Ubuntu 12.10 review

18 Oct 2012

An interim update that brings a small, hit-and-miss selection of new features

4

Ubuntu’s biannual release schedule tends to mean only small, evolutionary improvements between versions, and Ubuntu 12.10 - the “Quantal Quetzal”, to give it its friendly codename - looks and behaves similarly to April’s 12.04 release.

Yet there are some interesting new features dotted about the place. If you perform a clean installation, the first change you’ll notice is a new option to encrypt the entire installation disk using a passphrase - a welcome security measure if you’re worried about a laptop being lost or stolen. LVM volumes are now supported, too, so you can install Ubuntu on a logical volume and easily resize or reconfigure it later.

Once you’re in, you’ll see that the updated Dash features a scrollable preview mode, activated by right-clicking on any search result. From here you can browse images, documents and other local content, preview and buy online music, and uninstall or launch applications.

The Dash also delivers a wider range of online results than before. Search for an application you don’t already have and you’ll see a link to install it via the Software Center; search for a physical item and you’ll see a link to order it from Amazon.

Online content can be included in search results, though the result can be a rather incoherent experience.

This latter feature is powered by the new “web apps” concept - small bits of connecting code that plumb cloud content and services into the local operating system. As well as adding online results into the search interface, extensions can put webmail and social networking notifications into Ubuntu’s mail menu; place controls for online music services such as last.fm in the audio menu (as local players already do); and make web services accessible from the Launcher as if they were regular applications. Web apps are currently offered for around 40 sites, and can be installed by simply visiting a supported site in Firefox and accepting the automatic installation request.

As they stand, these new features don’t add a lot. Preview mode is quite limited - it fills the whole screen, offering no control beyond scrolling left and right through your search results - and while receiving email notifications in the menu bar is nice, it isn’t exactly life-changing. When it comes to search results, mixing physical goods in with programs and files simply doesn’t make sense.

Yet web apps have real potential for the future. At present you’ll look in vain for connections to major services such as SkyDrive, Google Music or the Amazon Kindle Store, but the prospect of accessing them all from a single local search interface is undeniably appealing. We hope Canonical can secure and maintain support from such services - or at least ensure it’s provided by the community via the open web apps API.

Details

Price ex VAT £0
Price inc VAT £0
Overall rating 4
Ease of Use rating 4
Features & Design 4
Value for Money 6
Software subcategory Operating system

Requirements

Processor requirement Intel Celeron or better

Operating system support

Operating system Windows Vista supported? yes
Operating system Windows XP supported? yes
Operating system Linux supported? yes
Operating system Mac OS X supported? yes