Merging desktop and online
With the Ubuntu Linux 12.10 “Quantal Quetzal” release launched in October, Ubuntu integrates the desktop and the online world, enabling users to access content and applications easily, whether they exist locally or online.
Quantal Quetzal is also notable for the bold challenge with which it launched: “Avoid the pain of Windows 8” was its initial slogan, making plain Canonical's desire to take on Microsoft's competing operating system.
There's no denying Ubuntu Linux has become an increasingly compelling alternative over the years. Want to see more? Read on, then, for a peek at what this free and open source challenger delivers.
Image credit: Frank.Vassen on Flickr
Packed with features
Even longtime Linux users will find a raft of compelling new features in this latest Ubuntu release, including Web apps, online search, Dash previews, and more. Ubuntu 12.10 also adds native support for both logical volume manager (LVM) and full disk encryption, while a new remote log-in option gives users the ability to log into a Citrix, VMware, or Microsoft desktop running on a desktop virtualization server. In that way, Ubuntu 12.10 can be used as a thin client by businesses that want to virtualize their desktop applications and deliver them to users over the network.
3D Unity by default
Ubuntu's mobile-inspired Unity interface has caused significant controversy since it was made default on the desktop last year, but it has matured considerably since then. Of particular note in Ubuntu 12.10 is that the 2D version of Unity previously included for users lacking hardware acceleration is no longer there. Rather, 3D Unity runs by default in this new release; for those with limited hardware, the operating system will automatically perform 3D calculations using the CPU. For those who don't like Unity, however, a raft of alternatives are readily available.
With Unity's desktop Dash, users can now search quickly both locally—in installed applications, recent files, and bookmarks, for example—and remotely, such as on Twitter and Google Docs, with little distinction from the user's perspective between what's online and what's not. So, once you’ve saved the login details in the software's Online Accounts function, you'll see your Flickr photos, Google Drive documents, and more in your search results alongside the files stored locally on your computer.
Amazon search results
In what's proven to be a controversial move, Canonical has chosen to integrate Amazon search results among the online results delivered through the Unity Dash, providing the Ubuntu project with affiliate revenue when purchases are made that way. Results are displayed in a separate section, labeled “More Suggestions.” So incendiary was the decision, however, that Canonical ended up adding a “kill switch” for the feature.
Screenshot credit: Jono Bacon
Another new feature in the Unity Dash allows users to preview their search results in the Dash to see more options, without having to open more windows. “Preview an album in the Ubuntu One Music Store and you’ll get the option to play tracks straight from the preview,” Canonical explains. “And when you preview an app in the Ubuntu Software Center, you can install it with just one more click.”
The Ubuntu software center
Apps are a big part of the computing experience, of course, and for that there's the Ubuntu Software Center. More than 40,000 apps now populate the Software Center, which can be accessed directly from the Unity Dash. When you spot something you like, you can see more information about it and then install it in just a couple of clicks.
Firefox by default
As has long been the case, Ubuntu Linux includes Mozilla's Firefox as its default Web browser. Both Ubuntu and Firefox are examples of open source software created and continually improved by a global community of developers and volunteers. With automatic security updates, anti-phishing technology, and protection against viruses and malware, Ubuntu and Firefox aim to help users keep their private information secure. For those with other preferences, however, additional browsers such as Google Chrome are available through the Ubuntu Software Center.
Further integrating the desktop and the online world, Ubuntu 12.10's new Web Apps feature makes frequently used Web applications like Facebook, Twitter, Last.FM, eBay, and GMail available through the desktop, so you don't have to launch a browser separately. Such apps can now be pinned to the Launcher on the Ubuntu desktop, so you can launch them with a single click as if they were installed on your computer. “Making Web applications behave like their desktop counterparts gives the user a faster experience and reduces the proliferation of browser tabs and windows that can quickly make browsing unmanageable,” Canonical explains.
Thunderbird for email
Quantal Quetzal also continues Ubuntu's ongoing use of Mozilla's cross-platform Thunderbird as its default email package. Some particularly relevant features were recently added to Thunderbird, in fact, including chat support, “Do Not Track” capabilities, and integration with Canonical's Ubuntu One cloud service. Users who prefer the Evolution email package, however, can quickly find it in the Ubuntu Software Center.
Ubuntu's personal cloud service, Ubuntu One, is integrated and now available as a native app on Mac OS X in beta form as well as on Windows, iOS, and Android. Users get 5GB of storage free, allowing them to access documents, music, photos, and videos, no matter where they are. Ubuntu One’s new referrals program, meanwhile, delivers extra storage in exchange for recommending new users.
LibreOffice for productivity
As was the case with earlier versions of Ubuntu Linux, version 12.10 includes LibreOffice as its default productivity software suite. In addition to the Impress presentation module visible here, LibreOffice also includes components for word processing, spreadsheets, and more, much the way Microsoft Office does.