RealTime IT News

Ubuntu's Gutsy Move

Ubuntu Linux and its corporate sponsor Canonical claim to be ready for the enterprise challenge on the desktop and the server.

Ubuntu's 7.10 release, code-named Gutsy Gibbon, includes a slew of updates to both the server and the desktop that improve usability and security as the open source startup challenges both its open source peers and commercial competitors.

"We know that the server operating system is the most conservative operating system environment, and we know it will take many years to get Ubuntu widely certified," Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth said on a conference call with reporters and analysts. "But I still think that we've made remarkable progress since our first true enterprise server release went out just over a year ago."

Shuttleworth is referring to the 6.06 release, code-named Dapper Drake. Since then Ubuntu has released Edgy Eft and Feisty Fawn.

A key part of Ubuntu's progress is the fact that it has actually made progress. Ubuntu is based on Debian GNU/Linux, which has long been troubled by delays. Ubuntu, on the other hand, has kept to its release schedules and, according to Shuttleworth on average has slipped less than a day since its first release.

But adherence to release schedules isn't all that makes Ubuntu 7.10 "gutsy"; it's the features, too.

The update includes improved hardware and device support coupled with a new standardized framework for delivering updated drivers as they become available. Gutsy Gibbon also improves printer support. Shuttleworth hyped it so much by saying that if a user's printer works with an Apple Mac, then it will work with Ubuntu.

The latest version, set for official release tomorrow, is also about looking better than its predecessors. It includes the Compiz Fusion 3D desktop effects overlay, which is enabled by default. Shuttleworth said that Ubuntu wanted to move the 3-D desktop to the point where it can actually enhance productivity.

Gutsy Gibbon takes aim at improving security as well, with its integration of AppArmor. It provides an additional level of mandatory access control for Linux ensuring the right level of permission and access for applications and users.

AppArmor technology was originally developed by Immunix which was acquired by Novell in 2005. Novell has since open sourced the technology, which competes against Red Hat's SELinux.

Shuttleworth referred to AppArmor as a second-generation product for Linux security, whereas SELinux is first generation. Ubuntu did not work directly with Novell in order to integrate AppArmor with Gutsy Gibbon, but as Shuttleworth noted, the nature of open source is that people contribute and things are picked up.

Another item that Ubuntu has picked up from the open source community is the ability to have read and write access to Windows NTFS partitions on a dual-boot machine.

Canonical CTO Matt Zimmerman said the way Ubuntu has achieved that feat is quite different than simply using something like Samba, which is included in all Linux distributions and enables users to use Windows folders and printer shares.

Ubuntu's method takes advantage of the NTFS-3G project, which only became stable earlier this year. According to Shuttleworth, with NTFS-3G, a user gets actual native read/write access from a local partition.

Though the NTFS-3G effort interfaces with Microsoft's proprietary file system, Shuttleworth argued that it will not put users at additional risk from any potential patent-related litigation. Microsoft has claimed that open source software infringes on over 200 Microsoft patents.

"We remain convinced that Microsoft is simply not going to put itself at the risk of real rebuttal by challenging Linux directly on IP grounds," Shuttleworth said.

Shuttleworth also touched upon the issue of Ubuntu's user base, saying that it has "in excess of six million users." He did, however, admit that he couldn't be sure of the number since there is no formal registration process for most users, and neither Canonical nor the Ubuntu community do any active monitoring of installations.

However, Red Hat Fedora Linux, Ubuntu's competitor, provides publicly available usage numbers based on how many Fedora installations update their machines.

As of Oct. 3, Fedora reported nearly 1.5 million users for its Fedora 7 release alone. Fedora had previously reported nearly three million users for its Fedora 6 release.

The Gutsy Gibbon release is expected to be supported by Canonical for 18 months after its release. The next Ubuntu release, code-named Hardy Heron, is set for a 2008 launch and will be what Canonical refers to as a Long-Term Support (LTS) release, which means it will be supported for five years. Though the next release will receive more support, Shuttleworth was quick to note that it doesn't mean that the Gutsy Gibbon isn't as good a release.

"For LTS, we make a concerted effort to certify ISV applications and server models," Shuttleworth said. "There is no quality difference; it's just a supported timeframe difference."