How the whimsical naming scheme of Mark Shuttleworth managed to dodge adding a P-adjective to 'Penguin', we’ll never know. As founder of Canonical, the commercial company behind Ubuntu, it’s Shuttleworth who pulls these names from his imaginative hat.

Ubuntu has employed animal codenames since it was launched as the friendly face of desktop Linux in 2004. Then starting with Ubuntu 6.06, the convention has run alphabetically, including such classics as Hardy Heron and, our favourite moniker, Maverick Meerkat. Read more reviews of operating systems.

It’s a neat way to keep a versioning history in the OS name. More recently Google has magpied this idea of alphabet increments with its confectionery-themed Android updates.

But this year’s long-term support (LTS) release of Ubuntu – Ubuntu 12.04 – has settled on Precise Pangolin as its name rather than anything quite as apt as, say, Petulant Penguin. Canonical has promised to provide support and patches to this OS for five years.

For users of the previous biannual update, last autumn’s Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot, Ubunutu 12.04 has less to offer in ground-shaking interface changes. The big overhaul’s already happened, this time last year with Natty Narwhal and its default Unity interface.

Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin

Ubuntu 12.04 tips its hat to Mac OS X with a similar side Dock and System Settings panel

With Unity, an OS X-style dock is fixed to the left side of the screen, and a menu strip runs across the top. It's a look that owes more to the Apple Mac than Windows now, including close/minimise/maximise buttons in each window's top-left corner. Read the review of Apple Mac OS X 10.7 Lion.

Two updates later, and Unity has seen a modicum of polishing, a new way to interact with the system, along with various other nips and tucks to this popular Linux operating system.

Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin: Installation 

We tried Precise Pangolin on a Dell Vostro V13 laptop and as a VM in VirtualBox 4.1 under Mac OS X. Canonical has developed a very easy and approachable setup procedure, letting you run the full OS from a USB stick, then install at leisure from the booted Ubuntu. 

By ticking the option for third-party software during installation, we even found a working Adobe Flash plugin was included, although hardware acceleration was not enabled. There may be a way to do so but it’d likely require some CLI skills to get it working. 

On a Windows PC, you’re offered the chance to import documents and settings from an incumbent Microsoft Windows installation. 

Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin

As well as pre-installed apps, Ubuntu 12.04 makes it easy to find and install many, many more – most for free – through the built-in Software Centre

With our Dell notebook, we found all essential hardware worked immediately from the default installation, and required no third-party proprietary drivers.

For laptops, though, the crucial issues of power management and standby responsiveness could be improved, although this may necessitate customisation to specific hardware for best results.

Continue to Page 2 for more features of Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin >>

Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin: Features

Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin comes with various productivity and entertainment apps pre-installed, and these tend to cycle from OS update to update. This time around, it’s showtime for Rhythmbox, replacing the Banshee music player, with the office productivity suite LibreOffice already having edged out OpenOffice in last year’s releases.

The most novel feature in this new build is the Unity head-up display (HUD). This offers a new mouse-free way to jump to a specific function within an application, by starting to type in the function’s name into the search field. You activate this HUD with a short tap of the Alt key.

For example, if you’re surfing in Firefox and want to jump to your browsing history, start to type H, I, S and you’ll see various options listed: History > Show All History, Tools > Clear Recent History..., View > Sidebar > History, and so on.

Select the desired result with the cursor, hit the Return key, and you’re there.

Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin

Ubuntu 12.04 includes an HUD (head-up display) that assists access to apps' settings – but not all built-in programs are coded for this new feature yet 

It’s a neat idea that keeps your hands on the keyboard rather than reaching for the mouse, but it has some usability issues.

To start, not all apps are compatible; notably, Canonical’s choice of cornerstone office suite, LibreOffice 3.5, does not respond to the HUD control interface. Maybe this will appear in subsequent versions, but until then this is a sorely missed trick.

Perhaps more fundamental is the issue of asking the right questions. Assuming HUD did work in LibreOffice, and you wanted to switch off annoying auto-complete functions, how would you find the option if you didn’t know the correct name?

An experienced user may know to search with the keyword ‘auto-complete’. A newcomer may not know the right terminology, but by hunting under drop-down menus might chance upon the likely-looking auto-complete option and investigate further.

It’s not as typing critical as a command-line interface thanks to fuzzy logic that can ‘guess’ your words but it’s a sidestep from the purity of the graphically led interface.

Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin: Under the Lens

Ubuntu 12.04 has a feature to home-in on certain content type from the main desktop Unity search bar. The last entry of the five (Home, Applications, Files & Folders, Music Collection, Videos) is the new Video Lens. Not only will this look through your internal drive for film content, but online too. Specifically, resources such as YouTube, BBC iPlayer and Vimeo at the moment.

The feature works well, and lets you plough through, for example, thumbnails of posted YouTube videos quickly and without the distractions of the regular web-browser view. 

We noticed other small tweaks to the user inteface, all contributing to making a more wholesome OS experience.

Ubuntu 12.04 Precise PangolinT

Ubuntu 12.04 allows a step-back view of an app's open windows by clicking again on the app's Dock icon

The System Setting panel is rendered larger, with an extra option labelled Privacy. With Ubuntu 12.04, Canonical has added a background logging system (Zeitgeist) to help catalogue files and system usage. The Privacy panel lets you manage this, even switch it off.

Ubuntu 12.04: Specs

  • 700MHz Intel/AMD processor
  • 384MB memory
  • 5GB drive space
  • 1024 x 768 monitor
  • 700MHz Intel/AMD processor
  • 384MB memory
  • 5GB drive space
  • 1024 x 768 monitor


The Unity interface alienated many users who prefer the older desktop GNOME or KDE shells, but the interface is slowly evolving into something more usable. Once the new HUD is truly integrated into essential applications, we may see how well the quick-find feature can maintain productivity. Ubuntu still has new-look growing pains but is definitely worth your close attention.