Ubuntu 12.04 LTS Precise Pangolin enters beta
The first of two planned betas for version 12.04 of the Ubuntu Linux distribution has been made available for testing. According to the project's release schedule, the current development milestone will be followed by a second beta on 29 March, with a possible release candidate arriving in April. The final version is planned for 26 April.
Most visible of the changes comes in the form of version 5.4 of Canonical's custom Unity desktop interface, which introduces Ubuntu's new HUD (heads-up display) by default. Introduced by Mark Shuttleworth in January, the HUD is a new GUI element that currently works alongside conventional application menus. When a user presses the ALT key, it brings up an overlaid, semi-transparent dialogue box in which they can type what they want to do. This results in a search for relevant menu options, providing users with a list of results from which they can select the required function.
Unity's 2D desktop now looks like the 3D accelerated desktop. However, in testing, The H found that the HUD menus did not appear to function with the 2D version. The HUD also appeared to be offering somewhat vague options in testing. The new version of Unity also includes some new options in "Appearances" system settings to configure its look.
Below the hood, Ubuntu 12.04 LTS Beta 1 uses the 3.2.0-17.27 Ubuntu kernel which is based on the recent 3.2.6 Linux kernel. As with the alpha releases of the kernel, the developers have unified the server and generic flavours of the kernel in a merger designed to reduce the maintenance work needed over the five year life of the LTS release.
The developers have also turned on RC6 power management by default in the beta release. The RC6 technology in Intel's Sandy Bridge processors allows the GPU to go into a low power consumption mode when idle, as low as 0 W, and can result in considerable power savings of 40 to 60 per cent. Canonical says that problems with a deep sleep mode (RC6p), which saw RC6 left disabled in the upstream kernel, have been identified by Intel and patches released upstream. The company has applied those patches and is releasing the 12.04 beta 1 with RC6 enabled to "provide more exposure and testing". Further information on this issue can be found on the Ubuntu PowerManagementRC6 wiki page.
The developers have now switched the default music player to Rhythmbox and included support for the Ubuntu One Music Store within it. Other application updates include moving to the latest version of LibreOffice 3.5 and a beta of Firefox 11.0. Hardware support has also been added for ClickPads (touchpads with integrated buttons) which are popular on many current laptops.
Code-named "Precise Pangolin", Ubuntu 12.04 will be a Long Term Support (LTS) release that will be supported for five years on both the server edition and, for the first time, the desktop edition. Although the Ubuntu developers have allowed for a larger 750MB ISO image, in the case of this beta the images are around 700MB; this can still fit on a range of CD media.
The various Ubuntu remixes have also been released as first betas. Kubuntu's beta has KDE 4.8 and includes updated Telepathy-KDE, Oxygen-GTK3, experimental login manager LightDM and a new Calligra office release. Xubuntu's beta now uses the Ubiquity installer. The beta for Mythbuntu includes a pre-release snapshot of MythTV 0.25, Edubuntu include the latest LTSP 5.3, Lubuntu now uses Lightdm as it's login manager and Ubuntu Studio is now available as a Live DVD release.
Further information about the first beta, including a list of known issues, can be found in the release notes and in the change log. A list of planned features and changes can be found on the Blueprints for Precise page. Ubuntu 12.04 LTS Beta 1 is available to download for 32- and 64-bit systems. Users testing the release are encouraged to provide feedback and report any bugs that they find.