Ubuntu 9.04: Modest Desktop Improvements And New Server Apps

CloudOpen SourceSoftware

Serving both desktop and server roles, Ubuntu 9.04 comes with build-your-own compute cloud software and a netbook tweaked version.

Canonical’s Ubuntu 9.04 hit the world’s FTP mirrors on April 23, bearing a modest collection of software updates and enhancements and an ambitious road map for expanding the popular Linux-based operating system’s reach.

The new release, which is also known as Jaunty Jackalope, contains a technology preview edition of Eucalyptus, an open-source project out of UC Santa Barbara aimed at enabling organisations to build their own in-house Amazon style Elastic Compute (EC2) clouds. At the same time, Ubuntu 9.04 is available in a separate remix version for running on netbook-class portable computers.

The Ubuntu 9.04 software updates revolve around the distribution’s default GNOME desktop environment, now at Version 2.26. The latest GNOME revision brings with it support for Microsoft’s MAPI Exchange messaging protocol. Ubuntu 9.04 also includes Version 3.0 of the OpenOffice.org productivity suite.

At its core, Ubuntu Jaunty includes Version 2.6.28 of the Linux kernel, the release in which Ext4—the successor to Linux’s most common file system, Ext3—was deemed stable enough for broader use. Jaunty offers support for the Ext4 file system as an option, but sticks with Ext3 by default.

Delivering the latest in what the open-source software world has to offer, Ubuntu 9.04 can serve very well in both desktop and server roles. However, the distribution’s fast-moving nature, the last Ubuntu version came out only six months ago, and the next version will arrive six months from now, means that Jaunty requires more administrative attention than do slower-moving distributions. For those who’d prefer to skate further from the edge,  Ubuntu 8.04 (the distribution’s current Long Term Support release) or CentOS 5.3 would be a better fit.

A Jaunty Desktop

For the past few years now, I’ve singled out Ubuntu as the best overall desktop Linux option, in large part due to its large catalogue of ready-to-install applications and its excellent online resources for locating support information. Version 9.04 remains a very good choice for desktop deployments, but in certain circumstances, Jaunty’s software enhancements come with some drawbacks.

For example, Ubuntu 9.04 includes Version 1.6 of the X.Org graphics server, which improves performance for some graphics adapters while breaking compatibility with AMD’s proprietary drivers (and thereby disabling hardware-accelerated 3-D support) for other cards. I had this experience on a desktop system with an ATI RV410 X700 adapter that I upgraded to Jaunty from the previous Ubuntu release, Intrepid.

Back on the positive side, Ubuntu now does a good-enough job auto-detecting display and graphics hardware (including multi-monitor set-ups) that Ubuntu systems typically don’t require an xorg.conf configuration file. This will be welcome news to anyone who’s wrestled with xorg arcana.

On the other hand, sometimes manual tweaks do need to be made, and Ubuntu’s streamlined display settings utility offers few configuration options. There’s a tool that’s meant to fill this gap, called xorg-options-editor, available in Ubuntu’s software repositories. I found it a bit rough around the edges, but it might do the trick if you have special configuration options to set.

Also along the lines of making its graphics configuration less arcane, 9.04 is the first Ubuntu release to do away with the Vulcan-death-grip Ctrl-Alt-Backspace key combination that you can use on most Linux distributions to dislodge misbehaving graphical applications by killing your X server session. Once upon a time, this came in handy fairly often, and the fact that it’s become an anachronism is a mark of Linux’s maturity.