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Ubuntu beta, now with flash and flashiness

Ubuntu Linux programmers have released a beta version that includes 3D desktop visual effects and an open-source version of Adobe Systems' Flash.

Programmers have released the first beta version of Ubuntu Linux with new flash technology--in two senses of the term.

Compiz software enables flashy 3D effects, such as this 'wobbly windows' plug-in. Compiz.org

First, Ubuntu is finally following leading Linux versions from Red Hat and Novell that include snazzy 3D graphics in the user interface. Specifically, the version 7.10 "Gutsy Gibbon" beta uses Compiz Fusion, software that uses OpenGL graphics technology to make windows transparent, map desktops to the faces of a cube, let windows wobble as if made of JELL-O or zoom them for quick magnification. Various 3D effects can be downloaded and plugged in. Some folks find this eye candy to be a CPU-sucking annoyance, but Mac OS X and Windows Vista have it, and a lot of enthusiasts find it an engaging domain.

Personally, I've only toyed with the 3D effects and haven't been won over, but I think it could provide an important foundation for more revolutionary interface changes.

Second, the beta version includes a preview version of Gnash, an open-source incarnation of Adobe Systems' Flash software for animations and video streaming. It's still in development and "not yet fully supported by Ubuntu," but it brings some Flash support to those who want to move fully to 64-bit software.

For those using the GNOME user interface, printers are automatically configured when plugged in, project organizers said.

On the server side, the Gutsy Gibbon beta includes the AppArmor released by Novell to provide more security by isolating software applications and restricting their privileges more tightly.

Gutsy Gibbon is due to be completed October 18.

We'll see if Walt Mossberg can be convinced this time around. If not, Gutsy Gibbon's successor, Hardy Heron, is due in April 2008. It'll be the second Ubuntu release to get long-term support, which lasts five years for server versions and three years for desktop versions.