Well it’s almost here! Ubuntu 9.10 “Karmic Koala” will be released in just a few short days (Oct 29th) and this release has packed in a long list of new and exciting features. From boot time to Desktop, Ubuntu 9.10 continues in the tradition of offering the best that Free Software has to offer. Let’s take a quick look at some of the changes available.
Upstart has been included in Ubuntu for a number of releases now, but with Ubuntu 9.10 there have been some major improvements. Previous releases of Upstart in Ubuntu were incremental. The plan was to ease into the new system. Ubuntu 9.10 now offers Upstart in its entirety. Congratulations!
Upstart is an “under the hood” change that you may not notice right away, but by the release of Ubuntu 10.04 the changes will be more apparent. Upstart is the tool that handles the boot up sequence, meaning it handles what daemons and services are started at boot time and in which order. Upstart is really a big shift from the traditional (and aging!) SystemV init sequence that you’ll find on most other major Linux distributions. While traditional systems use a pre-defined order of operations, Upstart handles the boot process in a more event-driven manner. This has and will continue to improve the boot times you find on Ubuntu.
Upstart has also been adopted by Fedora, which is great news. More adoption means better stability and more attention paid to the project. I’m happy to hear that Fedora has decided to adopt this exciting new technology.
You can read much more about Upstart at http://upstart.ubuntu.com.
The addition of XSplash is another boot-time improvement that I think you’ll enjoy in Ubuntu 9.10. This replaces the short-lived USplash that was found in the previous release. I had problems with USplash so I’m happy to see it replaced with something else. So far XSplash has been a nice change (based on initial Beta and RC testing), and I don’t experience any flicker or similar during boot up. XSplash also offers a new splash screen during boot, which I like. There isn’t a whole lot more to say about XSplash, other than I think you’ll be impressed with the change since Ubuntu 9.04.
Security, Security, Security
Ubuntu 9.10 offers a lot of improvements in terms of security. From the kernel to the Desktop there have been security-minded changes that will help you feel more secure on this rock-solid platform.
Ubuntu 9.10 enables a feature called “non-exec memory” in the Linux kernel. This means that Ubuntu is able to activate protections for non-executable memory regions such as heaps or stacks. This feature is generally referred to as Non-eXecute (NX) or eXecute-Disable (XD). In the past this feature required PAE enabled kernels, but is now partially emulated on 32-bit systems without PAE support. 64-bit systems are protected by this feature as well.
In addition, the kernel offered with Ubuntu 9.10 offers the possibility to disable the loading of any additional kernel modules once the system is up and running. This adds yet another layer of protection against potential security vulnerabilities. In certain cases, an attacker will require the addition of a malicious kernel module in order to take control of a system. With this feature enabled this type of vulnerability is no longer possible. While this may not be something that the day-to-day Desktop user may use or appreciate, this is a huge win for Server installations and multi-user environments.
Likely the most noticeable change to the end-user are the changes made to the Desktop environment with GNOME 2.28. I think this has been another fantastic release from the GNOME Foundation and I think you’ll agree. For those of you that have seen the new GNOME Shell demonstrations, GNOME 2.28 might be the last release before GNOME Shell hits us. I’m super excited to see GNOME Shell, don’t get me wrong, but this could be the last release in the environment that we’re used to. (As far as I understand, it is still undecided whether GNOME Shell will ship with GNOME 2.30 or 2.32).
GNOME 2.28 offers a number of new features as well as stability and general improvements. For those that use Bluetooth enabled devices, you’ll love the new GNOME Bluetooth management tool. GNOME Bluetooth supports hundreds of Bluetooth devices, including mice, keyboards and headsets. This also includes PulseAudio integration for headsets and headphones. Also included with GNOME Bluetooth is the ability to access the internet through your Bluetooth enabled mobile phone. No more tethering! This is exciting news!
You’ll also notice some Ubuntu-specific interface improvements, such as the notification system and tray. Very clean default icons in the tray, and the Growl-like popup notifications are improved as well. The default theme, icons and login window are improved since Ubuntu 9.04 as well. Also, an improvement that I’m particularly excited about, is the addition of my favorite themes and fonts to the core Ubuntu repositories. These packages include:
I have to say that this has been a very solid release so far. With so many improvements both under the hood and on the user interface, you’ll be hard pressed to find someone that doesn’t find something new and exciting about Ubuntu 9.10. The best part though? All of these improvements are merely leading up to the powerhouse that will be Ubuntu 10.04, the next Ubuntu Long Term Support (LTS) release. With goals of 10 second boot times, improvements in the new Ubuntu Software Center, improved Artwork, as well as a long list of other improvements, Ubuntu 10.04 is sure to blow you away!