As you might know,a new version of Ubuntu was released a few days ago adding some new features and polish to this already fine operating system, and I've been trying out not only Ubuntu itself, but also some other members of the Ubuntu family of operating systems. You can find a list of features on the official announcement here: http://www.ubuntu.com/news/ubuntu-8.10-desktop. What always remains striking here is that Ubuntu preserves the tradition in Linux of offering users real choices for their computing experience, the user is in change of their computer and can compute how they want to. Ubuntu was always traditionally aimed at the desktop, then a server product was developed, and now a lot of work is being carried out into producing mobile versions of Linux. As this is an open operating system it is possible to mix these experiences together to your requirements. I upgraded from Ubuntu 8.04 on my laptop using an alternate install CD and found the whole experience was very smooth, once I put the CD in, Ubuntu asked me if I wanted to upgrade and it worked out what was required and happily upgraded.
A very useful change that has taken place is the upgrade of Network Manager (the program in Ubuntu that enables you to configure network connections in a graphical way). Of interest to many readers of this blog will be the addition of mobile internet support. I tried it with my Huawei E169G usb modem from 3 and found it worked pretty effortlessly. No software to install (although you don't get signal strength and SMS functionality, so for that you might want to take a look at something like Vodafone Mobile Connect). When I inserted the modem it was automatically detected (as an E620 for some reason, but that didn't seem to make any difference). I was then invited to configure it using a wizard which simply asked me for my country and network. Easy. I could then connect to mobile broadband in the same way as to a WiFi network.
Ubuntu itself visually does not look that much different in its new release, but Kubuntu, its sibling based on the KDE desktop manager, is now based on KDE4.1. There was previously a "KDE4 Remix" of Kubuntu, while the main version stayed with KDE3.5. This was because KDE4.0 was brand new, and maybe not stable enough for production systems. It's a big move for Kubuntu to go to KDE4.0 and might upset some people who have been happy with KDE3.5. Hopefully the new version of KDE will be stable enough to win fans. It is already very visually appealing and comes with a suite of tools. Xubuntu - the remix of Ubuntu for lower powered machines has also had a new release, if you have an old computer or a low powered one this might be a great choice for you to bring your computing experience bang up to date. Giving an old computer a new lease of life might prove useful in the current economic climate.
Ubuntu isn't all about the desktop, two editions aimed at different types of mobile devices are under active development. Ubuntu Netbook Remix is an edition aimed at netbooks like the Asus EEE PC and Ubuntu MID (above) is aimed at smaller devices without keyboard (I think!). You can grab an image of Ubuntu MID from the Ubuntu downloads page and you can copy this to a USB stick to run on such a device (if you have one), I've got a copy working on VirtualBox and have installed it rather than just running the image. I'll probably do a more complete post on this soon. Away from the end user experience and into the world of servers is Ubuntu Server edition, which like Ubuntu desktop you can get optional support contracts for. The server side of Ubuntu has come a long way and recently became the operating system of choice for Wikipedia. For enterprise customers who might have been wary of not having support when using open source they now are being offered full support, training and certification products enabling them to make the most of Ubuntu without worrying about time wasters like licence administration or product keys. The server edition offers to build a number of configurations when you install it, these are such things as a mail server, web server, database server and so on. A new addition in this release is Apache Tomcat which is for hosting enterprise web applications written in Java.
Earlier in the year there was a bit of a spat between some of the Ubuntu and Kubuntu developers, I was sad to read this and, without going into the specifics of this incident, I think part of the appeal of Ubuntu is that it is a family of operating systems, closely related and sharing a lot of technology and DNA (and of course the same underlying system inheried from Debian) not just one option that you are just expected to take. You have a whole host of options for your circumstances and preferences and that is what makes Ubuntu and Linux as a whole so powerful. Choice is a good thing, it is allowing Linux to evolve at a phenomenal rate. I use Ubuntu because it is the best choice for my computing needs. The aim should never to be "as good as" any other operating system but to surpass them and leave those other operating systems behind. Having a family of operating systems like the *buntus helps Linux evolve.