Ubuntu has been in the news quite a bit. The biggest bit of contention has been around decisions Ubuntu has made to start moving away from some very traditional parts of Linux, such as Gnome, towards what they call their "Unity" interface. This looks like an updated version of the Netbook Remix interface, and the idea is that the same interface works regardless of screen size.
It is a good idea, and you can just look at all the turmoil surrounding the current issues in Android to see why Ubuntu would want to go this way. Android now has a 2.x series for phones and 3.x series for tablets, and the two user interfaces are moderately different. I have a Motorola Xoom running Android Honeycomb 3.1, and a Samsung Captivate running 2.2, and they are two very different to operate beasts. Not hard. Just different. Worse are applications designed for the phone that do weird things when presented with the tablet size screen.
All of this is to say that I get why Ubuntu wanted to do something to keep from having to support all sorts of different interfaces. I think in the end what has happened, at least for now, is that they have managed not to simplify or unite, but to add Yet Another User Interface.
I managed to squeeze in an update to my primary system a couple of weeks after the 11.04 rollout. Rather than do a re-install, I went with the Upgrade Manager option to just download and update inline. These types of updates are the hardest since they have to figure out what is installed, what is no longer supported, what is replaced or otherwise superseded, and then install the right things. I usually try this at least once per release, but not usually on my primary system, and not as the first time I was trying the new release, but this time I threw caution to the wind. My time was limited at best, and I wanted to know what 11.04 was all about. My laptop was tied up doing ADDM scanning things (upgraded to 8.2.1 now) with our new Coradiant acquisition, and so, based on the fact that I have almost always had good results with this type of upgrade despite the complexity, I went with it. I figured that, worst case, I would have to re-install with a clean download late that night, and best case I'd get the upgrade done quickly and with a minimum amount of my time.
It worked well. The Dell 745 desktop, with 6GB of RAM and two 1280x1024 monitors, hooked to an nVidia GeForce 7300 SE/7200 GS card, did all the usual things. It disabled the external sources in the repository (including the one for Google Chrome), downloaded the updates, removed the depreciated and superseded packages, installed and configured everything, re-enabled the Google Chrome repository, and then rebooted to the new release.
I was curious what Unity would look like, but the first thing I got was a message that Unity was not supported on my hardware, and it automatically switched to Gnome 2.32.2. My new desktop looked almost exactly like my old one. So now I got to wondering about all the rending of garments out there about Unity. If Gnome is still an option, and still works just fine.. what is the big deal? You'd think it was the end of the world as we know it.
The thing about Linux is that there is this choice thing. Linux does not just have one user interface. It does not even have just 10. Counting all the desktops, the new Lubuntu for example, plus all the different user interfaces in Android, and the embedded Linuxii and on and on, the user interface can pretty much be whatever it *needs* to be. It drives some people nuts, but it is also one of the strengths of Linux.
Of course the first thing I did was drive over to Evolution and see how the newest version was working. I have been running it in pure IMAP mode most of the time, but I set up the MAPI stuff to see where that was at now. It has been so many years that my hopes were not high, but it appears that MAPI is now actually useful for the one thing I need it for: Seeing my MS Exchange Calendar. I have not tried to create meetings but for just being able to see what is there is useful. I tried to accepts a meeting, and that failed with a nasty error:
Tasks are appearing correctly now.
The eMail Inbox is still sluggish via MAPI, taking seemingly forever to download individual emails and display them. Generally unusable, but I can run IMAP for that, so no big deal. Contacts are also not working yet against the GAL (Global Address List) but I can set up an LDAP connector for that, so again, not a show stopper. At the end of the day, I have it running in a hybrid MAPI/IMAP/LDAP mode. It is not great, and I still have to use webmail for some things, but it is ever so slowly getting better.
Here is a very useful command:
sudo apt-get remove overlay-scrollbar liboverlay-scrollbar-0.1-0
Why you need it: Sometimes people designing user interfaces just do things because they can do things. Native Gnome apps with scroll bars lost the visable scrollbar. I have no idea why. Now one has to hover over where the scroll bar was, and a little slider appears. Sometimes not under where the mouse currently is. It is a pain. I do not need to save the 10 pixels a scroll bar takes (and I am guessing this was done for small screen devices where pixels are at a premium) and it makes scrolling more work. Bad plan.
That command removes the library the implemented the change, and now Evolution (for one) is back with real scroll bars. Much better.
Moving Files Around
I nearly panicked when I did the upgrade, when, a few days later I wanted to look inside the folder where Evolution stored the local files. And they were gone. But I could see the folders from inside Evolution.. except that when I would click on a master folder with subfolders and click "Mark messages as read", and it does not work at first, and instead issued an error message saying the folders did not exist.
I looked. They didn't. Well, they did really, but they had moved. "~/.evolution" is no longer where local stuff lives. Its over in "~/.local/share/evolution". OK. It felt at first like more changing stuff just to change stuff, but all the gnome stuff is collected here now, so I guess this one makes sense. Standardizing the location of Gnome application related files is goodness, and that the migration moved everything automatically is also goodness. Would have been nice to get a message about it doing it though.
What happened to DAVMail?
Davmail stopped working for me, and I had to fall back to IMAP a few months ago. I had no time to figure it out, so I reverted to IMAP/LDAP, and now MAPI. I have a guess though....
The Evolution RPC over HTTP option
One new thing that appeared in this release is an early cut at supporting RPC over HTTP. It is not working. Like DAVMail is not working. Humm.
Here is my Android phone (See?). It can read my corporate email. And over here is my iPhone, and it can too. And this is my Xoom, and it can too. So could my iPad before it.
What is up here?
At first I suspected that the implementations were just not there yet. Being the curious type, I googled a bit to see what the state of EWS for Evolution is. Looking at what they are planning for Evolution 3.0, it is clear that they are pretty much not using any other code, but starting clean, and that the feature set planning and timeline is stretched out for a while to come yet.
But still: Davmail was working. What if they (the BMC email people) turned off RPC over HTTP? How would I be getting email on all these devices. then I remembered something I had read a while ago, and a connection was made:
My Linux based tablet and phone have a way in my Ubuntu Linux desktop does not. Phooey.
Will Ubuntu Stay Viable for an Enterpise Desktop?
Out there in the Interwebs, people love to toss out controversial, often unsupportable statements and ask silly questions just to drive views. Such is not my intention here. When I pose this question it is only because I have started to wonder about the whole idea of what an Enterprise desktop even is any more.
There is a whole trend going on where there is convergence between Enterprise and Home. People wanting to use Mac's and iPhones and Xooms both at home and at the office. Then there is the Virtual Desktop, where whatever device one has at hand can be a view into the glass house applications. Add in cloud, HTML 5 and standards supporting browsers.
At the end of the day, maybe the fact the Evolution is lagging the current state of the art is not that big a deal for most shops. They have already moved on, and are solving this problem a different way. Are Chromebooks running VDI software and Motorola Xooms the wave of the future? Will the controversy move to which tablet has the best battery life and the best DPI, and the coolest dock accessories?
Looked at that way, does it matter that Ubuntu may change its user interface, or the default X server, what old email protocols are supported, or even which email client is the default? It seems like Ubuntu is hedging its bets here, and while there are rumors all over about an Ubuntu tablet, nothing is announced just yet that I can locate. Youtube is full of Linux running tablets demos, including ones that run Ubuntu.
So, at the risk of this post being outdated 12 seconds after I post it, I think that Ubuntu *is* going to stay viable in the Enterprise. Just not in the traditional MS windows, desktop PC kind of way. Clearly Ubuntu is spending no time and resources pursuing that.
And so, is 11.04 worth the upgrade? I like it. It provides some useful things like the updated MAPI libraries. I can get used to or fix the user interface issues (You can see I went back to "Clearlooks for my theme is the error message capture above). So... yes. it is a good upgrade. It is just one that has taken far more time than usual to get used to, and to put the way I personally want it to be.