it was from being ready for prime-time. The 17.04 release has simply arrived too fast, but the decision to drop the project seems to have come out of the blue – so while it won’t be the default for all users, you can try the doomed environment on Zesty.
Unity 8 has been long touted as key to Canonical’s ambitions around their convergence vision of a unified phone and desktop OS and it seems as though the company’s ambitious goals were just a stretch too far. To understand the amount of effort ploughed into Unity 8 and the display replacement Mir, we can look back to the journey that Microsoft took with Windows 8. Bringing a legacy OS platform into a touch-enabled world is an enormous challenge and just as the Redmond giant struggled until Windows 10 finally made things a lot more palatable, so Canonical’s visions have faltered too – Ubuntu 17.04 remains a poor experience for touch-based devices out of the box, which in turn means the likelihood of genuinely good Linux tablet, convertible or touch devices coming to market remains slim. The 18.04 release will be GNOME-based but the goal of delivering a completely Snap-based OS remains, which is where the company ultimately needs to get to to drive the next phase of the platform’s evolution.
Snap packages themselves, which originally debuted in 16.04, continue to evolve and feature more heavily in 17.04 than ever before. The universal Linux packaging format is continuing to grow in adoption within the Linux community – not just on Ubuntu but across a range of distributions – which can only be a good thing.
Even without the headline Unity feature, there is plenty in Zesty Zapus to tempt most Ubuntu users who aren’t tied to LTS requirements. With each new Ubuntu release, you can always count on a new kernel being included – and Zesty is no different as it ships with version 4.10 out of the box. Christened the ‘anniversary edition’ by none other than Torvalds himself to celebrate the recent 25th anniversary of the original 0.01 release, version 4.10 was initially expected to be a relatively small update after the substantial changes in 4.9, but ultimately more than 13,000 commits ended up being included – a huge and impressive effort.
A key reason why users choose to switch to a new kernel is hardware support. Each new release includes the latest drivers, particularly for CPU and GPU devices, and 4.10 is no exception, bringing with it important support for Intel’s latest ‘Kaby Lake’ range of processors.
Also included on the Intel front is support for gVirt (GPU virtualisation), which means machines with Broadwell or newer chipsets can do a much better job of sharing their GPU with multiple virtual machines. In each kernel release at the moment we see a huge amount of effort being put into offering better support for ARM-based devices, including various Android phones, TV boxes and a number of Raspberry PI-like boards.
What’s in and out of 17.04 On the more ‘everyday user’ front, the 17.04 includes the recent LibreOffice 5.3 release. Again, with a huge number of improvements across the board, the latest release of the Microsoft Office competitor brings it closer to a genuinely viable, free alternative, meeting or excelling features of the former in a number of key areas.
One of the most obvious improvements in LibreOffice 5.3 is a revamped UI, which has a lot in common with Microsoft ‘ribbon’ view and adds a considerable level of polish to the product. A simple, slim toolbar is also now available, which is beneficial particularly to those with limited real estate. Add in more reliable Office document opening/saving compatibility, improved document recovery, style and formatting preview, office URL scheme support and improved display of keyboard shortcuts and you have an extremely worthwhile update.
Many Linux users are surprised by how capable the printing subsystem actually is on the Open Source platform – with CUPS it’s possible to get virtually any printer up and running, even if the process itself is a challenge. With the release of 17.04, support is being taken to the next level thanks to the inclusion of driverless printing using IPPEverywhere and AirPrint.
Simply buy a new printer, connect it to your Wi-Fi network or to your PC via USB and everything will be automatically configured. Hit the print dialogue in your Ubuntu app and you’ll be set. Note that driverless printing does only include printing support, so for multifunction devices featuring scanners, you will need to continue as before.
The software store built in to Zesty Zapus offers hugely expanded support for Snap packages (see p29 on how to start using Snap packages yourself). Snap packages are key to Canonical’s long-term vision for Ubuntu – Unity 8 and Mir power a tablet-friendly version of the distribution called ‘Ubuntu Personal’, which is powered entirely by snaps. Although the new container format isn’t used across the board for 17.04, its use is hugely expanded.
The Mir display server is present but, as with Unity 8 mentioned previously, it’s not used by default despite everyone’s best efforts to ready it for this release. On the plus side, version 8 of Unity be selected from the log-in menu, giving all users a chance to test drive what will become a side-note in Ubuntu’s history now unless proposed forks are successful.
When configuring your PC for Ubuntu 17.04, provided you’re not using LVM, you’ll notice something a little different – the installation process uses swap files instead of partitions by default. The suggested size of swap files will be 5 per cent of disk size or 2GB, whichever is smaller.
While this doesn’t change much from a user perspective and indeed it was always possible to use swap files (albeit not directly from the installer), it will lead to simpler partition layouts and easier adjustment of swap size. Why is LVM excluded? Simply because LVM snapshots would include the swap files, which would be undesirable.
What’s not in 17.04? It’s worth noting that if you are using a 32-bit PowerPC machine (undoubtedly an everdiminishing group), then you won’t be able to update to Zesty. Driven primarily by the dropping of support in Debian 9, the change is only likely impact those running on very old hardware (e.g. pre-2005 Apple devices). 32 bit x86 processors of course are still supported.
Nautilus, which powers the ‘Files’ application, will remain at version 3.20 in 17.04, despite 3.24 becoming available and being picked up by the a number of the non-Core Ubuntu distributions. This means no support for the improved browsing of root-owned files, a hugely useful feature in the latest update, the improved ‘operations’ dialog – which most would agree needs some work – and the improved ‘flow box’ view. Other Gnome apps are also held back in some cases – Terminal stays at 3.20, the shipped version of Evolution is 3.22 and Gnome Software is also version 3.22.
1 Menu bar Sweep down on the menu bar to access quick settings, organised by section. Scroll to the right to access shutdown options.
2 Task switching The Unity 8 task switcher provides a 3D view of open windows. The list can be manipulated using Alt+Tab or by touch.
3 Compatibility Applications optimised for Unity 8 will display with a single menu bar, however older applications could potentially present a double bar.
4 Scopes Use the Scopes window, opened by default on login, to browse and try the different Scopes installed with Unity 8.
5 Web browsing The Unity 8 web browser is quick and supports most basic features. X-based browsers such as Chrome won’t run on 8 yet (or ever now).
6 Launcher Slide out the launcher from the left of the screen to see your installed apps sorted alphabetically or access the store.
Ubuntu users have long since adjusted to the move to systemd and despite some controversy around its performance vs the alternatives, systemd-resolved is the latest component to make the switch. Most users should see no real impact from the change.
Even if Unity 8 isn’t a headline feature on Ubuntu 17.04, it’s still worth taking it for a spin. Although it’s not production ready – and exactly how far away it still is from release will become clear when you switch – it’s an interesting look at a different take on the platform that is noticeably more stable than in previous realises, with more features present too. Unity 8 can be launched by selecting the icon on the login screen. After logging in, if you are on high DPI device, you will notice an issue – everything will be tiny, but as of now, there is no display settings option integrated. There is a simple fix for this (when you know how) – simply open the ~/.profile file in a text editor, and add the line export GRID_UNIT_PX=16.
This will double the scaling size, as the default value is 8.
Of course, you can go for somewhere in-between too.
When exploring the new features on Unity 8, it’s worth bearing in mind what the goals were with the update. If you happen to have an Ubuntu-powered laptop with a touchscreen, or indeed a tablet on which you can install the new OS, then you can very much get a feel for how the ‘Ubuntu Personal’ experience was intended to work. After logging in, sweep down the notification area at the right of the screen and note how touch-optimis it is.
Ubuntu on Fairphone 2
At Mobile World Congress 2017 in Barcelona, UBports, a group aiming to enable Ubuntu to be used on every device starting with smartphones, demonstrated Ubuntu on the Fairphone 2.
Fairphone as an organisation aim to make a phone that creates a positive impact across the value chain of electronics. Their ethical approach extends to the device’s modularity – owners can carry out their own repairs to prolong the lifespan of the device. The open source nature of Ubuntu gels well with Fairphone’s own goals – the operating system forms a strong alternative to Android in the guaranteed security and nonvendor lock-in it offers for its users.
The Fairphone 2 packs a fast Qualcomm CPU, 2GB RAM and 32GB storage, dual SIM support, dual cameras and a host of different connectivity options. The 5-inch Gorilla Glass protected screen has a full HD resolution, offering an impressive 446 pixels per inch.
UBports also has Ubuntu Touch up and running on a number of other Android devices, including the OnePlus One and the team recently announced that it will continue working on the dream of a convergent phone (see p30).
In reality not everything is ‘wired up’, but you can click through to the settings app and view the different sections. The ‘Language and Text’ section provides a preview of the improved on screen keyboard for Unity 8. The default install includes a small number of applications, including
Ubuntu Web Browser, one of few apps specifically optimised for the updated interface.
From a general UI perspective, sweep in from the right of the screen to switch between apps (which looks great) and sweep in from the left to open the launcher.
Ubuntu Touch Convergence has had a long and troubled existence, but represents a huge amount of effort and investment during its development. Mark Shuttleworth, the Canonical founder, announced on 31st October 2011 (via his personal blog) that by the 14.04 release of Ubuntu, the platform would support smartphones, tablets, smart TVs and other suitable smart screens. Reading the blog post back today, it’s clear that the world Mark foresaw was right on the money – a world where content is instantly available on all devices, with dominant app stores, content syncing and sharing – a huge opportunity for Linux. What wasn’t anticipated at that time was exactly how difficult it would be to get Ubuntu to where it needs to be and that while Linux would soon become dominant in these markets, it would be in the form of the Linux kernel underpinning Google’s Android OS.
Development proceeded on a version of Ubuntu for these devices, culminating in the release of the Ubuntu Touch Developer Preview, based on Ubuntu 13.04 and supporting a small number of Android phones. Basic initial functionality included the dialler, camera, gallery, browser, a media player and a notepad app. A reasonable start, with the ability to link to ‘web apps’ too.
The preview grew into the Ubuntu Touch 1.0 developer/ partner version in October 2013, launched alongside Ubuntu 13.10 and primarily supporting again a small number of Android phones. A more stable build with increased support and based on 14.04 was released in April 2014, giving potential OEMs a better look at exactly what was on offer and allowing enthusiast developers to make their own modifications.
On 8 June 2010, Unity was released. Initially as a netbook edition, it evolved into a converged concept of a unified phone and desktop OS.
Ubuntu Edge announced
On 22 July 2013, Canonical launched a crowdfunding campaign for a converged phone. It failed to hit its funding target.
Ubuntu Touch RTM and first phone
On 16 September 2014, Ubuntu Touch was released to manufacturers and powered the BQ Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu powered phone.
So when all is said and done, has Ubuntu Touch been a complete failure? There’s no question that the actual market penetration of the product has been minimal and sales will have fallen far short of the OEM’s hopes. Of course, lots of lessons will have been learned and sadly it seems as though the Personal mantle will only be continued by others, barring a significant independent developer effort on Unity 8 (see p 30). Microsoft continue to tout its ‘Continuum’ idea (largely convergence by another name) as the next-big-thing and Samsung are pushing the same concept on Android with its ‘DeX’ (Desktop eXperience) dock for its S8 range of handsets. This provides both validation of Ubuntu’s approach and an opportunity for others to raise awareness of what convergence will bring to market.
While the ultimate product of Shuttleworth’s 2011 vision won’t be realised, it’s easy to buy into the vision – who wouldn’t like to plug their phone or tablet into a screen and keyboard (or even a laptop dock) for that seamless experience! This avenue is already being pursued by some third parties. The idea of a smaller device powering a large screen has been attempted a number of times before (think Asus Padfone or Motorola Atrix Lapdock) but in the world of crowdfunding, there are unique avenues for other budding entrepreneurs to make their visions come to life. The Superbook (www.sentio.com) is a screen which turns your phone or tablet into a laptop via USB C. The Superscreen (www.superscreen.io) is a screen, which turns your phone into a tablet wirelessly. Similar names, similar prices, independent products.
Any mobile platform lives or dies by its hardware support, so in July 2013, Canonical launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funding for the ‘Ubuntu Edge’ – a hardware device epitomising a new aspect of the converged vision – a phone that could dock to a monitor and provide a user experience suited to both the small and large screens. The campaign was deliberately ambitious – an all or nothing effort to raise $32 million dollars and despite good initial uptake, the finally tally raised was only $12.8m, or less than half the intended target. Nonetheless, the campaign was great exposure for the company and their vision, ahead of all important hardware partners releasing their own devices early in 2015.
In February 2015, the BQ Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition became the first smartphone with Ubuntu Touch preinstalled. It was sold in the European Union only, via online channels. In May 2015, the Meizu MX4 Ubuntu Edition went on sale in China, becoming the second Ubuntu phone. It offered high-quality hardware, but didn’t become widely available. On 9 June 2015, BQ launched another smartphone running Ubuntu Touch, the Aquaris E5 Ubuntu Edition. On 5 February 2016, BQ announced the first commercial Ubuntu Touch tablet, the Aquaris M10 Ubuntu Edition, which was released in April 2016. Also in April 2016, Meizu released the Meizu PRO 5 Ubuntu Edition premium smartphone, with truly premium hardware seemingly offering the current generation of Ubuntu Touch a last chance against other more successful Smartphones.
Throughout the lives of the devices, they continued to receive OTA updates with fixes and improvements (albeit largely minor), the latest being OTA-15, which does however remain based on Ubuntu 15.04. The primarily bug fix and security update looks set to be the last, with Canonical’s Lukasz Zemczak stating that aside from critical security fixes, that’s effectively it.
Install proprietary drivers
So you’ve installed 17.04 and you’re ready to take it for a spin. You have a more up-to-date kernel so your hardware support is going to be better than ever. One thing you should do, however, is check for proprietary drivers. These are non-open source drivers that optimise the performance of your Linux installation that are disabled by default to preserve the ‘purity’ of your open source system. Proprietary graphics drivers are particularly useful, allowing you to squeeze every last FPS out of your hardware! To install, open the ‘Software and Updates’ tool from the Unity dash, click the ‘Additional Drivers’ tab, choose the drivers you wish to install and click ‘Apply Changes’. You will likely need to reboot before the new drivers can be used. Install Media Codecs Much like the proprietary drivers, Ubuntu also includes the option to install closed source media codecs, which you are going to want to do so that the operating system can play all your music and video. To enable this feature and get the most from it, click the ‘Enable Restricted Formats’ box during installation, or to enable postinstallation install the ‘multimedia codecs’ package using the Ubuntu Software app.
Unity Tweak Tool
Out of the box, Ubuntu includes a good amount of customisation, but if you really want to get under the surface and customise the operating system to your heart’s content you’ll need to install Unity Tweak Tool (assuming you are running Unity, that is). Unity Tweak Tool includes a huge number of options. Looking to move the Unity launcher to the bottom of the screen? You’ll find that in Unity > Launcher Position. Like your windows to minimise on Single click? You’ll find that in the same place. Tweaks in the tool are usefully broken down by section and category – Unity, Window Manager, Appearance and System are all covered. Don’t be afraid to experiment, each pane includes a handy ‘Restore default’ options should you wish to undo your tweaks.
Install a new theme and icons
While the standard look of Ubuntu isn’t ugly per se, it’s fair to say it could perhaps do with a lick of paint. Maybe that will come with the Unity version bump but for now, the Unity Tweak Tool also provides a great way to manage your theme and icons (plus cursors and fonts).
If you’re on the hunt for a good looking theme to start your customisation journey, you could do a lot worse than try Adapta, from https://github.com/adapta-project/ adapta-gtk-theme. For your icons, Paper from https:// snwh.org/paper bring the Ubuntu look bang up to date.
Check out ‘Ubuntu Software’
Power users may generally steer clear of the ‘Ubuntu Software’, preferring instead to drive their machine from the terminal, but since it’s improved for Zesty, you should at least take a look. The application feels more mature than ever, with applications broken down by category with a selection of editors picks shown on the main screen. Not a fan? That’s fine, if you don’t want to go the graphical route you can remove the ‘software-centre’ package via APT.
If you’ve opted for the standard Unity version of Ubuntu on your machine, that doesn’t mean you can’t try out the other desktop environments. It’s simply a case of installing via APT. Want to try out KDE (and Plasma 5.9 is pretty cool, so it’s not a bad idea)? Simply use sudo apt-get install kubuntu-desktop (you can also try Gnome with ubuntu-gnome-desktop). After installing, if you’re not a fan and you want to reclaim your space, you can uninstall the package as normal. Note that installing an alternate package can affect your default boot logo – to change this, use the command sudo update- ëŒƢĕƌŝëƢļǁĕƖɀɀĈŦŝǙİďĕįëƪŒƢȪƉŒǈśŦƪƢķ.
When you’ve installed an alternate desktop environment, simply log out from your account and click the logo to the top right of the password box – this will provide you with a menu to login with a different option.
Bear in mind that you’ll need to free up some space.
Installing the desktop packages will not only install the desktop environment, but associated packages too and as such, the installs can take up a lot of space.
Server and developer features
If you are a Ubuntu Server user, aside from the main updates in the system itself, what are the key improvements? QEMU – the machine emulator and Left Trying an alternative desktop environment such as KDE lets you see a different slant on Ubuntu
virtualiser – has been updated to version 2.8. Primarily, QEMU enables servers to run OSes and applications made for one machine (e.g. an ARM board) on a different machine (e.g. your own Intel server). By using dynamic translation, it achieves very good performance. QEMU achieves near native performance by executing the guest code directly on the host CPU. QEMU executes under the Xen hypervisor or using the KVM kernel module in Linux and when using KVM, the software can virtualize x86, server and embedded PowerPC, 64-bit POWER, S390, 32- bit and 64-bit ARM, and MIPS guests.
Sticking with the virtualisation theme, libvirt has been updated to version 2.5. Libvirt is an API for a number of languages including C, Python, Perl and Java that provides access to platform virtualisation management.
It can be used to manage KVM, Xen, VMware ESX and QEMU amongst others and is widely used in the orchestration of hypervisors.
Ubuntu 17.04 includes the latest release of DPDK, which is version 16.11.1. The DPDK (Data Plane Development Kit) is a set of libraries and drivers for userland-based high speed data packet networking applications, also providing the EAL (Environment Abstraction Layer) to offer a standard environment and therefore programming interface. A number of developers have already invested a lot of effort in developing around the Unity Qt-based UI toolkit, including large projects such as GIMP and LibreOffice. As Ubuntu reverts to Gnome, efforts will recenter around the GTK+ toolkit – the Gnome Developer Center is a good place to start.
Try https://developer.gnome.org, if you’re a new Linux developer with an application development overview, human interface guidelines and a number of helpful guides (as well as a full API reference).
One concept you can familiarise yourself with today, if you haven’t already, is Snap packages. As the level of snap use increases in 17.04 driving towards deprecation of the legacy DEB software package format, it’s worth understanding exactly what the containers offer and why they are important for Ubuntu – and indeed Linux’s – future. The vision behind snaps was to create a ‘container’ for applications that enabled them to run not just on a specific distribution, but across Linux versions.
The reason that cross-distro support is possible with snaps is that they include all the libraries that an application requires to run. How many times have you struggled to get something up and running because dependencies have been missing or the wrong version? Those issues will soon be a thing of the past. Of course, you’ve probably realised that including these resources means the files themselves will be bigger, but that’s really a small price to pay. Right Installed snaps live in the /snap directory, which you can browse manually
After you’ve installed a Snap, it’s incredibly easy to update, courtesy of the Ubuntu Software Centre. That’s right, it actually becomes much more useful, not just for initial application discovery and distribution but for updates too. One of the benefits to the format being adopted by the most widely used Linux distribution is that it is driving adoption from others too, including Dell, HP, Mozilla, LibreOffice, as well as many more. Strangely enough, the support from Canonical and Ubuntu will actually help less popular distributions more than anyone, as a container built with Ubuntu in mind will still work elsewhere.
So how does a snap work? Really it’s a fancy ZIP file (sound familiar, Java JAR users/Android APK fans?).
Included in the file is a metadata file, an icon and the application with its dependencies. When the snap is installed, it will be mounted at /snap//current and ready to run. Snaps bring long-needed additional security to the Linux platform as they are sandboxed (as in, they are isolated from the underlying system and other applications), are read only and have their own segregated data stores. Although they are sandboxed, snaps can communicate with each other using service ‘interfaces’, with ‘plugs’ and ‘slots’.
Trying out snaps from the command line is a good way to get an idea of how they work – so let’s try out the ‘hello world’ tour. To start, you’ll need to look for available snaps. Snaps can come from anywhere, but by default you’ll search the Ubuntu store and only see ‘promoted’ snaps – those that have been reviewed and vetted for security. Try the command ƖŝëƉǙŝďķĕŒŒŦ and you’ll see a number of responses. Now that we’ve found the app we want, install it using the command sudo snap install ķĕŒŒŦ. That’s it! Just like any other app, type ‘hello’ and it will run. You can see the snaps installed on your system with ‘snap list’, which will tell you the version, unique revision and the developer details. And when you’re ready to update, just do ƖƪďŦƖŝëƉƌĕįƌĕƖķ.
A particularly slick feature of Snaps is the ability to roll back to a previous version of an application. Use the command ‘sudo snap revert hello’ to do so. Finally, snaps even support stable, release candidate, beta and edge channels, specified with the ɀɀĈķëŝŝĕŒɲ command.
Once you’ve tried snap, you won’t want to go back!
Right Snapweb (sudo snap install snapweb) provides a web interface to snaps on localhost port 4200
LU&D dives into events at Canonical and the project saving Unity
According to anonymous sources that spoke to LU&D, working at Canonical for the last 13 years has been a unique experience: “Most companies purely want to make money,” said one employee. “Whereas I feel, in Canonical it’s been almost like… ‘plaything’ is the wrong word, but it’s kind of like a sandbox of ideas.” That sandbox has lost a lot of its buckets and spades in recent weeks. Hours after Mark Shuttleworth’s surprise blog announcement that Canonical would end “investment in Unity 8, the phone and convergence shell”, a list of about 100 affected employees was circulated around the company. A significant company transformation is now in full swing, focused on streamlining the staff count in each department, cutting projects and products that weren’t profitable in a bid to make the company investor-friendly and ready to seek an IPO in four years’ time.
Shuttleworth has made it clear that Canonical’s future is Ubuntu itself, for desktops, servers and VMs, cloud infrastructure and IoT, but that has angered insiders close to the mobile projects, as they believe that the convergence dream was two to four months from being a real product.
Regardless of the true state of convergence and Unity on the phone and desktop, the task now falls to others outside the company (see, right), but the treatment of long-serving Canonical staff is likely to leave a stink in the air. “People were leaving Canonical already, and everybody expected some adjustments around April,” acknowledges one staff member. “But nobody expected the adjustment to be as brutal.” Some staff describe being “treated like criminals” and “dumped” like “cattle” over 5 to 10-minute video calls, where, in some cases, they found themselves unemployed and their healthcare benefits gone on the same day.
There’s no disputing how painful this situation was for many long-serving staff, even if many were contractors, but every termination was legal in regard to the respective employment laws in the countries involved. However, the methods don’t sit easily with the company’s ‘big family’ culture.
As one employee put it: “This is not how you treat friends who helped you in their free time, who sacrificed valuable family time for you and for your projects.” This may explain Mark Shuttleworth’s apparently generous offer to give equity to every person in the company. ”Everyone at the company today, regardless of whether they contribute to cloud or convergence, has played a role in getting us to this position,” said Shuttleworth in a company-wide email.
“So we will ensure that everyone who is at the company today has the potential to be a long term beneficiary.” Unfortunately, this in itself has backfired, as many exiting staff have been forced to sign severance agreements that make no mention of Shuttleworth’s parting gift. Opinion among Canonical staff we spoke to was divided on whether those laid off would see a payout.
However, through it all, most Canonical staff are fiercely loyal. One staff member summed up the general feeling: “Canonical was built around Ubuntu and FOSS. People joined Canonical for the cause. […] People made compromises at Canonical that nobody would do anywhere else.
People worked around the clock, spent weekends and nights on workshops. We all adapted to difficult timezones to work together with very remote colleagues. We all were (and still are) fulltime evangelists of Ubuntu.”
UBports picks up
Unity Given time, it seemed likely that forks of both the Ubuntu Touch and the Unity 8 desktop environment would emerge, but the most credible announcement came from UBports (see p22), who kicked off its work with a lengthy livestream on YouTube (https://youtu.be/MVEm4X2ptEk).
We contacted Dalton Durst, UBports’ community manager, about their plans: “UBports hopes to bring the dream of a convergent phone to a usable, stable reality.
This has always been our goal. Before the Unity drop, our task was to put Canonical’s operating system in hands of others. Now Canonical’s OS becomes our OS.” However, UBports doesn’t intend to work alone: “While nothing is finalised yet, we have already discussed a common hardware enablement platform with the Mer project [which is used by Jolla in Sailfish OS]. This would mean that a successful port would open a single model of Android phone to multiple alternative operating systems.
This choice is what makes the Linux ecosystem great.” UBports also hopes to work with the Unity 8 desktop fork announced recently: “We are also talking with the Yunit project (http://yunit.io, pronounced ‘unit’) about a shared future with them. [But] our initial goals come in automating the Ubuntu Touch build infrastructure so we can stabilize the existing system. Once that is complete, we can update existing Ubuntu Touch devices and work toward forwarding the platform.” If you’d like to donate or get involved go to https://ubports.com/get-involved.
Ubuntu Budgie uses the GNOME-based Budgie desktop environment as its default UI.
The desktop makes use of modern GNOME technologies and integrates tightly with the GNOME stack, but it’s not specifically a GNOME fork. Part of the ‘Solus’ desktop, the mantra of the Budgie project is ‘simplicity and elegance’, something it delivers in spades with its gorgeous look and feel.
Key features of Budgie include a quick access menu for apps with compact and category views and a widget, notification and customisation centre called ‘Raven’. The centre allows users to easily access calendar information, sound volume and media player controls. Application and system notifications appear in the Notifications view and the Customisation Centre provides quick access to icon and widget theming, adding, removing and modifying Budgie panels, their properties as well as their displayed widgets.
What if your machine is too ancient even to run a modern Ubuntu desktop at any decent level? Then Ubuntu MATE might be the answer.
MATE is billed as the ‘Ubuntu alternative for computers that aren’t powerful enough to run a composited desktop’. Originally founded by Martin Wimpress who now works directly for Canonical, the platform is designed to be accessible to closely resemble ‘regular’ Ubuntu as far as possible. Themes and artwork are similar to the main parent distro and where appropriate, the default packages are aligned too, with the caveat that the software selection will ‘favour functionality and stability over lightness and whimsy.’ The approach works – MATE feels immediately familiar to a regular Ubuntu user. And fast!
If regular Ubuntu is the ‘heavyweight’ and Mate and Lubuntu are at the other end of the scale, then Xubuntu is probably the middle ground. The Xubuntu team believe that “you should be able to utilise the maximum system performance to things you care about”, which means use of lightweight software and just the right suite of applications to enable you to get on with the task at hand, whether you are on a powerful machine or something much more modest.
XUbuntu is so named because it uses the Xfce desktop environment, which is fast and light on system resources, while still visually appealing and user friendly. With the Xfce environment being stable and updated, the Zesty release of Xubuntu has benefits in the base Ubuntu build, retaining Xfce 4.12 for the desktop environment and only a few sub packages receiving updates, around task management and notifications.
Ubuntu Kylin is an official flavor of Ubuntu created for China that complies with the Chinese government procurement regulations. It includes all the usual features you’d expect in Ubuntu alongside essential Chinese software and apps. The interface has been designed specifically to put Chinese users first, with added support for touch screens and HiDPI monitors. Kylin partnered with China Software and Integrated Chip Promotions Centre (CSIP) and the National University of Defense Technology (NUDT) to develop the distribution. The Zesty release of Kylin utilitises the ‘UKUI’ desktop, which will look familiar to Windows 7 users. Part of the work by the UKUI team was related to changes to move the Unity dock to the bottom of the screen, which benefits all Ubuntu users!
As with Ubuntu MATE, Lubuntu is designed as a fast and lightweight version of Ubuntu.
Lubuntu uses the minimal desktop LXDE (Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment) and a selection of light applications. The developers focus primarily on speed and energyefficiency, which leads to very low hardware requirements for the distro.
How lightweight is Lubuntu? The system can be installed on a Pentium II or Celeron system with 128MB of RAM, but such a system would not perform well enough for daily use. With 256MB – 384MB of RAM, the performance will be better and the system will be more usable. With 512MB of RAM, you don’t need to worry much. Pretty lightweight! Lubuntu aims to cover the main things you would look to do with your desktop OS. For instance, in lieu of the Office applications Word and Excel, it includes Abiword and Gnumeric, and other key end-user friendly elements, such as PDF viewing, audio playback, video playback and are covered.
As with the main Ubuntu distro, Mozilla Firefox is included for web browsing and other internet activities.
The intention was to shift from the LXDE environment to LXQt with the release of 17.04, but this is now not going ahead. LXQt can be installed manually however, for a view of where Lubuntu is headed.
It’s easy enough to understand what the ‘friendly computing’ community distribution Kubuntu is – it’s Ubuntu, but with the KDE Plasma desktop environment enabled by default instead of Unity, which are both underpinned by Qt5, the cross-platform GUI toolkit.
Kubuntu’s desktop environment was originally designed to make life easier for users transitioning from Microsoft Windows or Apple’s MacOS, by allowing a similar desktop layout and modular design allowing functionality to be easily ‘plugged in’.
The Plasma desktop is highly configurable in nature completely through the GUI, without installation of additional tools or manually editing files. Although Kubuntu does feel fundamentally different from Unity, as they both use the same sources they can easily co-exist on one system and share applications.
The Zesty Zapus release of Kubuntu includes the Plasma 5.9 desktop environment and a large number of updated elements, including the latest KDE 16.12.3 Applications and version 184.108.40.206 of the popular office productivity suite, Calligra.
Ubuntu GNOME is an official flavour of Ubuntu featuring, you guessed it… the GNOME desktop environment. Originally released back in 2012, the project was founded because some users wanted to stick with GNOME as Ubuntu switched to Unity.
The Zesty release includes a large number of changes, primarily that it uses GNOME 3.24 across the board. Evolution (the email suite), Brasero (for CD burning), Seahorse (for key management) and xdiagnose (for display troubleshooting) were previously included in a default GNOME install but will not be installed from 17.04 onwards.
GNOME 3.24 includes a neat feature called ‘night light’. Something of a hot topic in tech at the moment, the feature adjusts the screen colors based on the time of day, reducing blue light later in the day to help reduce eye strain. The notifications area has also been hugely improved in the latest release with a cleaner layout and additional useful information such as weather. A number of Settings pages have been improved, including around printing. Finally, power users will love the ability to choose which GPU is used when launching an app, courtesy of the ‘switcheroo’ packages.
Ubuntu GNOME will be merging with Ubuntu for 18.04 LTS, so it’s a chance to get a sneek peak of the future of Ubuntu.
Ubuntu Studio is a custom Ubuntu distribo that you might use… if you work in a studio. Clever naming convention. Ubuntu Studio is ‘designed for creative people’, and provides ‘the full range of multimedia content creation applications for each of our workflows: audio, graphics, video, photography and publishing.’ Changes that have been included for the 17.04 release of Ubuntu Studio are mainly restricted to updating the included packages to the latest versions, and the distro does ship with a lot of applications for creative purposes – from the more obvious (GIMP, Blender, OpenShot) to the slightly more obscure (JACK, MyPaint). One notable return in this release is Krita, while DarkTable has been removed from the 32-bit ISO “due to lack of upstream support”.