Scheduled as a Long Term Support release that will be supported for three years on the desktop and five on the server, Lucid also shows Ubuntu pressing hard toward well-defined goals.
More than any release in several years, Lucid shows signs of clear direction, as Ubuntu continues to round off its roster of basic applications, adapts to current usability trends, and pushes harder towards commercialization.
In addition to the first beta, a second beta and a release candidate are due before the final release. However, in between these official releases, you can also download a daily build any time that you want the very latest developments. The stability of all these builds may vary, although generally Lucid has been stable since the first alpha, despite some error messages during boot-up.
Ubuntu Software Selection
Early in Lucid's development cycle, the Ubuntu Development Summit announced that The GIMP would be dropped from the default selection of software installed. Since The GIMP is widely considered an example of excellence in free software, the announcement created some controversy, but the decision was in keeping with Ubuntu's general priorities. Not only does The GIMP take up considerable space on a CD, but, more importantly, its features far exceed what beginning users could need.
Ubuntu has previously shown the same priorities in favoring Brassero or Nautilus' built-in CD burning features to the more complete feature set of CD burners like GNOMEBaker. Similarly, F-Spot, Ubuntu's default photo editor, while well-designed and easy to use, has a far smaller feature set than digiKam, its equivalent on the KDE desktop.
Lacking the GIMP, Lucid offers users OpenOffice.org's Draw, a simpler and often under-rated application that is already included on the CD. In other places, the same priority has been applied, with PiTiVi being offered for audio-visual editing rather than a large or more complex tool line Cinelerra, and Simple Scan instead of XSane.
Perhaps for lack of space, Cheese, the webcam operator is not included, but with these selections, Ubuntu now offers a well-rounded set of tools that are among the easiest to use in their categories.
The question is whether -- or perhaps how long -- such basic tools will meet the needs of users, and how aware users can become of the alternatives in the Ubuntu software repositories. The selection may also be unsatisfying for experienced users, who will now have to do added software installation in order to get the applications they expect.
Current Trends and an Old One Revived
One of the chief goals in Lucid is to reduce the boot time of Linux to ten seconds on the test machines used by Canonical, Ubuntu's commercial arm. This is a goal that is probably of only moderate interest to experienced users, many of whom still pride themselves on how long their computers have been running without rebooting, but probably appeals to new users as a proof of technical excellence.
A major tool to help reach this goal, is Plymouth, a graphical boot process first introduced a couple of releases ago in Fedora, Ubuntu's closest rival. However, currently, Lucid is still taking about twenty-five seconds to boot on my test machine -- less than two-thirds the time of Karmic Koala, Ubuntu's previous release, but still some ways from the target time.
In Lucid, Ubuntu is also responding to the growing importance of social networking. Instead of making the browser take over some of the role of the traditional desktop, the way that Google's Chrome OS does, Ubuntu has opted instead for bringing the social networking tools to the desktop, much as KDE does with its social desktop.
In Lucid, the MeMenu, the GNOME panel applet that identifies the current user, now lists your online status -- Available, Away, Busy, Invisible, Offline -- as top level menu items. You can also use the MeMenu to open Gwibber, an application for centrally managing, viewing, and responding to social networking accounts, or to log into Ubuntu One's online storage.
Ubuntu Lucid Lynxs Memenu
In the drive towards usability, Lucid is also reaching back to revive the idea of including a manual. This is an idea that has hardly been heard of since the Dot-Com Era, when companies tried to sell Linux in retail boxes. Yet it is an obvious one for a distribution that hopes to attract large numbers of new desktop users. The Ubuntu manual is not shipped with the beta, and is currently just under two-thirds complete, but is available as a PDF download.
When finished, the manual should be about 150 pages. As might be expected, its focus is on the GNOME desktop, as well as a description of open source practices, although more advanced sections on the command line and troubleshooting are currently listed but largely unwritten. The pages published so far are written in a clear style and are well laid-out, but the real question is whether the manual will be use. Possibly, a series of videos might be more likely to be used, although, unlike the manual, they would need to be published on a separate CD.