by Swapnil Bhartiya

Ubuntu Yakkety Yak review: Head in the cloud, feet on the desktop

Oct 24, 2016
LinuxOpen SourceOperating Systems

Despite being a desktop OS, Ubuntu 16.10 feels more like a cloud and server OS. And that’s a good thing.

Canonical announced the release of Ubuntu 16.10, code named Yakkety Yak, earlier last month. I downloaded it and have been using it for a while now. As a desktop Linux user, I have mixed feelings about this release.

Despite being a desktop OS, Ubuntu 16.10 feels more like a cloud and server OS. And that’s a good thing. Like it or not, desktop is not a market for legacy desktop operating systems and Canonical is making the right decision by baking in more enterprise, cloud and server focused features in Ubuntu 16.10.

Before we go deeper into the enterprise features of Ubuntu let’s have a quick look at what it has to offer to a desktop user.

It’s still a great OS for a desktop user

Ubuntu in general is a great desktop OS. Partly because it focuses on ease of use and due to a large user base if there is an application for Linux desktop, it will be available for Ubuntu.

But after using 16.10 for a few days I didn’t find anything spectacular from a desktop user’s point of view, and there is a reason for it. Of late, Canonical has been channeling their energy into cloud, mobile and internet of things (IoT) devices. Desktop, unfortunately, has taken a back seat. That said, Ubuntu remains a powerful and extremely influential desktop Linux.

Under the hood you get the typical Ubuntu experience and a wide range of open source applications pre-installed. You get LibreOffice, Thunderbird, Firefox, Rhythmbox, Videos, etc. If you need more you can easily install desired applications from the Software Center. There are many third party applications that are not available through the Software Center, those you can download from official sites and install just the way you would on macOS and Windows.

I went ahead and installed Chrome, VirtualBox, VLC. The only apps that I missed on my Ubuntu system were Microsoft Word and Adobe Suite and these two applications are the only reason I also use macOS.

As expected, all of my hardware worked out of the box. Ubuntu offered a great experience on my Dell XPS 13. However Linux desktops still lack support for touch screen and multi-touch which is kind of bummer as Dell XPS 13 has an amazing touch screen. Another bummer was the fact that apps like GIMP still don’t scale on HiDPI screens so I was unable to use it. But it’s Linux so there is always something and I ended up using Krita instead.

I didn’t come across any bugs or issues in my usage. Just bear in mind that 16.10 is a regular release that’s supported for nine months; after that a new version of Ubuntu will be released and you’ll have to upgrade to that one. The good thing about Ubuntu is that it’s extremely easy to upgrade from one release to the next.

If I were you, I would stick to 16.04 LTS release as it’s supported for 5 years. One drawback of using an older release is that you don’t get to install the latest versions of applications without using PPA. And that’s where Snap comes in. Snap is Canonical’s version of a distro agnostic package format and distribution technology. In layman’s terms you can think of it as .exe or .dmg files of Windows and macOS; it’s kind of a merger between containers and packaging technologies. Snap offers some level of security through sandboxing and restricting access to the system and other apps.

Beyond technological superiority over traditional app delivery mechanisms such as offering apps through official repositories and PPA, Snap allows a developer to bypass all the ‘red tape-ism’ that’s involved with publishing apps through official repositories and PPA. You get the latest app as soon as it’s released, no need to wait for weeks or months for it to hit the official repositories; no need to add gazillions of PPAs. App developers can package their apps as Snaps and you can download them directly through the official site of the developer or install them via Software Center.

If there is one really exciting thing about Yakkety Yak, it’s the developer preview of Unity 8. For those who don’t know, Unity 8 is the centerpiece of Canonical’s convergence story; you run one OS across devices — whether it be the desktop, smartphone or a tablet. Ubuntu automatically transforms the UI to run on that device. Unity 7 is still the default shell of Yakkety Yak but you can take a peek at Unity 8, though it’s not ready for prime time on desktop yet.

Beyond this point there was nothing exciting about the desktop and all of the goodies were reserved for enterprise users. In fact, Ubuntu Yakkety Yak packages more stuff for enterprise users than for desktop users.

Ubuntu in the cloud

Ubuntu 16.10 comes with MAAS 2.0 (Metal as a Service) which, in Canonical’s own words, “allows a physical data centre to ‘feel like a cloud,’ with on-demand availability of machines with custom images through a web or REST API.”

Ubuntu 16.10 comes with Juju 2.0, which enables organizations to operate ‘big software’ applications like Hadoop and Kubernetes in a consistent, model-driven fashion across multiple public clouds and private infrastructure.

Canonical stresses that network performance is a primary focus of this release. Ubuntu 16.10 comes with updated versions of Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK), OpenVSwitch (OVS), and virtualization technologies, allowing sysadmins to manage critical application traffic  for lower latency and greater throughput.

When all of this is combined with Canonical’s partnership with Microsoft for Azure and Bash for Windows, PowerShell for Ubuntu, Ubuntu Kubernetes distribution and Ubuntu OpenStack, you see Ubuntu emerging as a very powerful cloud and server player.

Mark Shuttleworth sums up this release quite efficiently, “Our focus is to enable true hybrid cloud operations, and this release further enhances the tools and platform that most companies depend on to operate effectively across all major public clouds and in one’s own data center, from bare metal to cloud container.”