Countdown to Ubuntu 11.10: The first beta version arrives

Just one more beta version is slated to appear before 'Oneiric Ocelot' makes its widely anticipated debut next month.

Just a few weeks following the official feature freeze on Ubuntu 11.10 “Oneiric Ocelot,” the first beta version of Canonical's free and open source Linux distribution was released on Sept. 1.

That means we're just a few steps away from the widely anticipated final version, which is due on Oct. 13. One more beta version will make an appearance before that point--it's scheduled to be released on Sept. 22--but in the meantime, this first beta release offers a good feel for what Oneiric Ocelot will be like.

It's not intended for production use, of course, but you can download the new beta version from the Ubuntu site and play with it to your heart's content. Here's a quick rundown of some of the changes and key features you'll find.

1. A Smaller DVD Image

In response to community feedback over the last few cycles, the DVD image of Ubuntu 11.10 has been slimmed down to a more manageable size of 1.5GB. Included in the new image are all the language packs as well as applications including Inkscape, GIMP, PiTiVi and LibreOffice. Those no longer included on the DVD are still available from the archive, the Ubuntu developers note. The traditional CD image, meanwhile, is still available as well.

2. Ubuntu Core

Also new in this beta release is a set of images called Ubuntu Core. As the name suggests, these images include just the essential part of the software and are intended for use as the basis for customized Ubuntu distributions and products.

3. Improved 32-Bit Compatibility

Oneiric Ocelot now enables "multiarch" support for installing 32-bit library and application packages on 64-bit systems. So, users of AMD64 machines can now install select 32-bit software--including Skype and Flash--directly using the same 32-bit packages that are used on i386 installations, no extra compatibility software required. “For users this means 32-bit libraries will always be available at the same time as their 64-bit counterparts, even in the case of security updates, and users will only need to install those 32-bit libraries needed by the applications they have installed,” the Ubuntu team explains.

4. Interface Updates

New releases of both Compiz and Unity are included in this new beta version of Ubuntu 11.10. As a result, users will find a new alt+tab switcher and better launcher and panel performance. "Places" have been renamed to "Lenses," as I've noted before, and they now integrate multiple sources and advanced filtering options such as ratings and range. A new music lens linked to the Banshee music player is also now installed by default.

5. New Apps and Defaults

Now included in Oneiric Ocelot are Thunderbird for email, Déjà Dup for backup and Gwibber for microblogging. LightDM now uses the new Unity greeter by default, and GNOME was updated to the current unstable version 3.1.5, a pre-release build of GNOME 3.2. The Ubuntu Software Center, meanwhile, lets you search for top-rated apps through a dedicated view, and standalone “.deb” file installations have reportedly been sped up considerably.

6. Nuts and Bolts

This latest Ubuntu 11.10 version includes a new kernel based on v3.0.3 of the main Linux kernel. GNU toolchain, meanwhile, is now based on GCC 4.6 for i386, AMD64 and ARM OMAP3/OMAP4 architectures.

7. Lubuntu

Last but not least, Lubuntu--an Ubuntu variant based on the lightweight LXDE desktop--has now joined the Ubuntu family in reaching Beta 1 status. Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Edubuntu, Mythbuntu and Ubuntu Studio are now available in beta as well.

Following all the controversy and excitement over Ubuntu's Unity interface this spring, I'm excited to see what the final version of Oneiric Ocelot will bring. Thirty-seven days and counting...

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