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Natty Refreshed, Slackers Rejoice and More

  • May 3, 2011
  • By Sean Kerner

It is Linux distribution releases that make the Linux Planet go around. This past week was a big week for releases, with two very different distros releasing their latest and greatest offerings. It was also a big week for browser releases with new Firefox and Chrome browsers for Linux.

1. Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal Released

Love it or hate it, Ubuntu 11.04 is a big release for a number of reasons. Ubuntu remains one of the most popular Linux distributions on the desktop, and it is continuing to pick up ground on the server as well.

With 11.04, Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth took a different direction than the mainstream Linux desktop community, breaking away from GNOME 3 and the GNOME Shell user interface. In an ironic twist, Ubuntu 11.04's big new feature is the desktop shell known as Unity, although unity is not something Ubuntu 11.04 is bringing to the broader Linux community.

Unity presents a different take on how the desktop should be delivered, and it's one that some users like and others hate. Ubuntu users, however, can still choose to go with a 'classic' GNOME desktop, or they can opt for one of the many desktop alternatives available, including KDE, xFCE or LXDE.

On the server, Ubuntu 11.04 is the first major distro to include OpenStack, the open source cloud platform. OpenStack is technically just a tech preview in Ubuntu 11.04, but it clearly shows the direction of where Ubuntu and the wider open source market is moving. Ubuntu has been basing its Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud (UEC) on the open source Eucalyptus project, but it sure feels like Eucalyptus, much like Xen on the hypervisor side, is now yesterday's news.

2. Slackware 13.37 Released

In the beginning, there was Slackware.

Slackware was the first Linux distribution. Here we are, some 18-odd years later, and Slackware remains strong.

The Slackware 13.37 release, just like the first Slackware release back in 1993, was put out by Patrick Volkerding. With 13.37, Volkerding provides an updated and improved version of Slackware with a newer Linux kernel and open source applications.

Slackware, however, is not toying with a new desktop shell; Volkerding is sticking with KDE 4.5.5.

While many distributions have followed in the time since Volkerding first pushed Slackware, it is amazing to see that Slackware remains a strong and vibrant distribution after all these years. Slackware's continued evolution also comes without any big money enterprise releases or aspirations.

3. Novell Acquired

We knew it was coming. In November 2010, Novell announced it was being acquired by Attachmate for $2.2 billion. After some last minute adjustments by the U.S. Department of Justice two weeks ago, the Novell deal finally closed last week.

Under Attachmate's ownership, Novell is set to be run as a wholly owned subsidiary. Attachmate has pledgedthat it will continue to support and fund Novell's Linux efforts, including the commercial SUSE Linux and the community openSUSE project.

Change of this scale almost always brings with it disruption of some sort. Time will tell how the new ownership situation will impact Novell's Linux efforts, for better or for worse.

4. Kernel Updates

At the heart of every Linux distro is the Linux kernel itself.

While some distros want to track the leading edge of kernel development, others prefer to lock in on more stable long-term releases. New kernels tend to come out every three months or so, and it's a pace that doesn't work for some vendors and distros.

For those types of users and vendors, this past week kernel developer Andi Kleen released the 2.6.35.13 long-term support kernel. The 2.6.35.13 release is not a security update, and it does not contain new features.

In contrast, Linus Torvalds continues to push the leading edge of the Linux kernel forward. This past week, Torvalds released the fifth release candidate for the 2.6.39 kernel.

In addition to new driver and hardware support, the 2.6.39 kernel includes a new block device plugging model, which will improve Linux system performance. The final 2.6.39 kernel release is likely to be out by the end of the month.

5. Browser Updates

Every Linux user spends more time than he'd likely care to admit in a web browser.

This past week, two of the best browsers for Linux got updates. Mozilla released Firefox 4.0.1, which provides 14 security updates for the browser. Mozilla, however, still has not fully optimized Firefox for Linux as much as it could.

Mozilla developers are now building Firefox with GCC 4.5, although not for the generally available Firefox 4 release. The first Firefox version expected to benefit from the compiler change is Firefox 6, which should be out by the end of the year.

Google also updated its browser this week. Chrome 11 brings with it a long list of security updates. Chrome 11 also provides support for the HTML5 speech input API, providing voice-to-text capabilities for the web browser.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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