Ubuntu released version 11.04 on time, today. Thus begins a move by Canonical, the maker of the Ubuntu, to own the "easy to use" Linux distro segment of the market.
The new and some existing features for this release include:
The Unity desktop with a new application launcher. The new launcher appears when you move the mouse to the left edge of the screen.
Unity, like Windows 7, gives you a universal search of your computer when you click on the upper left Ubuntu logo.
A switch of the office application suite was made from OpenOffice.org to LibreOffice. This should not amount to a lot of change, except a move away from Oracle's control of the office application.
Automatic security updates,
Fast boot up,
Easy integration with your computer hardware,
Empathy integrated messaging and Pidgin chat,
Banshee music application replaces Rythmbox,
A music store,
Shotwell picture organizer and importer,
Integrated Device compatibility,
Ubuntu Software Center to find and load thousands of free applications.
I listed all of the above so you could see that, indeed, Ubuntu is a free and worthy Windows 7 replacement.
Canonical took a risk with this release by switching to the Unity desktop, and away from the Gnome 3 desktop. Why did they do this?
A couple of reasons.
1. Complete control of the Unity interface. This is their interface. They now have complete control of the underlying distro, and the desktop look and feel.
2. If Ubuntu wants to increase it's user base they need to attract Windows users away from Microsoft. People have a preconceived fear of Linux as a command line, non-friendly, environment where you need to be tech savvy to use it. Canonical is trying to dumb down the tech, and get away from the command line to attract new users. The Unity desktop does this.
3. By doing this, Canonical takes a closer step toward owning the "easiest to convert from Windows for a new user" segment of the Linux distro market.
What is Cononical's risk, well, in order to gain Windows users, they may lose the more tech savvy Linux user, who enjoy using the command line, or wants to stay with the Gnome desktop environment.
There are over 4000 different distros or versions of Linux in the world that you can download. If you like to see the current top 10 check out the Distro Watch.com web site.
For example, if you want all the benefits of Ubuntu, but you want to use the Gnome desktop instead, I'd recommend the Linux Mint distro. In all fairness to Ubuntu, since the underneath engine for Unity is Gnome, you can still use the Gnome desktop with this release.
The reality is that Ubuntu has made Linux no longer as scary as it used to be. There is no real reason people need to pay Microsoft for an operating system or any of its overpriced applications any longer, when they can get Ubuntu for free. The best hope Microsoft has of not eroding its market share is to offer Windows on all new computer purchases, of course, you also can order Ubuntu with your new computer.
For those of you with old computers that for some reason Microsoft will not let you reload the operating system without buying it again, give Ubuntu a try, you'll still be able to read all your Windows files, and who knows, you might be pleasantly surprised when you find out, you don't need Microsoft at all.