Exactly three months after the first alpha version of Ubuntu Linux 12.04 "Precise Pangolin" made its debut, the project's developers on Thursday launched the first beta release of the operating system.
As a long-term support release, Ubuntu 12.04 is a particularly important iteration of Canonical's Linux distribution. Just one more beta version of the free and open source software is scheduled -- with an arrival date of March 29 -- before the launch of the final release on April 26.
Among the new changes included in this first beta version are a feature enabling considerable power savings and a new CD image size of 703MB "to squeeze in every bit of package goodness we can on the installation CD images," Kate Stewart, Canonical's Ubuntu release manager.
Designed for testing purposes, Ubuntu 12.04 beta 1 can now be downloaded from the project's site. Here's a quick rundown of some of the release's key highlights.
1. A taste of HUD
As hinted by Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth in late January, Ubuntu's new Head-Up Display, or HUD, interface makes its debut in this beta version. Dubbed by Canonical as "a new way to quickly search and access any desktop application's and indicator's menu," HUD can be accessed by pressing the Alt key and typing in a description of what you want to do. The OS then returns a set of corresponding entries, including some fuzzy matching, the project team says. Over time, it also learns from your previous choices to make the search more and more accurate, they say.
2. Unity tweaks
Ubuntu's Unity interface has been nothing if not controversial, but in this new release, the Appearance panel in the OS's system settings lets you more easily configure some properties of Unity. For bookmark users, the Unity launcher now also includes Nautilus quicklist support.
3. Clickpad support
Ubuntu 12.04 includes support for clickpads, which are trackpads on which the physical button is integrated into the trackpad surface. Most Synaptics clickpads are recognized out of the box in this new release, as are Apple MacBook trackpads. Coming in Ubuntu's next release will be support for Apple's Magic Trackpads and more Synaptics-branded devices, the Ubuntu team says.
4. Power savings
For the aforementioned power savings, RC6 -- the technology that allows GPUs to go into a very-low-power consumption state when the GPU is idle -- is now enabled by default for Intel Sandy Bridge-chip-based systems. The result can be improvements of between 40 and 60 percent in power usage under idle loads, the developers say.
5. LibreOffice 3.5 and Rhythmbox
Among the default applications in Ubuntu 12.04 are the newly updated LibreOffice 3.5, as well as Rhythmbox as the default music player.
6. Better language support
When users install new software through the Ubuntu Software Center, the corresponding language support packages -- including translations and spell check modules -- are now installed automatically as well, thus eliminating the need to open Language Support after installing new software.
7. A fresh kernel
Finally, upgrading from the second alpha release of "Precise Pangolin," this new beta version includes the 3.2.0-17.27 Ubuntu kernel, which is based on version 3.2.6 of the upstream stable Linux kernel.