19 October 2013

Happy Saucy Salamander Day!

Besides being my sister’s birthday, October 17th marked the release of Ubuntu’s latest OS (Operating System)—Ubuntu 13.10, the Saucy Salamander! This release lays the foundation for a full convergence on all of your devices—desktop, laptop, server, cloud, as well as phones and tablets. As usual, I’ve been using this release since the beta and it’s been very stable and fast. While there hasn’t seemed like a lot of changes on the user’s side of things since the previous release (13.04), there has been a lot going on “under the hood” to enable this convergence. Most notably has been the focus of making the core of this release work on mobile devices. With that stated, let’s look at some of the features this release brings to the forefront.

One of the biggest features is the full implementation of “Smart Scopes.” This relates to the results one finds when doing a search in the Dash. And it’s gotten a lot of unwarranted bad press, in my opinion. Let’s say you want to search for things related to “Doctor Who” (and let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to search for that!). You could launch a web browser and type “Doctor Who” in the search field (Firefox is installed by default, but you can also install Google Chromium from the Software Center or download and install Google Chrome). Then you would just scroll through all of the items listed. The drawback to this is that if you were searching for your Doctor Who wallpaper collection on your local system, nothing would show up in your web search. If that’s where you wanted to search, you would have to open up your file manager (the second icon on the Launcher, known as “Files”), click the search icon, and start typing. But the results would only show your local files and folders; nothing from the web. Smart Scopes remove this obstacle.

Open the Dash by either clicking on the Ubuntu button at the top of the Launcher or by pressing the “Super” key (on a Windows PC, that would be the “Windows” key; on an Apple PC, that would be the Command key). Now type Doctor Who. The results that appear show local items as well as items from the web, whether they’re articles, web sites, images, or items to purchase.

Another great aspect about searching through the Dash is you can refine what Scopes to search through. By clicking on “Filter Results” in the upper right corner of the Dash, you can choose which categories and sources you want to show in your results. Furthermore, Smart Scopes in the Dash learns from you so your searches will become more and more refined to suit your taste.

By clicking on the Applications icon at the bottom of the Dash, you can select and deselect which plugins to use when searching for new applications.

Once the results come back, you can click on the app and a detailed description is shown. If that’s not the app you want, you can either click the screen again, taking you back to the search results, or you can click on the arrow keys to browse between the search results. If you decide that’s the app you want to install, just can click the “Download” button.

If it’s already installed and you want to remove it, click on the “Uninstall” button. Again, all of this is done directly from searching the Dash.

If you’ve determine that you don’t want online results showing up in the Dash, you can easily disable them. To do this, go to System Settings. (It’s on the Launcher by default. Or, you guessed it, you can search for it in the Dash. It’s also accessible from the menu at the upper right corner of the desktop.) Select “Security & Privacy” and click on the “Search” tab. Now turn off “Include online search results.” Now your Dash search results will only show your local files and folders.

Another aspect of Ubuntu 13.10 that’s received some more polish is Webapps. When you go to Facebook, for example, a message pops up in Firefox (or Chromium) asking if you want to install the Facebook Webapp. What this does is make Facebook seem like it’s own individual application instead of a tab in the browser. There are Webapps for several Google services (Gmail, Docs, News, YouTube, etc.) as well as services like LinkedIn, Pandora, Twitter, and Yahoo mail. The thoughts behind Webapps is part of the convergence vision—to have your core systems be the same on either the desktop, laptop, or mobile device. When you log in to any of the Online Accounts, you can get notifications from those accounts as well as the Webapp services those accounts access.

While some claim that the updates for 13.10 are fairly minimal when compared to other releases, I think that falls a little flat. While the desktop may seem nothing more than an upgrade to the latest software versions, it must be understood that the foundation has been firmly established for the convergence of Ubuntu on all devices. This means the experience and access one has with a phone running Ubuntu will be pretty much the same when one runs the desktop—one OS to rule them all. The demonstration used for the phone OS highlights that very feature. It shows a person using a phone with Ubuntu and then plugging it into a doc that’s connected to a keyboard, mouse, and an HDMI monitor. Once that’s connected, one has full access to the complete desktop experience of Ubuntu. You could open LibreOffice Writer and create a document, save it, and undock your phone and you would still be able to access the document you created, just in case you needed to send it as an SMS. Or, again, with your phone docked, supposed a text comes in, you can actually access the text and respond directly from the desktop. Again, the groundwork for that experience has been laid with Ubuntu 13.10.

Lastly, as always, Ubuntu is free. You can download and install on your computer. You can even try Ubuntu before you install it by putting it on a USB drive. That way you can test Ubuntu to see how it works with your system. You can even install it within a virtual environment, like Virtualbox. So, prepare yourself for computing freedom. Take Ubuntu 13.10 for a spin and experience the future of computing right now.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

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