A new version of Ubuntu - arguably the most popular Linux distribution - has been released. Codenamed Precise Pangolin, 12.04 LTS is the latest of the long-term support versions which are released every two years.
Ubuntu 12.04 is the first version where the desktop operating system has the save five-year support commitment as the server version. Previously it was three years. This should mean that it's more stable and reliable than the interim versions which aren't supported for as long.
You can download the new operating system for free from Ubuntu's website. Make sure you choose the appropriate version: all you need is a blank CD or a USB flash drive. You can install Ubuntu alongside Windows or replace it entirely. See our guide to installing Ubuntu from a USB flash drive.
Alternatively, you can upgrade Ubuntu if you're running a previous version already.
The most noticeable and beneficial feature for end users is the new Head-Up Display. This HUD provides an alternative to traditional menus which we're all used to using for accessing various options within applications.
Instead of trawling through various menus to find what you're looking for, the HUD is basically a search box which lets you tell it what you want to do and provides a list of functions as you type. This saves you from having to remember which menus contain the functions you regularly use.
To access the HUD, you tap the Alt key and the results you see will be based on the current application but can also include matches from other installed applications, plus recent documents if accessed from the Unity desktop.
Ubuntu's makers hope that the HUD will eventually replace menus altogether but admit that it isn't quite ready. One of the main reasons is that it uses the Zeitgeist logging framework, so suggestions will vary from user to user depending and become more accurate the longer the system is used.
The Video Lens
Ubuntu's dash (which was a new feature in version 11.10) provides a simple way to get to your shortcuts and search for applications, documents, music and more. It's quite similar to Windows 7's Start menu search box, and categorises results by type. To open the dash, click on the big Ubuntu logo at the top of the launcher - a column of icons on the left-hand side of the screen.
New in 12.04 LTS is a 'Video Lens' which is essentially a dedicated search for videos. Enter a search term and the Video Lens will return a list of results including videos stored locally as well as from online services such as YouTube, Vimeo, Bing Video and TED talks. Clicking on an online result launches the default web browser, which is Firefox unless you install something else and make it the new default. There's also a 'Home Lens' which shows recently used applications and files.
The Ubuntu Software Centre isn't strictly new for 12.04 LTS, but it's still a very recent and noteworthy addition to the free operating system. Like Apple, Google and other app stores, Software Centre gives you a choice of thousands of apps to download (most free, some paid for).
You can easily see which apps are highest rated as well as keeping track of what you've installed. Plus, you can sync apps between all your computers that run Ubuntu.
As with Software Centre, the Launcher isn't new in this release, but 'quicklists' have been added. These are similar to Windows 7's Jump Lists and provide context-sensitive options when you right-click on a launcher icon. For example, right-click on Rhythmbox (the default media player) and you'll see options to play and pause tracks.
You can now resize the icons in the Launcher and also choose which monitor it appears on if you're running multiple monitors.
We'll bring you a full review of Ubuntu Precise Pangolin 12.04 LTS shortly.