Well, since I guess I’m not going to get invited to one of those incredibly cool Windows 7 launch parties, I have been trying to console myself by playing around a bit with the beta release of Ubuntu Linux 9.10, code-named “Karmic Koala”. (The final release is scheduled for the end of this month.) Although the downloadable “live CD” image does not come with balloons, playing cards, or tote bags, it does introduce a couple of new features that I think are quite interesting.
The first is built-in support for a “cloud” service for file sharing and synchronization called Ubuntu One. The service provides storage space on the Web (2GB free) that can be used for storage, backups, or file synchronization; software on the client machine(s) allows relatively seamless access to the Web storage, and the ability to synchronize file versions across selected machines. Initially, for example, the capability to synchronize address books, and ad-hoc notes is provided. This is an interesting approach to an issue that affects all of us who regularly use more than one PC.
The second significant new feature enables the user to set up his system so that users’ home directories (roughly equivalent to a users’ “Documents and Settings” folders on Windows) will be automatically encrypted on disk. Once set up, the encryption and decryption is automatic, assuming the user has successfully entered his/her password at login. Extra points to Ubuntu for getting two other things right: turning on home directory encryption also turns on encryption of the system swap space on disk, so there is no plain-text copy of memory for bad guys to troll in; and setting up the encryption automatically generates a pass-phrase, which Ubuntu gives you to write down and keep in a safe place, allowing your data to be recovered even if the system dies.
The new version also included updates to the implementation of the AppArmor security package, and uses the ext4 filesystem as the default (existing filesystems are not changed).
As always, the core version of Ubuntu uses the GNOME desktop. There are two “official” variants. Kubuntu uses the KDE desktop, which some of us prefer. Xubuntu uses the Xfce desktop, which requires considerably less in machine resources than either GNOME or KDE, and thus is often a good choice for older machines.
I have encountered no problems so far in running the beta version; but, as usual, it is not recommended for use in critical services. More details, and links to download the beta versions, are available at the Technical Overview page.