NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

Ubuntu and Kubuntu 15.04 “Vivid Vervet” released; Debian 8 “Jessie” due Saturday

Edi­tor’s note: If the terms GNU and Lin­ux don’t mean any­thing to you, this post is prob­a­bly going to read like a bunch of gib­ber­ish. Sor­ry. But do read on if you’re inter­est­ed in learn­ing more about the won­der­ful world of free soft­ware.

Free soft­ware enthu­si­asts, it’s time to rev up your Advanced Pack­ag­ing Tool instances! Ubun­tu 15.04 and Kubun­tu 15.04 “Vivid Vervet” have land­ed, and Debian 8.0 “Jessie” is not far behind. That means it’s time to update — unless your machine is  run­ning a Long-Term Sup­port (LTS) release for max­i­mum sta­bil­i­ty.

It’s rare that Ubun­tu and its deriv­a­tives sees a major release in the same week as its com­mu­ni­ty-dri­ven par­ent, Debian. Both Ubun­tu and Debian uti­lize the GNU tool­chain and the Lin­ux ker­nel to pro­vide an oper­at­ing sys­tem that is incred­i­bly robust, pow­er­ful, and large­ly free of pro­pri­etary soft­ware.

Ubun­tu, though bet­ter known, is based on Debian and makes use of its many inno­va­tions, includ­ing the Advanced Pack­ag­ing Tool, bet­ter known as apt, which makes installing sys­tem and appli­ca­tion updates a breeze.

While Ubun­tu sees a new release no mat­ter what every six months — com­plete with wacky code­names like “Vivid Vervet” — Debian gen­er­al­ly only sees a new major release every two years. That means this Sat­ur­day’s planned release of Debian 8.0 “Jessie” is a real­ly, real­ly big deal. Debian releas­es, by the way, are named for char­ac­ters in Dis­ney’s Toy Sto­ry fran­chise; the cur­rent 7.0 release is aliased wheezy.

Today’s release of Ubun­tu 15.04 does­n’t bring a lot of changes to the Ubun­tu user inter­face. Most of the improve­ments are under-the-hood, such as the adop­tion of sys­temd, which has proven to be some­what con­tro­ver­sial, even though most users will prob­a­bly like it because it means faster boot times.

Nev­er­the­less, there are a few user-fac­ing refine­ments, like new default wall­pa­per and the restora­tion of menus to their prop­er place under­neath appli­ca­tion title bars.

The big­ger user-fac­ing changes this time around can be found in Ubun­tu’s sis­ter Kubun­tu. Kubun­tu has been sail­ing above the chaos that has been the imple­men­ta­tion of Uni­ty in the default Ubun­tu fla­vor for years, qui­et­ly mov­ing to the lat­est iter­a­tion of the KDE Soft­ware Com­pi­la­tion with each pass­ing release.

How­ev­er, last year, the KDE Soft­ware Com­pi­la­tion’s devel­op­ers decid­ed to make the com­pi­la­tion more mod­u­lar, and allow its major com­po­nents to be devel­oped more inde­pen­dent­ly, at their own pace. Hence, the many KDE projects are now col­lec­tive­ly referred to under the title KDE Frame­works.

For this release, Kubun­tu is break­ing seri­ous new ground by mak­ing KDE’s new, cut­ting-edge Plas­ma 5 desk­top envi­ron­ment (which is one of the afore­men­tioned frame­works) the default. Kubun­tu users who choose to upgrade to 15.04 will notice right away that their desk­tops look quite dif­fer­ent.

Plas­ma 5 ships with an airy, beau­ti­ful, and col­or­ful theme called Breeze.

Screenshot of Kubuntu 15.04 Vivid Vervet

“Plas­ma 5, the next gen­er­a­tion of KDE’s desk­top has been rewrit­ten to make it smoother to use while retain­ing the famil­iar set­up. The sec­ond set of updates to Plas­ma 5 are now sta­ble enough for every­day use and is the default in this ver­sion of Kubun­tu.” — The Kubun­tu devel­op­ers

It’s also got an updat­ed build of Libre­Of­fice. While Libre­Of­fice is not a KDE appli­ca­tion, many Kubun­tu users (myself includ­ed) make heavy use of it.

I’m cer­tain­ly look­ing for­ward to see­ing Plas­ma 5 improve. Per­haps some­time in the next year, KDE and Mozil­la can fig­ure out how to improve Fire­fox inte­gra­tion into KDE. There was a big dis­cus­sion about this last year and it seems to have sparked some renewed inter­est in coop­er­a­tion. That would be very wel­come.

Debian devel­op­ers are spend­ing their week get­ting Jessie prepped for release. As is com­mon with a major new Debian release, a large num­ber of pack­ages are get­ting updates, and many new pack­ages are being intro­duced. A small­er num­ber of pack­ages are being obso­let­ed. A recent sta­tus report from Steve McIn­tyre goes over some of the things that are get­ting atten­tion from devel­op­ers ahead of the big day.

Read­ers who aren’t techies might won­der why we care so much about what’s hap­pen­ing with Ubun­tu, Kubun­tu, and Debian. Why are these releas­es news­wor­thy, and what do these oper­at­ing sys­tems have to do with pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics?

The answer is that Ubuntu/Kubuntu and Debian are a crit­i­cal part of the soft­ware stack that runs most of the machines NPI’s web­sites are served from, not to men­tion most of my own com­put­ers. Because we at NPI believe in liv­ing our val­ues and walk­ing our talk, we have made a con­scious choice to use Ubuntu/Kubuntu and Debian, which prin­ci­pal­ly con­sist of soft­ware that is free, unlike Mac or Win­dows.

Free soft­ware, or libre soft­ware, refers to soft­ware that respects your free­dom as a user. In the famous words of Richard Stall­man, think free speech, not free beer.

Free soft­ware sys­tems are released under licens­es that allows any­one to share with a friend, look at their source code to study how they work, and make improve­ments if they want. If improve­ments are made and pub­licly released, they must be released under the same license. (This is known as the share-alike prin­ci­ple.)

Most free soft­ware is released under a license like the GNU GPL. The set of free­doms that this license — and many oth­ers like it — are based on is as fol­lows:

  1. The free­dom to run the pro­gram as you wish, for any pur­pose.
  2. The free­dom to study how the pro­gram works, and change it so it does your com­put­ing as you wish. Access to the source code is a pre­con­di­tion for this.
  3. The free­dom to redis­trib­ute copies so you can help your neigh­bor.
  4. The free­dom to dis­trib­ute copies of your mod­i­fied ver­sions to oth­ers. By doing this you can give the whole com­mu­ni­ty a chance to ben­e­fit from your changes. Access to the source code is a pre­con­di­tion for this.

The phi­los­o­phy that under­pins free soft­ware is based on the same val­ues and prin­ci­ples that pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics are based on, includ­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty, trust, coop­er­a­tion, and mutu­al respon­si­bil­i­ty. It only makes sense that pro­gres­sives should use and be evan­ge­lists for free soft­ware. Hence, this post.

While I’m on the sub­ject of free soft­ware releas­es, I’d be remiss not to men­tion that Word­Press, which is anoth­er huge­ly impor­tant part of our soft­ware stack, saw a major update today with the release of Ver­sion 4.2, code­named Pow­ell.

Word­Press is the con­tent man­age­ment sys­tem that pow­ers the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate, as well as In Brief and many of our oth­er projects.

Like Ubuntu/Kubuntu and Debian, it is free soft­ware. Word­Press gets along very well with those oper­at­ing sys­tems and libre web servers like Apache and nginx that are installed along with them as part of a serv­er soft­ware stack.

(The oper­at­ing sys­tem runs the com­put­er, the web­serv­er han­dles requests for resources from the Inter­net and pass­es them to appli­ca­tions like Word­Press.)

So, hap­py release day to every­one who is a part of Ubuntu/Kubuntu and Word­Press. Debian devs, we’re look­ing for­ward to con­grat­u­lat­ing you as well, when you get Jessie shipped — hope­ful­ly, this Sat­ur­day as planned.

Our sin­cere thanks to all the won­der­ful peo­ple who give of their time, tal­ent, and trea­sure to make free soft­ware. The free soft­ware com­mu­ni­ty is proof that human­i­ty can do amaz­ing things togeth­er in spite of our many dif­fer­ences.

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2 Comments

  1. There’s noth­ing at all wrong with Desk­top Lin­ux, the major­i­ty of dis­tros are per­fect for every­day users and even eas­i­er to use than Win­dows in a lot of cas­es!

    You are act­ing like it’s some spe­cial sect for geeks “it’s time to rev up your Advanced Pack­ag­ing Tool instances!”. What on earth?? Why go out of your way to make Lin­ux seem inac­ces­si­ble to every­day peo­ple when it is far from it? There’s no need to do any­thing of the sort on Ubun­tu & Kubun­tu. Just open up the Soft­ware cen­tre by click­ing on the icon on Ubun­tu or the Dis­cov­er soft­ware cen­tre on Kubun­tu and click install on what­ev­er soft­ware you would like and that’s it!

    # by Steve :: April 24th, 2015 at 1:45 AM
    • I did­n’t say there was any­thing wrong with desk­top GNU/Linux, Steve. I quite agree that dis­tri­b­u­tions like Ubun­tu are easy to use — eas­i­er than Win­dows, in fact.

      But they have to be set up first. There are only a few com­put­er mak­ers that sell GNU/Linux pre­loaded onto a com­put­er. Any­one else want­i­ng to use it has to install it. Now, for some­one like you and me, that’s triv­ial. But in the case of some­one who thinks that the “e” on their pre­in­stalled Win­dows desk­top means the Inter­net, well, that’s anoth­er sto­ry.

      This post does­n’t say any­where that GNU/Linux is hard to use. It mere­ly advis­es read­ers who are unlike­ly to under­stand a sin­gle piece of ter­mi­nol­o­gy in it that it is more about tech­nol­o­gy than pol­i­tics — for this is a blog pri­mar­i­ly about pol­i­tics.

      # by Andrew :: April 24th, 2015 at 11:43 AM