Canonical today is releasing Ubuntu 14.04, a Long Term Support (LTS) edition for desktops and servers and an update to the versions of Ubuntu for phones and tablets.
LTS editions are released once every two years and receive five years of support from Canonical and thus gain wider adoption in businesses than the less stable server and desktop editions that come out every six months.
Canonical eventually wants to create a single operating system that can be installed across desktops, phones, and tablets, with a different interface presented on each device. That convergence hasn't been completed yet, so with 14.04 (codenamed "Trusty Tahr") there will be separate downloads for the mobile editions. "Full convergence means that the same code for operating systems and applications will be running on all types of devices, from phones to tablets to desktops, and even both smaller and larger devices," Ubuntu Engineering VP Rick Spencer told Ars in an e-mail. "Convergence is still a work in progress, and we will continue to move the code to the desktop as it is ready in each release."
Version 1.0 of Ubuntu for phones came out last October in the 13.10 release, and Ubuntu for tablets is hitting version 1.0 with the 14.04 release. This will "form the basis of the first commercially available Ubuntu tablets from Canonical's OEM partners," Canonical said in a press release.
There's no word yet on any specific tablet devices, but curious users can install the tablet code on the Nexus 10 and the 2013 version of the Nexus 7. The phone version can be run on the Nexus 4. Canonical has dropped support for the Galaxy Nexus and original Nexus 7. We described the process of installing Ubuntu on Nexus devices last year.
The first commercially available phones preinstalled with Ubuntu are coming from BQ in Spain and Meizu in China later this year. "While both companies have only sold into a few markets with their existing models—BQ focused on Europe and Meizu on China, Hong Kong, Israel, and Russia—the Ubuntu devices will be available globally when bought online," we noted after a February announcement.
The tablet code to be released today "is a 1.0 release with basic tablet functionality, including Scopes, Applications, and Side Stage," Spencer told Ars. "However, this is not an LTS release, and, in fact, users who install this version will receive frequent updates as development continues. Ubuntu for Tablets is very usable, but is currently directed at enthusiasts and developers."
Scopes allows quick views of content types, like videos, pictures, contacts, or messages. Side Stage allows users to swipe from the right edge of the tablet to pull up a second application in an overlay or split-screen view.
While Canonical supports running the tablet code on the 2013 Nexus 7 and Nexus 10, "there may be ports available for other devices undertaken by community developers," Spencer said.
Upgrade from Windows XP
Canonical CEO Jane Silber pitched Ubuntu 14.04 for desktops as a good option for businesses "considering a switch from Microsoft, and specifically those replacing XP or Windows 7 as they come to the end of life.” 14.04 comes with some new security features, including new AppArmor profiles and policies and "improvements for interprocess communications between confined applications."
"Ubuntu 14.04 LTS provides a seamless migration path for organizations upgrading from the previous 12.04 LTS," Canonical said. "Users will notice a slicker experience, with improvements to the Unity UI. The release also includes all the tools required for business use, including remote delivery of applications, compatibility with Windows file formats, browser-based cloud solutions, and the Microsoft Office-compatible LibreOffice suite."
Additionally, "Ubuntu 14.04 LTS is optimized for desktops and laptops with multitouch trackpads and touchscreens, as well as support for high pixel density (DPI) screens. This means users can make the most out of the newest hardware on the market."
Ubuntu's Server edition is increasingly being used by service providers building cloud networks. "Global enterprises including AT&T, Bharti, Bouygues Telecom, British Telecom, China Telecom, China Unicom, Cogent Communications, Comcast, Deutsche Telekom, Korea Telecom, NEC, NTT, Numergy, Orange France, Time Warner Cable, Turk Telecom, Verizon, and Yandex, as well as leading Web scale services such as Netflix, Instagram, Hipchat, and Quora are all building next generation services on Ubuntu," Canonical said.
Ubuntu is probably the most popular operating system on which to run the cloud-building software OpenStack. Although Canonical as a whole is unprofitable, in part because of its investment in building a phone and tablet platform, the company has built a nice business selling support to businesses using Ubuntu Server and OpenStack. Canonical also makes money selling Landscape, a proprietary systems management tool for controlling Ubuntu desktop, server, and cloud deployments. Red Hat and other companies are making a run at the OpenStack market, too.
Ubuntu 14.04 for servers "includes new versions of Juju and MAAS [Metal as a Service] to design, deploy, and scale services faster than any other platform available today, on cloud or bare metal. Juju meets the DevOps imperative for agility, continuous deployment, and integration, and MAAS provides scalable bare-metal deployment," Canonical said. "Ubuntu 14.04 LTS also integrates the latest container technologies from Docker and LXC, OpenVSwitch for networking, and Ceph for storage."
14.04 also brings support for IBM Power systems, which run Unix and Linux.
Daily builds of Ubuntu 14.04 are available for desktops here and servers here, while the final versions will hit the main Ubuntu download site sometime today. (UPDATE: It's available here.) Instructions on using mobile versions are available on the Ubuntu wiki. Daily builds of Ubuntu Touch images are also available.
Ubuntu's new display server, Mir, is being used on phones and tablets but hasn't been turned on by default in the desktop yet due to compatibility problems in multi-monitor setups. 14.04 users will have the option of turning on Unity 8, the user interface powered by Mir, which "demonstrates applications that work across all Ubuntu devices," Canonical said. The Ubuntu app store is starting to get applications that can run across phone, tablet, and desktop. "These apps automatically resize and adjust to make the best use of the space available while exposing the same core functionality, all from the same code-base," Canonical said. This requires Unity 8, so desktop users running with default settings won't see these apps.
While Ubuntu is based on Debian Linux, Ubuntu itself forms the basis of other operating systems including the popular Linux Mint desktop. Mint comes in versions based on either Ubuntu or Debian and comes out about a month after Ubuntu. As such, the next Ubuntu-based version of Mint will arrive in late May.
There is also a new version of Ubuntu Kylin, an OS designed for the Chinese market.