Karmic also included by default Ubuntu One, Canonical’s file synchronising and collaborating software. It is very similar to the Dropbox service which allows users to automatically synchronise desktop files with an online service as they work. Ubuntu One’s advantage is that it is tightly integrated into the Ubuntu desktop. It’s downside is that it only works on Ubuntu at present.
Karmic Koala also has a neater notification system which fades in and out in the vicinity of the notification bar. It’s attractive and not too intrusive. Audio controls are also a lot better and work well straight out of the box.
Something that most distributions have been working on is better network control. Karmic Koala’s mobile broadband support is very good and network control in general is easier than ever. Connecting to existing wireless networks is also very fast which means connectivity is up and running as soon as you log in.
Mandriva Linux 2010 (http://www.mandriva.com)
Ubuntu Linux may get the majority of attention from Linux watchers but there are many good alternatives available. One of those is Mandriva Linux, a version of Linux formerly known as Mandrake and long considered one of the most user-friendly of Linux versions.
Mandriva 2010 focused heavily on netbook users and other alternative desktop users. Boot time was also a priority for Mandriva, as it is for most other operating system makers, and the developers said that Mandriva 2010 shuts down, hibernates, suspends, and resumes faster. The bootup procedure on Mandriva 2010 is managed by Plymouth, which also makes for a more attractive, graphical boot up process.
On the netbook front Mandriva 2010 included full hardware support for every currently available Eee model and all the systems standard configuration tools have been tweaked to fit into the lower resolution screens common on netbooks. The Mandriva team also did work on many third party applications to ensure that they fitted into the smaller screen sizes.
Mandriva 2010 also included the Moblin desktop. While Gnome and KDE are largely designed for fuller-sized monitors, Moblin is designed specifically for smaller netbooks.
One of the more interesting features of Mandriva 2010, albeit early days, was the focus on what is being called the “task-orientated desktop”. Mandriva 2010 included several Nepomuk services which help users to manage tasks across all applications. Using the task widget and the Tasktop application users can group items – such as emails, notes, web pages and so on – together around specific tasks.
These tasks can be managed through a specific tasktop or through the file manager into which Nepomuk has been integrated. This is the first time that the “smart desktop” has been included in a Linux distribution and holds interesting promise for future releases.
OpenSuse 11.2 (http://en.opensuse.org)
With Ubuntu 9.10 and Mandriva 2010 already out, OpenSuse 11.2 was the third of the “big four” – Fedora, Mandriva, OpenSuse and Ubuntu – Linux distributions to be released.
One of OpenSuse’s standout features is the Yast software management tool. With the release of 11.2, OpenSuse introduced “live upgrades” which make it easier to upgrade from previous versions of the operating system.
Debian and Ubuntu already have a “dist-upgrade” feature and with 11.2 OpenSuse now has similar capabilities. In addition to live upgrades, OpenSuse 11.2 also featured a first outing for WebYaST: a Web-based remote administration tool for OpenSuse systems.
OpenSuse 11.2 also paid a lot of attention to social networking and included a selection of applications to cater for social networks. Among these are choqok, a new KDE twitter and identi.ca client, gwibber on Gnome with support for Twitter, identi.ca, Facebook and others, kopete with its additional Facebook IM capabilities, as well as desktop plasmoids for KDE 4.3.
Under the hood OpenSuse also included the ability to encrypt the entire hard disk. Over the past year this ability has become increasingly common in Linux distributions. Also now fairly commonplace in Linux releases is the inclusion of support for the new ext4 filesystem. Ext4 is the default filesystem for new OpenSuse installs, and the even-newer Btrfs filesystem is also included but not as the default.
With netbooks in mind OpenSE also made a number of changes to installation options. Because many netbooks don’t ship with an optical drive, OpenSuse 11.2 also made hybrid install images (ISOs) available which make it easy to install the operating system directly from a USB stick. OpenSuse 11.2 also expanded its support for the growing netbook market and now works perfectly on most popular netbook machines.
Fedora 12 (http://fedoraproject.org)
The last of the big Linux releases for 2009 was Fedora 12, the community version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Despite its links to the Red Hat line and the enterprise market, Fedora is traditionally not as conservative and prides itself on its just-out-of-beta features. This time around Fedora introduces features such as Bluetooth audio support, multi-touch input for tablet PCs, better package management and broader network support.
On the desktop Fedora includes Empathy, a new generation of instant messenger that supports chat, video and audio on most popular IM platforms including AIM, Yahoo, Google Talk, Jabber, Live (MSN) and MySpace. Using Empathy users can share their desktop with friends and use a webcam to create audio and video chats.
Also included in Fedora 12 is support for Bluetooth audio devices so users can connect headphones wirelessly to their computer to listen to audio or chat online.
Network management was also improved in Fedora 12. This included better support for mobile broadband, Bluetooth tethering, password management, sharing networks and IPv6 support. Bluetooth on-demand is also included in Fedora 12 so that devices are switched on an off when needed.
Installing software is easier on Fedora 12 now with the yum-presto plugin now installed by default. Originally released in Fedora 11 as an optional plugin, yum-presto reduces the size of updates by only transmitting the changes in the files and not the entire file. Also, RPMs now use XZ rather than gzip for compression, providing smaller package sizes without the memory and CPU costs of bzip2.
With portable devices becoming increasingly popular, Fedora 12 included a number of features designed for the likes of tablet PCs. This included handwriting recognition, as well as Xjournal which allows users to jot notes on, highlight or even sign PDF documents without printing them out.
Linux Mint (http://www.linuxmint.com)
One of the popular releases towards the end of the year was Linux Mint 8. Based on the most recent version of Ubuntu Linux, Linux Mint adds a layer of user-friendliness to hopefully make it as easy to use as possible for new users.
Many of the changes that Linux Mint applies are to ensure that new users have an easy introduction to Linux. These changes include installing additional, and sometimes proprietary, drivers and multimedia codecs so that a wider range of hardware and multimedia are supported out of the box.
In Linux Mint 8, codenamed Helena and based on Ubuntu 9.10, changes included better configuration options for the core menu system, including the ability to define custom “places” or disable parts of the menu system. Mint 8 also includes a number of changes in the software manager so more data is made available to users. The Software Manager also auto-updates and alerts users of new versions.
One of the big changes to Mint in this version was the new Upload Manager. Replacing what was known as mintUpload in previous editions are two tools: Upload Manager and File Uploader. The Upload Manager is a single place to manage the servers a user needs to upload files to. Through the interface users can manage multiple FTP, SFTP and SCP connections. When the File Uploader tool is launched each of these servers can be opened on the desktop and users only need to drag and drop files into the appropriate space to upload them.
Linux Mint 8 also simplifies the desktop by doing away with the dual-menubar layout preferred by Ubuntu in favour of a single menubar across the bottom of the screen. Mint also trims down the tripartite Applications/Places/System menu of Ubuntu and condenses this into a single Main Menu flyout. This adds a layer of simplicity to the Mint desktop and mimics the style of the Windows desktop, with which most users are familiar.