Ubuntu 9.10 'Karmic Koala' is here: 5 things CIOs must know

In case you’ve been too busy dealing with rogue iPhones, October 2009 was a big month for operating systems.

Do CIOs care about operating systems? Probably not as much as they used to, but with Windows 7 and Ubuntu 9.10 quot;Karmic Koalaquot; (from here on abbreviated to simply "Karmic" for sanity purposes) being released within days of each other, CIOs at least have a reason to be excited about the future of the desktop.

Desktop administrators will have a unified, predictable way of managing software on their machines

In addition to the countless upgrades and enhancements that arrive every six months with each new Ubuntu release, Karmic has some useful enhancements that should prove particularly interesting to CIOs and IT managers.

It's almost as though Ubuntu is standing up to be counted among business operating systems now that Windows 7 has been released.

Here are five things about Karmic that senior IT executives should consider before disregarding Linux as an option for their desktop and server fleets.

1. The new Software Center

I was chatting with a CIO the other week and he told me how much he liked Linux, but still needed to use the command line to install a software package. Enter Ubuntu’s new Software Centre.

Karmic will include the Ubuntu Software Center by default to replace the "Add/Remove" in the Applications menu and the requirement for Synaptic Package Manager if any conflicts arise.

By its own admission, Ubuntu has too many ways to manage software. "This redundancy increases the amount of interface people have to learn, wastes space on the Ubuntu CD, and fragments development effort," as Ubuntu's developers wrote recently on the development wiki. So there!

Another problem they identified was the descriptions of available software are often "technical gibberish".

Software Centre should eliminate all this complexity. And it also means desktop administrators will have a unified, predictable way of managing software on their machines. Way to go!

2. Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud images

The ability to run Ubuntu on Amazon's EC2 infrastructure is not new, but Karmic consolidates the direction with supported images for the private Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud (UEC) and EC2.

EC2 has a pre-configured Karmic image that can be used for cloud computing with updates provided to Amazon by Ubuntu.

The interesting thing here for CIOs is the portability between public and private clouds.

Even if they don't have a fully-fledged "private cloud" within their enterprise, CIOs can have a certain level of assurance that deploying an application on EC2 with Ubuntu won’t result in lock-in. UEC uses the Eucalyptus software package, which is designed to be compatible with EC2.

Linux as a scalable server architecture? CIOs should look to the cloud.

Page Break

3. Native online backups

If enterprises already have client backup policies in place, the inclusion of Ubuntu One in Karmic may be irrelevant, but for those that don't it could make data protection easier.

Ubuntu One is defined by Canonical as a "personal cloud", but it functions like any other online backup service tailored to the client operating system.

Ubuntu One can be used for backup and storage, and can also be used to share data with other Ubuntu One users.

To that end, the collaboration features may interest CIOs more than just the online storage, which starts at 2GB. A $10 per month per client subscription will get you 50GB.

4. Storage, security and virtualisation

Down at the nuts-and-bolts technology level, Karmic improves things significantly.

For starters the ext4 file system is now used by default for new installations, which supports larger file and partition sizes and has more reliability features. For stability, existing ext3 file systems will not be upgraded to ext4.

For networked storage, the iSCSI installation process has been improved and the installer will offer you the option of logging onto iSCSI targets if there are no local disks. Having the root filesystem on iSCSI is also now supported.

AppArmor has also been optimised to run faster during system boot.

Such enhancements may not be top of mind for CIOs, but they certainly go a long way toward dispelling myths about how Linux is "not scalable" or "not secure" enough for enterprise workloads.

5. Better support for Windows applications

One last thing that's worth a mention is support for Windows applications.

Let's be straight: one of the greatest inhibitors on the corporate desktop are Windows applications.

Linux and Mac OS X handle most Web applications fine but if you need a Windows application to work as expected, then fancy Windows virtualisation software may be required, which complicates things.

However, recent developments in Wine -- software that can run Windows apps on Linux -- change the game considerably and Ubuntu is leveraging this.

Karmic also heralds a new era in Ubuntu's roadmap for "proper" Wine integration, including software to manage Wine installations, and a GNOME control panel for Wine applications.

With about half of Ubuntu users having Wine installed Ubuntu admits it doesn’t "feel" like a proper part of the desktop.

For corporate IT departments wanting to replicate the Windows experience of double click software installations and running Windows CDs, better Wine integration is definitely a plus.

Unfortunately, the completed Wine integration didn't make it into Karmic, but at least it's being worked on as part of Ubuntu's roadmap.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

Security vs. innovation: IT's trickiest balancing act