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January 3, 2014
Every two years, the Ubuntu community works really hard to produce a stable, solid version of Ubuntu that we can be really proud of. A bit conservative, but ready to be reliable for the next 5 years, each Long Term Support (LTS) release is a technical and logistical triumph that everyone associated with Ubuntu can be proud of. And when businesses or novice users are looking for a way to use Ubuntu for everyday and production systems, a release such as Ubuntu 12.04 LTS is a solid place to start. When the next LTS is released, upgrades are easy and reliable.
Ubuntu releases major updates every six months. Now known as “interim” releases, these non-LTS updates are supported for only 9 months after each release. This is enough time to join the next interrim release a bit later when any bugs have settled down. Upgrading is easy and graphical, and is a fairly pain-free process in most instances. For any expert or enthusiast desktop user, this is where new software and new features are and is always a tempting and useful choice for everyday desktops and development systems.
When it comes to recommending Ubuntu to friends and family and at installfests, the question of which version to use is simple. When a new LTS is released, that’s the version to install. And the question needn’t be asked for another year. Anyone who wants a stable system to become familiar with should definitely use the latest LTS release. But the question gets a little harder as a year and a half starts to go by. LibreOffice is always getting better. Unity has continuously improved since 12.04 LTS and only shows signs of continuing as convergence work brings intriguing new features like Smart Scopes and HUD improvements.
As 2014 dawns, there are fantastic opportunities ahead for Ubuntu and new users. But the question looms large:
Ubuntu 12.04.3 LTS is as solid and reliable as ever, as Ubuntu 12.04.4 LTS will be in February. It’s a trustworthy system with a little over 3 more years of security updates promised. And Unity works very well in this version. Everything is looking good for 12.04 LTS users.
Ubuntu 13.10 was the result of a massive focus on getting Ubuntu running on smartphones and tablets in preparation for a major change in the way we think of computers and how they work for us. And while many of the changes aren’t flashy, they are extremely beneficial. Core Ubuntu development came to rely on automatic software testing for each update, and as a result, Ubuntu 13.10 was as stable during development as it was during its release. Thanks to this major focus on careful updates, Ubuntu 13.10 is extremely reliable. Add to this the various usability improvements, greater hardware support thanks to the massive leaps in the Linux kernel this year, Smart Scopes, and updated software packages, this is probably the best Ubuntu desktop system that’s been released in two years.
In April, there will be no question that Ubuntu 14.04 LTS is the version of choice. With 5 years of support and the continuing development practices laid out for Ubuntu 13.10, it’s guaranteed to be a premium experience whether on desktops, servers, smart phones, or tablets.
But we can’t install Ubuntu 14.04 LTS on user systems today. That would be irresponsible. And so we have two versions to choose from: Ubuntu 12.04 LTS and Ubuntu 13.10. Both of these will be upgradeable to 14.04 LTS. I’d like to advocate for Ubuntu 13.10 on new user systems until April.
Unity has changed and improved. Hardware support has come a very long way. And Ubuntu 13.10 much more closely represents the type of experience an Ubuntu user will have with 14.04 LTS. The software is stable and shouldn’t change dramatically. LibreOffice 4.1 is a huge advance from the 3.5 experience in 12.04 LTS. Smart Scopes make using searching easy and powerful no matter what one’s searching for. Web apps are integrated into the Ubuntu experience. There’s no doubt that Ubuntu is more convenient in 13.10 than ever before.
Ideally, users will upgrade to Ubuntu 14.04 LTS soon after it is released. This means that even if a user installs Ubuntu 12.04 LTS today, he’ll still be facing an OS upgrade in April with fairly substantial Unity changes. This is no different than if the user is using Ubuntu 13.10—except the Unity experience will be largely left unchanged. Once 14.04 LTS is installed, the user can enjoy the 5 year support window and will have the option to upgrade to 14.10 but won’t have to consider upgrading until 16.04 LTS is released.
You can even help by opening the Dash, searching for “Software & Updates”, then going to the Updates tab and changing the “Notify me of a new Ubuntu version:” to “For long-term support versions”. Once Ubuntu 14.04 LTS is released, the user will be offered the upgrade, but won’t be offered again until Ubuntu 16.04 LTS. This offers the same upgrade experience as found in an default install of either Ubuntu 12.04 LTS or 14.04 LTS.
Ubuntu 12.04 LTS had limited online search capability. While useful, it’s more of a convenience than a selling point.
Ubuntu 13.10 takes the first real steps toward bringing the world of information to the user regardless of whether it’s local or available online. This will be one of the key values in Ubuntu during the two years after 14.04 LTS is released. Webapp integration provides all the advantages of running Ubuntu and Unity—Unity task switching, notification support, HUD integration, Messaging Menu integration for messages, Sound Menu integration for media players—and all with no compromises to the web-based experience. Unity also fully integrates online search results into the search experience.
For those with privacy or usability concerns, any changes to disable specific scopes or online searching altogether will carry forward to 14.04 LTS, so that users can decide their optimal balance of convenience and security now, and not after an OS upgrade when they’re on their own. There’s no right or wrong answer for online search integration, but Ubuntu 13.10 allows us to have the right conversation with new users so they can make an informed choice.