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Ubuntu 11.04 is the most ambitious Linux desktop version ever, with what may be a ground-breaking user interface and major changes from previous versions that come together nicely.
Ubuntu 11.04 is a great example of elegance and new thinking for the desktop. This is apparent with its side-panel application launcher -- known as the Unity interface first deployed on low-performance netbooks -- the new inclusion of Libre Office rather than OpenOffice.org for office productivity, and nice integration with its Ubuntu One cloud file system.
Since we first looked at an Alpha version of Ubuntu 11.04 several months ago, developers have fixed a number of issues and glitches that had made it difficult to install and use as intended. We experienced no technical issues or bugs upon installing the production version of this OS, and it is now a very likable piece of software.
But Ubuntu 11.04's major advances take place at a time that sees monumental challenges to the open-source operating system -- namely a groundswell of adoption of competing operating systems Windows 7 from Microsoft and Mac OS X from Apple -- as well as a historic shift to mobile devices throughout consumer and commercial IT.
Ubuntu 11.04, which its parent organization, Canonical, released to the public on Thursday, is clearly the best and most compelling Linux desktop we've ever seen, but it may just be coming at the worst possible time. It does not integrate seamlessly with Apple's iOS devices, the iPhone and iPad (it doesn't support Apple's requisite iTunes for synchronization).
However, the OS does recognize the iPhone. For example, during our use, we were able to plug an iPhone 4 into a PC running Ubuntu 11.04, import photos, and see files and folders on the device. With music, we were able to play songs downloaded from iTunes to the iPhone that were purchased with play-anywhere rights -- though songs with only rights for iTunes-authorized devices and PCs didn't work. (We didn't expect them to, but it was worth a shot.)
However, despite several tries, we couldn't get Ubuntu 11.04 to sync with an Android device -- in this case, a Droid X. While it recognized the smart phone as a Motorola device, it would not communicate with any of the files on the device. Since both Android and Ubuntu are open-source operating systems, that was disappointing.