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The gradual and metered improvement with the Ubuntu variant of Linux created and supported by commercial Linux distributor Canonical takes another step forward this week with the release of "Intrepid Ibex", which will be distributed as Ubuntu 8.10.

Ubuntu 8.10 is a regular release of the Linux variant, not one with what Canonical calls Long Term Support, or LTS. Regular releases of Ubuntu come out every six months and have 18 months of support from Canonical for both the server and the client. LTS releases are more hardened and have more stringent testing and certification of Linux applications, and only come out every two years; LTS releases have three years of support from Canonical on desktops and five years on servers.

Back when the feature set for Ubuntu 8.10 was being hammered out by the Ubuntu development community, Mark Shuttleworth, Canonical's chief executive officer and the founder of the Ubuntu project, said that the Interpid Ibex development cycle would have the desktop, not the server, as the focal point "so that Ubuntu works as well on a high-end workstation as it does on a feisty little subnotebook".

The other goal of the 8.10 release was to expand beyond WiFi connectivity and to have the network manager in Ubuntu link into 3G networks, thereby allowing mobile PC users to stay even more connected than they can be with just wired and WiFi networks alone. "Ubuntu 8.10 sees us lay the groundwork for a radically different, more mobile, desktop computing environment of the next two years," explains Jane Silber, chief operating officer at Canonical and the head of online services for the Linux distributor.

"Our rapid release cycle means we can deliver the elements to support this future faster, more fully realized, and more attractively packaged than traditional OS vendors. Ubuntu 8.10 has many features that sign-post how Linux will provide the drive and innovation in desktop computing."

The first step in this process is to embrace 3G networks, and the network manager in Ubuntu 8.10 can detect and connect to 3G networks via 3G modems, through dongles, through a mobile phone attached to a machine, or through a Bluetooth link. There are a lot of different 3G connectivity options, and Canonical wants to simplify it with the Intrepid Ibex. And further enhancing the portability of Ubuntu 8.10, the operating system can write an instance of itself to a USB flash memory stick, which is both faster and easier than burning a CD or DVD and allows end users to carry a copy of Ubuntu with them and use it anywhere.

Another small change in Ubuntu 8.10 Desktop Edition is a single-click button that allows end users to fire up a guest session so someone can borrow your computer and use it to, for instance, check their email or browse the Web without giving the borrower full access to your computer.

Canonical has also, according to Chris Kenyon, who is in charge of OEM services at the company, worked out a deal with the BBC to open up the radio and television content the news organization generates to Ubuntu users and allow them to access this content for free to users of the Totem media player in Ubuntu. The BBC has committed to use open codecs for its content as much as possible as part of its agreement with Ubuntu; the content access is enabled through a plug-in for Totem.

The Ubuntu 8.10 release is based on the Linux 2.6.27 kernel, which Canonical says has better hardware support and a number of bug fixes compared to the Ubuntu 8.04 LTS variant, nicknamed "Hardy Heron", announced in April of this year and based on the Linux 2.6.24 kernel. Ubuntu 8.10 uses the Gnome 2.24, which "has tons of bug fixes and new features", according to the release notes, as well as the X.Org 7.4 X window environment. Network Manager is now at the 0.7 level (more on this below), and the Samba Windows-compatible print and file server is at the 3.2 level. Users of Ubuntu 8.04 LTS can upgrade to Ubuntu 8.10 automatically, but those of earlier releases have to find an upgrade path into Ubuntu 8.04 first and then do a two-step (or, in some cases, a three-step) upgrade. (Just a reminder - Ubuntu 7.04 reached end of life on October 19.)

Like Ubuntu 8.04 LTS, Ubuntu 8.10 runs on 32-bit X86 and 64-bit X64 machinery, but it does not have support for Sun Microsystems's multicore Sparc T1, T2, and T2+ processors. The Ubuntu 6.06 LTS, 7.04, and 7.10 released did have support for the Sparc T1 processors, and a few years ago Sun and Canonical made a lot of noise about this support. But Sparc T processors are no longer part of the standard Ubuntu distribution, and Sparc T support has been put out to the same ports.ubuntu.com pasture where Power processors now graze.

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