One of the things that I do out of curiosity and self-interest is to keep tabs on what is happening with development versions of software that I use. It is for this reason that I always have a development version of WordPress on the go so as to ensure that the next stable version doesn’t bring my blog to its knees. There have been contributions from my own self to the development effort, mainly in the form of bug reports with the occasional bug fix too.
In the same vein, I have had a development version of Ubuntu installed in a VirtualBox virtual machine. There have been breakages and reinstallations along the way when an update results in disruption but it is intriguing too to see how a Linux distribution comes to fruition. In the early days of Karmic Koala (9.10), everything was thrown together more loosely and advances looked less obvious. It is true to say the ext4 file systems support was already in place but the interface looked like a tweaked version of the standard GNOME desktop. Over time, the desktop has been customised and boot messages hidden out of sight. Eye candy like new icons and backgrounds have begun to entice while other features such as an encrypted home folder, Software Store and Ubuntu One came into place. Installation screens became slicker and boot times reduced. All of this may seem incremental but revolutions can break things and you only have to look at the stuttering progress of Windows to see that. Even with all of these previews, I still plan to do a test run of the final revision of 9.10 before committing to putting it in place on my main home PC. Bearing the scars of misadventures over the years has taught me well.
Windows development is a less open process but I have been partial fo development versions there too. In fact, beta and release candidate installations of Windows 7 have convinced me to upgrade from Windows XP for those times when a Windows VM needs to fired up in anger. A special offer has had me ordering in advance and sitting back and waiting. With my Windows needs being secondary to my Linux activities, I am not so fussed about taking my time and I have no intention of binning Windows XP just yet anyway.
The trouble with all of this previewing is that you get buffeted by the ongoing development. That is very true of Ubuntu 9.10 and has been very much part and parcel of the heave that brought WordPress 2.7 into being last year. Things get added and then removed as development tries to fins that sweet spot or a crash results and you need to rebuild things. It is small wonder that you are told not to put unfinished software on a production system. Another consequence might be that you really question why you are watching all of this and come to decide that what you already have is a place of safety in comparison to what’s coming. So far, that has never turned out to be true but there’s no harm in looking before you leap either.
Ubuntu development is so gradual these days that there’s almost no point getting too excited about new versions. Its being a mature Linux distribution means that updates aren’t that much of an upheaval and I must admit to liking it than way. Taking a look at the first alpha release of Ubuntu 9.04, otherwise known as “Jaunty Jackalope”, it seems that there isn’t a change to that gradual, some may call it glacial, approach. The biggest change that I noted was the addition of an encrypted private area to your home user area. In the times in which we live, I can certainly see that coming in useful though it may not set pulses racing in some quarters. OpenOffice is still at 2.4 and things don’t appear very different on the surface at all. Of course, things like kernel changes and such like could be going on under the bonnet without many of us noticing it.Saying that, it played well with VirtualBox and I seem to remember virtual machine trouble with early builds of 8.10 so that can be taken as a plus point. I suppose that it is a case of wait and see before there is anything more obviously defining about 9.04. Anyway, they’ve got until April next year…
It’s probably about time that I drew attention to Ubuntu’s The Fridge. While the strap line says “News for Human Beings”, it seems to be the place to find out about development releases of the said Linux distribution. Today, there’s a new alpha release of Intrepid Ibex (8.10) out and they have the details. As for me, I’ll stick to updating my 8.10 installation using Synaptic rather than going through the whole risky process of a complete installation following a download of the CD image. Saying that, it would be nice to see the System Monitor indicating which alpha release I have. I didn’t notice anything very dramatic after I did the update, apart maybe from the hiding away of boot messages at system startup and shutdown or the appearance of a button for changing display settings in the panel atop the desktop.
I must admit that my curiosity got the better of me when screenshots of Ubuntu’s 8.10, otherwise known as Intrepid Ibex, started to make their appearance. It is only at alpha2 stage so it’s definitely a no-no for production systems. However, it does run surprisingly smoothly even at this stage. Yes, I have seen rough edges and the biggest of them all has made me install it onto my spare PC; there is certainly tendency for systems to hang when you try running 8.10 in virtual machines, my preferred method for these kinds of explorations. Try it in VirtualBox and kernel panic messages ensue while you can log in on VMware Workstation only for the desktop never to load. Those could be major deficiencies for some but they have both been reported with the former being seen by many and the latter being flagged by my own self.
Because I was using a version with the alternate installer, the usual slickness that we expect of Ubuntu installations wasn’t apparent. I am sure that will change in time for the final release but I didn’t find it too taxing to get things going with this means. Nevertheless, I reckon that we will see the usual feel return in later development versions and very much in time for the final release. Because I was installing over the top of a previous Ubuntu installation, I didn’t want to lose everything but I needed to leave it wipe out the previous root system partition for it to continue without freezing. Because my home area is on a separate partition, there was no problem and it picked up settings like desktop backgrounds without a fuss. One thing that might annoy some is that all this takes manual intervention; you don’t get the sort of non-destructive and seamless upgrade capability that openSUSE 11 gives.
What you get when the installation is completed is a Linux desktop that won’t look too different from what we are used to using. Of course, we get the New Human theme with its tasteful chocolate tones in place of the previous default orangey browns. They need to sort out a bug (another of my reports) where black text is being displayed on dark backgrounds on the default display of drop down menus in Firefox and maybe look into why changing the level of enhancements from Compiz Fusion messes up the display of the workspace switcher in the task bar but it’s fine apart from this.
Otherwise, it’s a case of steady as she goes with OpenOffice 2.4, Firefox 3 and so on. That may change as time goes on OpenOffice 3 looming in the horizon. For some, all this continuity is all well and good but I could foresee comments front some parts that nothing dramatic is happening and that Ubuntu cannot afford to stand still with the advances of Fedora, openSUSE, Mandriva and so on. Saying that, I personally like the continuity because it doesn’t mean that my apple cart is going to get overthrown now and again. Indeed, you could say that the whole Linux distribution market has matured very nicely with evolution being the order of the day and I suppose that Ubuntu needs to be seen to be evolving more than perhaps it has been doing.
In summary, it’s early days for Intrepid Ibex but it works well even at this stage. In fact, it is running sufficiently so that I am writing this very post in a Firefox session running on the thing. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes from here and if any more pleasant surprises are visited upon us. After the “safety first” approach of Hardy Heron, I suppose that Canonical can feel a little more adventurous so we’ll see what comes. In the meantime, Here are a few screenshots below for your perusal:
- Mozilla Firefox displaying Ubuntu Bug Tracker
- How OpenOffice Word Processor looks in the New Human theme
- The new desktop with GIMP having just loaded
- GIMP in image editing mode
After a pretty rotten weekend attempting to keep Windows XP running, I finally lost the will to persevere and began yearning for stability. That has taken me into the world of Ubuntu; I am writing this in Firefox running on the said Linux distribution. Thanks to the wonders of VMware, I have been able to observe the swish and slick nature of Ubuntu and I must that it did sway me. Installation has been slick and efficient and is a dream compared to XP, let alone previous Linux incarnations that I have encountered over the years. Start up is also speedy. All in all, there seems to be a certain confidence about the OS that was sadly absent from my Windows experience in recent times.
I am not deserting the world of Windows completely though. As it happens, I installed Ubuntu on a spare hard drive that I had so the Windows installation is still out there. In addition, VMware virtual machines should allow me to stay in there without the ever present risk of a PC getting rendered inoperable. There is also the unfinished business of making myself at home in Ubuntu, hopefully without my wrecking anything. I have yet to give my hardware a full work out to check that all is well. Setting up a web development capability is also on the cards as is getting those virtual machines. Assuming that there are no show stoppers, it could be an interesting ride.