The Ubuntu 11.04 interface, with the launcher on the left.

Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu version of Linux, is making a new push for a larger slice of the PC market with a series of changes in the next version of the operating system, scheduled for release next week. The upgrade, Ubuntu 11.04, comes with a new interface that takes its cues from the worlds of smartphones and web search.

The company plans seize the opportunity to promote Ubuntu 11.04 as a viable alternative for existing Windows PC users. PCWorld calls it “perhaps the most widely anticipated Linux release ever.”

Features of the free, open-source OS include an app “launcher” on the left side of the window reminiscent of the Mac OS X dock or Windows 7 taskbar. (Note to longtime Linux geeks: the new Ubuntu makes the Unity interface default but still works with GNOME applications.) It includes a “dash” that serves as a central place for finding applications and files, using keyword searches. It also comes with an upgraded Software Center for downloading and updating apps.

GeekWire spoke this week with Jane Silber, the CEO of Canonical, about the effort to bring Ubuntu to more mainstream PC users. Continue reading for excerpts from her comments.

Canonical CEO Jane Silber

Status of the company’s deals with major PC makers: We work with a number of OEMs in terms of pre-installing Ubuntu, making it available to a wider range of users who frankly aren’t going to download an operating system and try it themselves. That continues to go well. We see a lot of progress there and ship millions of units with Ubuntu pre-installed.

Plans for a new type of user trial: One of the ones that will be rolled out shortly after release is the ability for users to try Ubuntu in the cloud. We’ll actually run Ubuntu desktop images in the cloud, backed in this case by Amazon, and users rather than having to download Ubuntu to try it, they can just sign up for a time-limited instance. They can log into a session through their browser, and actually see a real Ubuntu running and explore it that way.

The prospect of competition from Google Chrome OS: We have yet to see how Chrome operating system will play out. I make an explicit distinction there between Chrome the operating system and Chrome the browser. They seem to be aiming primarily at an enterprise market. I’m reading tea leaves. I think they will be positioning it not so much as a consumer end option, but as an enterprise option. I think there’s a long road to play out there. They’re a formidable competitor. You can’t write off somebody like Google, but I think there’s a long road there.

Her pitch to people to make the Ubuntu switch: It’s a really compelling experience that does what you need it to do and lets you get on with what you’re trying to do with your PC. It’s a beautiful, fast environment full of rich applications that just work. I think people are stunned by the breadth and depth of capability, and I think the new experience around Unity and 11.04 takes that to a new level.

See this page for more on Ubuntu’s system requirements, which are not expected to measurably change in the new version, with the exception of updated graphics requirements. The OS will automatically detect whether a machine meets the graphics requirements and shift to a “classic” mode if they don’t.

Ubuntu 11.04, developed under the name “Natty Narwal,” is due out April 28, available for download from A beta version is also available in the meantime.

The searchable "dash" in Ubuntu 11.04
Like what you're reading? Subscribe to GeekWire's free newsletters to catch every headline


  • Guest

    Congratulations to Ubuntu! With all these new features, 2011 is certainly the year of Linux on the desktop. (And the palmtop, and the webtop…)

    • Anonymous

      Good one. The last 15 years have also been the year of the Linux desktop. Sorry, not going to happen. Windows and OS X will dominate the desktop market for the foreseeable future, though Android will pwn the mobile market.

  • Dexter

    Can’t wait to see how it turns out.

  • Guest

    I’ve been running the 11.04 betas for a couple of weeks now. I’ve gone from utter and complete hatred of the interface to just mild disapproval. The idea of simplifying the UI is nice, but it’s almost too simple. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a power user and I’m also old and stuck in my ways. In the end, I’ll probably be back to just using the Gnome shell instead.

  • udaydeep

    well i think ubuntu will definitely make some mark in 2011..

  • Kokujin Chronicles

    I love the concept of open-source software, I love having an alternative to expensive proprietary OS’s. I love Ubuntu. But, until it achieves point & shoot functionality a la’ OSX and Windows, I don’t see large scale adoption happening. Most users have neither the patience nor the intellect to even read documentation much less problem-solve the one or two things that always seem to balk at a full implementation of linux/ubuntu. Just my $0.02.

  • Roland F. Arms

    Fun if you want to do everything the Ubuntu way. If you want to customize the desktop to suit you, Linux Mint is a much better choice. Still can”t get used to window controls on the left side, and no weather app on my task bar. Also, apps not in the Ubuntu software center often don’t appear on any menus. Maybe the final release will be better. I liked playing with the beta, but will stay with Linux Mint Debian Edition 64 bit.

  • Bill Harding

    Uh…hate to break it to PC World contracted freelancer…but about half the Natty features they list (media player integrated into volume control, syncing to cloud, availability of FF 4, desktop empty by default, windows in the workspace…whatever that means) are already a part of the current Ubuntu meerkat release. From the screenshots, it seems like the only real difference is the app launcher on the left side of the desktop, and switching out Gnome as the default file manager. Whoo wee.

  • Stevo

    It’s going to be very interesting to see how Ubuntu operates from the cloud. Another step towards the merging of open-source and the cloud? Regardless, it’s a great plan for getting this amazing distribution out to a wider audience.

  • Tgh38

    Like the new Ubuntu BUT, it will not let me type more than 6 characters in email password

  • Willow Tree

    OMFingG!  How do I get rid of this POS desktop forever from my PC???

    • jbl88

      At the
      log-in screen put in your name & password. Then at the bottom of the
      screen click the little box and select “ubuntu classic”. Then continue
      to log-in. It should default to that afterward.As for removing it completely, I was going to offer you a dd command to run in terminal that would clean your drive nicely, but that’s not very funny… :)

  • Muhammad Abdul Gaffar

    Nice post ..
    Go ahead Im waiting for new post…………

Job Listings on GeekWork

Find more jobs on GeekWork. Employers, post a job here.