The Ubuntu team unveiled the first alpha version of Ubuntu 11.04, dubbed Natty Narwhal Alpha 1.
Called a "developer snapshot," the release is for developers only and is not designed for regular users. The next major upgrade of the operating system is due for release in April. That version will replace Gnome Shell with Unity in the desktop environment, according to developers.
"Pre-releases of Natty are not encouraged for anyone needing a stable system or anyone who is not comfortable running into occasional, even frequent breakage. They are, however, recommended for Ubuntu developers and those who want to help in testing, reporting and fixing bugs," said Kate Stewart, Ubuntu release manager at Canonical, in an online post. "Alpha 1 is the first in a series of milestone CD images that will be released throughout the Natty development cycle. The Alpha images are known to be reasonably free of showstopper CD build or installer bugs, while representing a very recent snapshot of Natty."
Interested developers can download the software at Ubuntu's website.
Natty Narwhal includes OpenOffice as its office suite, despite a shake-up earlier this year when Canonical voiced its support for LibreOffice. The alpha version also features Firefox 4 beta 7, and the Unity desktop environment is now enabled by default. Users can switch to GNOME if they prefer.
"At this point we are planning to stay with Gnome2, however since Unity (and therefore Compiz apparently) is under heavy development we expect problems. It is possible that in the future we may eventually move away from Gnome2 but substantial discussions and testing will be required," Canonical said in its release notes. "Ubuntu Desktop will run unity by default and the Ubuntu Classic Session will run gnome-panel. Ubuntu Classic supports all video hardware and video drivers. Ubuntu Desktop requires 3D driver support."
Alpha 1 includes the 2.6.37-rc3 kernel, a major update from the v2.6.35 in Maverick. The kernel is expected to roll forward to v2.6.38 for release, according to Canonical. The team is working on a live CD configuration, but the images are too large so Canonical recommends developers use a USB stick or DVD as a workaround.
Beta users can opt to subscribe to a number of lists to follow developments, contribute bug-findings and track other developers' problems. The mailing list includes links to a number of specific email lists for interested parties.