Review: For Ubuntu, The Road To 200 Million Desktops Starts With 11.10


The official launch of Ubuntu 11.10, which had been code-named “Oneiric Ocelot,” is the first major launch of the Linux-based OS since its top developer announced an ambitions goal to reach 200 million desktops within a couple of years.

Ubuntu 11.10 became available as early-development alpha software earlier this year, and it was clear from the outset that this operating software has clearly found its stride.

After looking at both the pre-release alpha version as well as the official general release version that launched on Thursday, perhaps the biggest advances are in the general stability of Ubuntu and its efforts to keep up with the market’s newfound models with its improved app store and streamlined cloud service.

Developers have also included the full-blown version of its graphical, Unity interface -- a vertical toolbar on the left pain of the default interface with one-button access to a series of applications and services. This is vastly improved over previous iterations of Unity, although it breaks from previous versions of Ubuntu in that much older hardware with lesser graphics performance may wind up choking on it. (A dual-core processor with 2 GB of memory and on-board graphics should be more than enough to support Unity.)

Otherwise, here’s what’s noteworthy in about Ubuntu 11.10 that launched Thursday:

* The Ubuntu Software Center is almost as snappy as Apple’s Mac App Store. It’s very well organized, and designed (including “What’s New” and “Top Rated” applications for download), and it’s an important, streamlined effort to provide value-driven application software to the platform. Remember the days of needing to use line commands to install software on Linux? Those days are history. If you see an application in the Ubuntu Software Center, paid or free, it’s just intuitive and easy to download, install and get working;

* Ubuntu One, which is sort of Canonical’s version of Apple’s iCloud, works out of the gate. Ubuntu One is built into the Unity navigation bar on the Ubuntu desktop, so you’re always one button away from accessing your files or the ability to upload data to Ubuntu’s cloud service;

* LibreOffice, which now takes the place of OpenOffice.org as the default production software in Ubuntu, provides a word processor, spreadsheet program and presentation application -- all of which are compatible with Microsoft Office and very fast;

* Ubuntu 11.10, overall, is fast, but no faster than the pre-release Alpha version.

Except for the paid applications in the Ubuntu Software Center and paid storage capacity upgrades to Ubuntu one, Ubuntu 11.10 remains free. As with its most recent versions, it’s more in tune with Mac OS X use patterns than Windows use patterns, including the “X” in the upper left hand corner of applications to close them down, as opposed to the right-hand corner of the application like in Windows.

Ubuntu 11.10 was still less-than-smooth in integration with newer network printers and other devices, though not impossible to integrate.

The bottom line: Ubuntu 11.10 loses no ground with competing desktop operating systems, and continues to be a great option for secondary PCs in an organization -- for basic productivity or fixed-function uses.

However, at the same time, Ubuntu has now created an elegant enough, and easy-enough-to-use operating system so that if developers produce enough outstanding applications for the platform – now that the Ubuntu Software Center provides a easy, for-profit channel for ISVs – it could become a significant threat to rivals.

It will take a long road to for Ubuntu to reach 200 million desktops in a market caused by disruption from mobile devices and cloud computing. However, Canonical has established a path it thinks can take it there and Ubuntu 11.10 appears to be an important first step.