This Thursday, October 30, the Canonical team will celebrate the release of the latest version of their Linux desktop, Ubuntu 8.10. Based on Linux kernel 2.6.27, the release will feature some big improvements including the ability to install Ubuntu to a USB drive, secured guest sessions to allow system owners to give non-regular users a locked down session easily so they can use the full system without interference to programs or data, and the latest Gnome 2.24 Desktop Environment.
But one of the biggest features Canonical has been talking about is the inclusion of 3G support, through the integration of the newest version of Network Manager.
"For constant connectivity public WiFi has limitations. Improvements to the network manager in Ubuntu 8.10 makes it simple to detect and connect to 3G networks and manage connectivity. This connectivity is delivered through an inbuilt 3G modem, through 'dongle' support, through a mobile phone or through Bluetooth. It is a complex environment that Ubuntu 8.10 simplifies through a single interface and the auto-detection of many of the most popular devices," Canonical said in a release on the Ubuntu website.
I decided to take this new feature for a test drive and was excited to find that it worked surprisingly well. I installed the release candidate of 8.10, which you can download from the Ubuntu website, onto a Dell Latitude D505 with 1GB of RAM. This is one of my beater laptops from work that I haul around to troubleshoot network issues or take with me on the road to places where I'm less concerned about high performance and more about utility or about losing or damaging the system. Normally the system runs Windows XP Professional SP3, and I utilize my old AT&T Tilt to tether and connect to AT&T's 3G network when I'm not near Wi-Fi.
After taking my SIM card out of my iPhone 3G and placing it into my Tilt, which is running Windows Mobile 6.1, I plugged the Tilt into the laptop and as soon as the phone had fully booted up, Ubuntu's network manager detected a new network card called "auto eth2" -- after launching the built in "Internet Connection Sharing" on Windows Mobile and starting the service, my laptop started searching for an IP address and within seconds it had found one.
No drivers, no struggling around editing configuration files, not even the need to release or renew an address. I plugged it in and "it just worked."
I am continually more and more pleased with the progress being made by Linux distribution developers and this latest release of Ubuntu was no exception. The rest of the OS seems very solid and after this Thursday when the final version of 8.10 goes public, I may end up making Ubuntu a full time resident on this system for field work. One of the major things that was holding my back was an easy way to perform tethering and I was very pleased by the results of my test.