Ubuntu Linux gets a kick -- with a caveat

Canonical, the British company behind the popular Ubuntu Linux distribution, on Thursday announced the release of the latest version of its operating system that includes a number of updates, including faster boot times.

Ubuntu 6.10, code-named Edgy Eft, comes less than five months after Canonical launched the first enterprise-focused release of Ubuntu: Version 6.0 LTS (Long Term Support), code-named Dapper Drake, which includes five years of support on the server and three years of support on the desktop.

In addition to a speedier boot time, the 6.10 release, which will be maintained for 18 months, provides a sharper design, new desktop applications and enhanced security, Canonical says. Canonical executives note, however, that if enterprises are looking for long-term support and a more "polished" operating system, their best bet is to stick with 6.0 LTS.

"We will for the first time possibly have to say to new users, Edgy gets security updates, etc., for 18 months, but seriously consider Dapper if you need the most polished platform,' " Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth said in an Ubuntu mailing list announcing the Edgy Eft name in April. "I think that's a worthwhile trade-off."

In that e-mail, Shuttleworth explained that Canonical chose the name because Edgy is about cutting-edge and Eft is a "youthful newt, going through its first exploration of the rocky territory just outside the stream."

"And that's exactly what we hope the development team will do with Ubuntu during the Edgy cycle -- explore slightly unfamiliar and uncharted territory that is perhaps a little out of the mainstream," he wrote.

Shuttleworth went on to mention the open source Xen virtualization technology, support for hybrid 32-/64-bit computing on Advanced Micro Device processors and other enhanced infrastructure-support technologies.

Those features didn't make it into Version 6.10, but Matt Zimmerman, Ubuntu CTO, said in a statement that the current release would "be a solid base on which to build the next generation of Ubuntu features."

Among the features that did make it in to Ubuntu 6.10, on the desktop:

-- A range of new applications, including Tomboy , a note-taking tool, and F-Spot , a photo management tool.

-- The latest version of the Gnome desktop.

-- Upstart, a startup manager that provides a cleaner design and faster boot time.

-- The latest [Firefox] Web browser.

-- Proactive security features to prevent vulnerabilities before they occur.

New features in the server edition include:

-- A prerelease of LTSP5 (Linux Terminal Server Project), which includes automatic network configuration with Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol service for automatically assigning IP addresses.

-- Full support for Etherboot, which lets systems load their operating system from the network.

Ubuntu has taken off as a leading desktop Linux choice among open source enthusiasts. Shuttleworth launched Canonical in 2004 to put commercial support behind the Linux distribution. A big reason for its growing popularity is the six-month release schedule, a tight timeline that Canonical and the Ubuntu community has done a good job sticking to, analysts say.

In addition, Canonical is unique in offering subscription-based maintenance and support for the same version of the operating system that is available worldwide for free. Red Hat also has a free version, Fedora, but it differs from its commercially supported Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

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