Canonical released Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, with five-year support, enhanced touchscreen support, and the first stable build of Ubuntu for Tablets.
Back in November 2011 when Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth announced Ubuntu would support apps that ran on smartphones and tablets, as well as desktop PCs, Ubuntu 14.04 was heralded as the “convergence” release that would bring it all together. By last October’s Ubuntu 13.10, it was clear that wasn’t going to happen, in part due to delays in developing Canonical’s controversial new Mir windowing interface, which put it at odds with a Linux community moving instead to Wayland.
Ubuntu 14.04 supports screen ranging from desktops to phones
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Yet, Ubuntu 14.04 does advance Canonical’s mobile plans by improving touchscreen support and providing the first stable tablet build. There’s still the possibility of seeing Ubuntu-based Meizu and BQ smartphones by the end of the year, as promised by Ubuntu in February. In today’s release notes the Ubuntu Project suggests the smartphone build could be ready for commercial devices by the end of the summer.
Earlier this week, a video appeared on YouTube showing the Ubuntu Touch UI on a Meizu MX3 phone. The video (below) shows further advances of the UI on the home screen, messaging, and gallery features.
Overall, however, Ubuntu 14.04 (“Trusty Tahr”) is a relatively modest release, as befits Canonical’s occasional Long Term Support (LTS) releases. LTS is especially important for large companies looking for five-year technical support and security updates. Canonical is touting the LTS support as a way to encourage more companies to make the leap to desktop Linux, especially now that Windows XP has been decommissioned.
In Ubuntu 14.04, Ubuntu Touch is being released as a “relatively ‘stable’ build for wider testing and feedback,” says the Ubuntu release notes. The release, which is said to be “a big step forward” compared to the experimental release last October, includes two tablets in its supported Android test devices. In addition to the Nexus 5 smartphone, it supports the Nexus 10 tablet, as well as the 2013 version of the Nexus 7 tablet. The Galaxy Nexus and the 2012 version of the Nexus 7 have been dropped. This is the first stable version of Ubuntu Touch for Tablets, a platform that was first announced in Feb. 2013.
New Ubuntu Touch features are said to include:
- Stable support for tablets — On tablets, you can run an unmodified Ubuntu for Phones application side by side with a tablet app using a “side stage” multitasking feature. In addition, multiple core applications have been extended to support various form factors and screen sizes.
- New Scope and Homescreen — The “complete overhaul” of these features include the ability to enable and disable scopes (search profiles) to “get more control about what is searched and delivering more accurate answers,” says the Ubuntu project.
- New dev tools — In the latest SDK, Ubuntu Touch developers will find a new layout framework, as well as new facilities like tabulation title enhancement. Developers can now use an emulator on Ubuntu desktops to do app and core system development.
- Other improvements — Significant enhancements have been made to the following functions, among others:
- Support for multiple SIM cards and simultaneous calls
- Render optimizations through Mir and Qt
- Working app lifecycle support “so you never run out of memory”
- Geolocation support
- Initial alarm system
- Calendar and contact sync
- User notifications for system events such as available system images
The Ubuntu 14.04 release still uses X Window as the default, leaving Mir as an experimental offering. The related Unity 8 UI layer that also drives Ubuntu Touch is still an option here. Unity 7 has been enhanced, however, for a smoother experience, says the Ubuntu project. A completed Unity 8 and Mir implementation will be the key ingredients for true convergence. The fact that Canonical has yet to make new predictions about a convergence date suggests it may not happen until 2015, although October is still a possibility.
Ubuntu 14.04 adds improved touchscreen support, primarily focused on multi-touch trackpads and laptop touchscreens. The release also adds support for high pixel density (DPI) screens.
Ubuntu 14.04 offers improved touchscreen support for trackpads and laptops
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Other new features include more flexible application menu positioning, a click-to-minimize icon in the Launcher, and Launcher icons that can now range from 16 to 64 pixels. Window corners have been anti-aliased, and borderless windows have been introduced. Text input now features multi-task filtering, and guest sessions now have better notifications.
Ubuntu 14.04 advances to Linux kernel 3.13, which brings features like Open vSwitch 2.0.1 support, “Deadline” based scheduling, and better thermal and power management. There’s also improved virtualization, filesystems, and security functionality, including improvements to AppArmor.
Hardware support has been extended to fully support for 64-bit ARMv8 and Power platforms, as well as the ability to “build a single ARM kernel image that can boot across multiple hardware platforms,” says the project. Other upgraded Ubuntu apps and packages include Libreoffice 4.2.3, Puppet 3, Xen 4.4, Apache 2.4, and PHP 5.5, among others.