When Canonical releases the latest version of its Ubuntu Linux operating system on 28 April, it's ready to take on Windows. At least that's what Director of Communications Gerry Carr told PC Advisor in an exclusive interview to promote Ubuntu 11.04 'Natty Narwhal'.
Carr told us that previous updates of Ubuntu Linux had principally addressed a 'feature chase' with Microsoft's Windows operating systems. He said that prior to the 11.04 release Ubuntu Linux was secure, stable and hardware compatible - and we couldn't argue. But now, Carr says, it's time for Ubuntu Linux to get 'cool'.
(Is such a thing possible? PC Advisor is a huge fan of Linux as an alternative to Windows, but we also like having a toaster: and that's never going to be cool.)
Carr told us that the ultimate aim of Ubuntu 11.04 is to convert Windows users to Linux. But why should they change? Compatibility, stability and security are now a given, but unless your Windows system is unstable, a new OS is a radical step. But Canonical believes that to know Natty Narwhal is to love it, and it's marketing plan is to persuade as many people as possible to simply try the new OS.
And it just might work.
Natty Narwhal: Why upgrade to Ubuntu?
Ubuntu 11.04 takes lots of the best features of smartphone and tablet operating systems, and blends them with full desktop capabilities. Like Ubuntu Netbook Edition it has an app store - the free Software Centre. Users can install a range of free and paid-for compatible apps at the touch of a button, to a certain extent choosing what features their OS has.
Like a smartphone, Natty Narwhal users can take advantage of a non-interruptive, unified messaging service. (In human words: if you're working in one application, messages from email, IM and various social networking feeds appear as alerts to which you can ignore, check and/or respond to without having to switch apps.) Furthermore, social networking sites are built in.
Indeed, the whole user experience of Natty Narwhal is built around the idea that in the post-smartphone era we expect to be able to interact with our devices without having to know the correct application, let alone file structure. Search files and applications by their names or types. Control and playback media files from the volume slider. The basic menu system is global, remaining the same regardless of what application you are in - all that changes are the specific options.
The smartphone-like Unity interface will look familiar to Netbook Edition users. It's smart, intuitive, and easy to use. Furthermore, it looks and works the same regardless of whether you are on a 7in netbook or a gaming rig with a 30in screen. You can launch apps with a single click, and drag and drop apps to add or remove, and move them around. And Ubuntu One offers 2GB of cloud storage, and the ability to sync and stream media files between Ubuntu and Android and iPhone devices.
It looks cool to us, but whether this is enough to persuade Windows users to switch in numbers is a tougher question. Carr said the way that Android and iOS have led to a marginally more fragmented computing world is both good and bad for Canonical. Good, because increasing numbers of PC users have more than one OS in their lives, and bad because despite this such users still see their devices as being tied to a specific system.
To address this challenge, Canonical is making Ubuntu 11.04 available as an online trial, served from an Amazon Cloud server. Now you can try before you download anything - and we suggest you do. Many people these days have an older laptop or desktop that could benefit from the injection of life a lighter OS will administer, and Natty Narwhal may just suit your needs.
See also: How to use Ubuntu