Ubuntu 13.10 takes aim at Microsoft, Apple, Google

Although not reviewed here, we tried Canonical’s optional Landscape service, which can be hosted internally or by Canonical. It reports conditions of covered Ubuntu instances. It can inform an administrator if instances need updates, has failed in a number of ways, when administrative approval is needed, when certain types of jobs are completed, and when upgrades are available and applied.

It’s a bit primitive compared to other third-party packages, and those that are largely OS-specific, like Microsoft System Center. It’s possible to watch administrative jobs like cloud populating, as well as dreary desktop instance monitoring.

Cross Platform
“The Desktop, The Server, and The Smartphone” sounds like the title to a bad poem, but it’s possible to do with Ubuntu 13.10, although the number of smartphones supported today appears to be just two. We had a leftover Nexus 4 from another experiment, and went through the provisioning steps to upgrade it to Ubuntu, via Ubuntu’s developer site.

Currently, the smartphone/phablet program is available only to developers and OEMs. We therefore put on our developer hats and gave it a try. The Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 4 are the only phones supported, and only a shell and core apps are available. We used a T-Mobile SIM to make a call. The call worked. The steps in between using an Android 4.2+ phone and running Ubuntu are many.

The phone has to be reflashed, via a USB cable connection. Then, our Nexus had to be unlocked, via the factory OEM unlocking method, all described on the Ubuntu website. Once back into Android Jelly Bean 4.1, we downloaded the image needed, which is a one-way step. This is the step that requires the most patience, as it takes much longer than we expected. We were ready to restart the process when magically, the phone restarted and came up. We made a call, and yes, went to Facebook. It’s well-documented, and heavily full of caveats.

Ubuntu warns frequently and dramatically that the process can brick a phone, and we believe this. It’s for developers today, but it looks, feels, and behaves like Ubuntu’s Unity interface. It’s possible if you don’t brick the phone on the way to Ubuntu, that you can back-grade to Android, which we did, although it had its own harrowing moments.

The good news is that like other components of this release, Canonical tips its hand where it’s going, the undertaking they’re going through to bring a cross-platform user interface into (hopefully) the next LTS release.

This is a spaghetti-against-the-wall release. IT organizations with an Ubuntu focus will want to pay attention to the release, as it’s a harbinger of things to come. It has enough in the form of early-release apps that some portions, the attractive ones, aren’t ready for release — just as Microsoft trial-balloons features before they’re entirely ready for production. But one quality of this release is that it’s a hell of a tease, and more so when the competitors have enormous amounts of capitalization and history behind them. The ideas and momentum seem to be crystalizing, and Canonical has a lot of work ahead of it to take these into reliable production.

How We Tested
We deployed Ubuntu 13.10 on native and virtual machines in our lab and at Expedient/Indy, which hosts our network operations center. We used a limited number of notebooks, principally Lenovo Thinkpads and VMs under Oracle VirtualBox and Microsoft Hyper-V V3. Server bare metal took place on an older Dell server, as well as into VMs on VMware 5.5 running on a Lenovo ThinkServer and Hyper-V V3 on a HP DL-380G8. Although OpenStack constructs are available for these hypervisors and others, we didn’t test Hadoop clusters in our examinations.

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