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Ubuntu 11.10 Alpha 3 – behind the scenes with Oneiric Ocelot

by Dave Walker

Ubuntu 11.10 Alpha 3 (otherwise known as Oneiric Ocelot) is available today. The sub-cycle between Alpha 2 and 3 has been quite intensive with a number of things taking place, says Dave Walker, Ubuntu Server’s technical lead…

In regards to the Desktop flavour we have seen a few improvements, including the switch to Gnome 3 (using the Unity shell).  There have been a number of improvements to Unity, both usability and reliability.  If the computer doesn’t have 3D acceleration (or to enable requires non-free graphics binary drivers), then there is automatic fall-back to “Unity-2d”.  This provides a near identical experience on initial inspection.

As part of Ubuntu’s stance of providing the best of open source/free software by default, the mail client Evolution has been switched to Mozilla’s Thunderbird.  This has meant that there has been a concerted effort for better desktop integration with Thunderbird, which many prior users have been wanting for some time.  This is similar to the change we saw last cycle with the switch from Rhythmbox to Banshee media player.  Whilst the original applications are still available in Software Centre, they are no-longer installed by default.

Synaptic, the former default desktop package manager which has traditionally been dual default along with Ubuntu Software Centre has now also been dropped, the rational being that the replacement has now reached a level of maturity meaning that Synaptic has also been dropped as installed by default.  However, this can be installed if the user desires.  The Software Centre itself has undergone a makeover, which is currently in trunk; but was not part of the Alpha 3 release and possibly not the default for final Oneiric release.

Ubuntu 11.10 Alpha 3 - behind the scenes with Oneiric Ocelot
Preview of the under development software centre (which may not be ready for final release)

Oneiric is now shipping “Deja Dup” which is a desktop integrated backup manager, in an effort to assist users wanting to create a secure backup of their files.  The long term plan might include installer integration, but that is likely to be deferred for Oneiric.

The less casual user will notice that the default login manager (Display Manager) has changed from GDM (Gnome Display Manager) to lightdm, which is leaner and easier to customise; which should allow a more polished end result.  The current theme is noted as an example, so anticipation is growing as to what the released theme will look like.

We will not see significant artwork changes until later in the cycle, which is probably the one thing that users notice most on a new release.  This should technically land with UserInterfaceFreeze, which is set for August 25th which coincides with BetaFreeze which means that changes happen at a considerably lower pace, as each package upload to both ‘Main’ & ‘Restricted’ (the pockets that are officially supported, that the release is made from) require manual approval from the release team.

A more technical feature which has changed is the default umask (or user mask), from 022 to 002.  This means that it is possible to allow other local users write access to their files (including within a non-encrypted home directory), by adding them to the same group as their name.  This is a nice optional feature for shared computers, although for my use I’d favour a ‘Public’ directory that others can write to.  For me to use this feature, I’d like reporting of files touched by others; which means that it is good that it is ‘opt in’.

In the fortnight leading up to the Alpha 3 release, stability started to increase.  The time investment for an experienced user to be able to run the development release has probably been less than prior releases, especially if well supported hardware is being used.  It is my opinion that this can be contributed to three major things, natural maturity where the Ubuntu development process generally grows in experience, including better discoverability of tasks that need resolving.  The second being the focus on quality, included automated installation testing (via Jenkins Contious Integration tool) and the third being a concerted effort for early testing and QA, driven by greater desire for reliability of the early milestones.

One thing that caused some concern was the accidental automatic sync from Debian which happend due to a bug in a new feature of Launchpad .  For more details on this, the announcement can be seen here.  Whilst it is poor that this was able to happen, the instability that this caused was thankfully not as bad as it could have been, largely due to the fast reactions from Sebastian Bacher and others who quickly composed a list of the packages overridden, re-introduced delta’s if required and notified Ubuntu developers.

Despite many of the key developers being largely absent from development, due to attending DebConf 11 (Debian’s conference) which co-insided with the accidental sync, the release is of a good standard notably lacking in critical bugs (although many of the planned features have not yet landed).

In server, we have seen OpenStack undergo polishing with their milestone named (diablo-3) release well aligned with Ubuntu, Eucalyptus removed from the installation media and Orchestra features shortly to be added. In order to make the next milestone of greater quality, a number of the Ubuntu Server and OpenStack developers will be meeting for a ‘sprint’ in an attempt to add additional polish.  A key component of of the Ubuntu Server strategy is using Orchestra to provide a bare metal provisioning story, which makes use of Ensemble for the work load provisioning.  Adam Gandleman has been busy making formula’s to allow provisioning of the OpenStack, which we are all keen to try.

More details of some of the interesting things which Alpha 3 brings can be found here.  To test drive Alpha 3, the ISO CD image is available from here at some point today, there is no promise of stability; but early testing is always appreciated.

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    • bawkbawkboo1

      I tested Alpha 2 and was pretty happy with the direction they’re going. I’ve always preferred Thunderbird to evolution for a variety of reasons, mainly because I’m used to the IU from my experience with thunderbird on other OSs. I’ve never really cared about the way the display manager looks as long as it works, and the impression I got is that LDM will be a bit faster than GDM, which will be nice. They seem to be making progress addressing some of Unity’s problems. Including a backup manger by default is something they probably should have done along time ago.

      One thing I noticed was that they seem to be using a different version of GRUB, although I’m not sure if there are new features or if it just look somewhat different.

      I noticed some discussion about increasing the size of the distributed ubuntu .ISOs from the 700mb limit used now so they can be put on CDs, which is something that seems to come up every Ubuntu cycle but gets ignored. I think it’s only a matter of time before they have to start using larger images for DVDs, and I know a lot of people that use USB drives (usually 2, 4 or 8GB sizes recently) for installing linux distros instead. 11.04 has to download a lot of language stuff that they presumably couldn’t fit in the 700MB image. They should probably move to larger files for 12.04. Maybe they could even re-include GIMP on the default image or something.

    • bawkbawkboo1

      sorry for the double post, but I am trying 11.10 A3 now. One thing that seem bizarre is that it still has Libreoffice 3.3.2 by default- I would have thought they’d go with 3.4.2-final, especially considering that it (supposedly) has support for the global menu bar and they don’t limit the development images to 700mb (it shouldn’t be a size thing).

    • syncdram

      You know what? Ubuntu, instead of removing evolution and replacing with Mozilla, and Rhythmbox with banshee etc, whatever they have planned next to remove the should just leave out, without a substitute. Giving the user back there choice. Just give us the OS. Your not doing any Windows users I’ve shown this to any favors! why? because when they ask me if there printers they have have will work, Kodak, Lexmark, Dell ect and i tell them no, No casual user has any of the printers listed in cups. Period. They ask about there software, little to no equivalent, no more web cam chats on yahoo, msn they wont turn to skype as a alternative.
      Why? just as windows 7 comes without a email program Microsoft does not push anything down there users throats except the OS. Ubuntu has been jamming just about every cotton picking thing they can get there little beady fingers on making most of the community blazing MAD including myself.

      Changing the desktop and software around is all they know how to do. Now if they would spend the same amount of time and effort talking and working with hardware vendors from A to Z for (DRIVER SUPPORT) then and only then can we say Ubuntu is really making a difference. This will Never happen. You know things are really bad when Linus Torvalds comes out and openly says Unity and Gnome 3 are Crap quote unquote. This speaks volumes in the Linux world.

    • VeryInteresting

      Well-written article.

      As for some of the comments here *cough* syncdram *cough* some people seem to mistake their own opinions for the opinions of the community at large.

      And I do love how when I plug my regular consumer-level printer into Ubuntu it’s automatically recognized and configured for me.

    • george


      For every printer that has no cups driver there are 100 more that do have a cups driver and work perfectly. Do the math.

    • syncdram

      VeryInteresting and george um cough, cough, I find you both as you plainly are. You attack my comment but yet say nothing about what Linus Torvalds has to say, yet you both attack my free speech. You attack the experience of the 6 windows users who found ubuntu to be very unpleasant. You hypocrites, first take the log out of your own eyes, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Think before you speak, its very oncoming of you both.

    • Fat Pop Do Wop

      Linus Torvalds’s comments about Gnome are pretty irrelevant as this article is all about the upcoming release of Ubuntu and what differences may have been implemented. That said, many Linux users including Ubuntu “avids” have long expressed similar opinions on both Gnome as a whole and Unity.

      And as for printers, I have never used a better operating system than Ubuntu. I use a small netbook to take to clients’ sites and whenever I need to print anything I just ask it to find a printer over the network and it does, then it installs it all by itself. I have never failed to print on any site with my cheap netbook and Ubuntu 11.04.

      And finally, I usually like articles in, and this one has some useful information, but there is an uncharacteristic lack of spelling and grammar checking in this particular one. Maybe you guys have been burning the midnight oil in the rush to get the latest info out to us?

    • Russell Barnes

      @ Fat Pop Do Wop
      Check and check :)
      Apologies for the lack of proofing on this – we did indeed rush it out due to the details on offer.

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