What's new in Ubuntu 13.04
by Fabian A. Scherschel
Canonical has released the latest version of Ubuntu, code-named "Raring Ringtail". The H looks at what is new in the release, which its developers claim is one of the snappiest and most good looking versions of Ubuntu yet, but which otherwise seems rather low on features.
With the release of Ubuntu 13.04, code-named "Raring Ringtail", Canonical is touting a stable and fast desktop operating system. But Canonical's developers have also been redeveloping how they engineer the Linux distribution to scale the process so it works for the new Phone/Tablet/Laptop/Desktop/Server model that the company has set out on. They have also been busy with the work on Ubuntu Touch and their plan of converging the desktop and mobile versions of the operating system, which has caused the list of new features in the release to be rather short. Ubuntu 13.04, on the desktop at least, can be as much characterised by the features that were left out of the release as by what made it in.
The Unity desktop has undergone only very subtle changes from Ubuntu 12.10, the most notable being the new Social Lens that has been introduced to replace the social messaging service Gwibber. Gwibber used to handle social networks on the Ubuntu desktop, but is not installed by default any more. The biggest new overall feature, according to Canonical, is better performance of the user interface and improved graphical effects. These graphical improvements encompass a new window snap animation, fading tool tips, and changes to the preview animation in the Dash. Unity has also gained a new shutdown dialog that is visually in keeping with the rest of the desktop.
Ubuntu 13.04 Server updates
Ubuntu 13.04 Server follows the desktop version in offering little beyond package updates. The most visible update is OpenStack Grizzly, the newest release of the cloud infrastructure-as-a-service platform with all the modules of OpenStack available. Users who want Grizzly but don't want to upgrade to 13.04 will find the Ubuntu Cloud Archive has the Grizzly packages too. OpenStack is deployable with a set of Juju charms and in 13.04 there is a set of charms to deploy it as a reference high-availability architecture.
Juju itself is updated to version 0.7, still being developed in Python, while an initial release (1.10.0) of the next generation of Juju, developed in Go, is available in the backports repository. The mass deployment system MAAS is updated to version 1.3 with support for multiple Juju environments per user and various bug fixes and other improvements.
There is also an update for the Ceph distributed filesystem (to the latest LTS version) with Keystone integration allowing it to be dropped into OpenStack as a replacement for Swift. MongoDB 2.2.4 is included, rather than the latest version 2.4, but at least that has the recent MongoDB vulnerability fixed, and there's also the latest stable release of Open vSwitch.
The Smart Scopes feature that was originally planned to be in this version of Ubuntu did not reach a high enough quality to gain the approval of Canonical's QA department and it was decided to defer its introduction to the next release. This also means that the privacy features that were promised by Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth for this release were not included, as the advanced privacy controls were part of Smart Scopes. Shuttleworth's promise was a response to the public backlash Canonical experienced as a result of introducing product searches (most notably for Amazon) as a default into the Dash with Ubuntu 12.10 – the criticism centred mostly around the fact that online searches could only be turned on or off globally and that all requests went through Canonical's servers. In Raring, online searches can still only be disabled globally, which disconnects all online search capabilities at once; alternatively, users can manually uninstall the Shopping Lens.
The updated Unity also offers a new way to switch windows by scrolling the mouse wheel, and the desktop switcher now indicates which desktop is currently in use. The desktop switcher is, however, not included in the Unity sidebar by default and has to be enabled manually in the settings. The Online Accounts settings application has been expanded and now offers the ability to toggle accounts on and off. A completely new addition is the Sync Menu in the upper right hand corner of the desktop panel, which not only offers access to Canonical's Ubuntu One service, but also to other cloud applications such as Dropbox, should they be installed and configured. The Bluetooth indicator has also been redesigned. Beyond this, some icons have been redesigned throughout the desktop, most notably the Ubuntu symbol on the button that activates the Dash.
Ubuntu 13.04 comes with the usual plethora of updated applications and software. The kernel is based on the current 3.8 upstream release, the default browser is Firefox 20 and the underlying GNOME components have been updated to be based on GNOME 3.8. Many of the packaged installations in the main Ubuntu images have been updated to use Python 3.3, however, Python 2.7 is still installed by default as well for a handful of use cases. Ubuntu users who prefer GNOME to Unity can now either directly install the Ubuntu GNOME derivative or install GNOME 3.8 from a PPA with relatively little hassle.
The LibreOffice suite has been update to version 4.0 and Rhythmbox 2.98 is the default music player, although users will notice that the Ubuntu One Music Store plugin is not installed in it any more. Canonical's music service is now accessed through the web via an icon that is conveniently placed on the sidebar launcher. This has the benefit that it is easier to access for users who prefer to use a music player other than Rhythmbox or Banshee. For many users, the Music Lens, coupled with Ubuntu's familiar media player controls in the sound applet, will prove to be all they need to play music on a daily basis.
As usual, further software can be installed through Ubuntu's Software Centre. Neither this application nor the package selection in the repositories seems to differ greatly from the last Ubuntu version. The fact that Valve's Steam client is now out of beta and is supported as well as heavily promoted on Ubuntu will make some users happy, even though its game selection remains very limited compared with the Windows and Mac OS X versions.
Due to the limited number of features in this release, it will be hard for some users to decide whether they actually want to upgrade to Raring. Canonical has decided to shorten the support time for non-LTS releases to nine months, effective with this release. While the last Ubuntu version, Ubuntu 12.10, is still supported until the release of Ubuntu 14.04, users who upgrade to 13.04 will need to upgrade again at the start of 2014 if they do not want to risk a package selection that won't receive updates any more. For this reason, users might want to consider skipping the Raring release and going directly to Ubuntu 13.10, "Saucy Salamander". With that version, the Canonical developers are promising to introduce the new Mir display server and the first components of the unified desktop, phone and tablet user interface.
Going forward, Ubuntu users will have to decide if they want the newest features as soon as they appear, updating to the latest release every time to stay within the support period, or if they want to jump from LTS to LTS, enjoying the longer support periods, but only receiving updates every two years. This decision will mostly depend on the use case for the machine in question.
Ubuntu 13.04 is available as desktop and server versions for 32- and 64-bit x86 systems; the server version is also available for ARM processors. ISO files for the release are too big to fit on a single CD but can be either used from a USB stick or burned to a DVD. Users booting their system with UEFI will need to install the 64-bit version or set their firmware to BIOS-compatibility mode using the Compatibility Support Module (CSM) to boot the 32-bit version.
Information on all the changes in Ubuntu 13.04 is available in the Release Notes on the Ubuntu Wiki. The document also lists known issues with the release including the inability to install the current version of Google's Chrome browser and a problem that means Skype doesn't start on certain systems where NVIDIA's proprietary drivers are installed.