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Ubuntu 'Focal Fossa' Homes In on Enterprise Security

By Jack M. Germain LinuxInsider ECT News Network
Apr 23, 2020 1:24 PM PT
focal fossa canonical's latest long-term support Ubuntu release focuses heavily on security

Canonical, the parent company of Ubuntu, on Thursday announced the general availability of Ubuntu 20.04 LTS, codenamed "Focal Fossa." This major upgrade places particular emphasis on security and performance.

Released once every two years, the new long-term support version provides a platform for enterprise IT infrastructures and workloads across all sectors for five years. Enterprise users can extend that support for up to 10 years with a commercial support plan.

Ubuntu has reached the top of independent rankings of enterprise Linux security, according to Canonical. Ubuntu 20.04 LTS applies Kernel Self Protection measures, ensures control flow integrity, and adds stack-clash protection for systemic forward-looking enterprise security.

Ubuntu 20.04 LTS includes Secure Boot to protect against low-level attacks and rootkits, often employed by Advanced Persistent Threat groups. This feature limits attack proliferation or blast radius with strict snap confinement of key exposed applications on the desktop and server, such as the local Kubernetes package MicroK8s.

To mitigate social engineering attacks, Ubuntu 20.04 LTS introduces Fast ID Online (FIDO) for universal multifactor and passwordless authentication. The new Ubuntu release also includes WireGuard, a new, simplified Virtual Private Network (VPN) with modern cryptography defaults.

In Ubuntu 20.04 LTS, WireGuard is built in at the kernel level. It will be backported to Ubuntu 18.04 LTS to support widespread enterprise adoption, according to Mark Shuttleworth, CEO of Canonical.

"Accelerating open source globally is our mission. Ubuntu 20.04 LTS is the new state-of-the-art open source platform for the enterprise and the entrepreneur," he said. "We bring together thousands of contributors and the world's largest technology companies to make Ubuntu 20.04 LTS the standard reference platform for secure cloud and edge compute."

Year in Review

Ubuntu 20.04's release comes on the heals of a significant pathway for Canonical, Shuttleworth noted during a conference call earlier this week. It has been a very big year for Canonical and Ubuntu.

"It is the year where Ubuntu became commercially self-sustaining," he said.

"Two years ago the company shifted to a commercial focus. Despite that shift, our community continues to grow and diversify. Two new flavors have been added to this 20.04 release, inspired by open source work and the passion of open source community members both upstream and in Ubuntu," Shuttleworth noted.

The teleconference reflected a sharp change in business conditions since Ubuntu 18.04 LTS was released. Shuttleworth and other participants joined the call from their separate locations, many at home, rather than sharing the same stage before a live audience.

The Ubuntu 20.04 LTS release is the result of ongoing developmental partnerships across the technology and cloud sectors with numerous technology companies, and it represents a change in Ubuntu, Shuttleworth said.

Key Platform for Public clouds

Ubuntu is a majority leader in public cloud. The team has focused on bringing improvements and features specifically oriented to that workload class, according to Stephan Fabel, director of product at Canonical.

Data center, private and public cloud, and analytics are some of the most exciting use cases for the 20.04 release. They will remain a focus of central growth for Canonical, he noted.

Ubuntu continues to be the operating system of most public cloud workloads. Canonical recently launched Ubuntu Pro on public clouds, which broadens Ubuntu security maintenance to cover every single package in Ubuntu for a full 10 years, Fabel said, adding that Ubuntu Pro also includes FIPS and Common Criteria EAL to meet FedRAMP, PCI, HIPAA and ISO compliance requirements.

"We've partnered with the Canonical team to think of new ways to solve the security challenges of tomorrow and are excited that Ubuntu 20.04 LTS is now available," said Nelly Porter, lead product manager at Google Cloud.

"In Google Cloud, Shielded VM hardening is enabled by-default on Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, 18.04 LTS, and now on 20.04 LTS -- and at no additional cost," she added.

Canonical will partner with other technology outlets to advance the development of edge computing, which has experienced unprecedented growth in the last two years, Fabel said.

Microsoft and Ubuntu

The new Windows Subsystem for Linux v2 in Windows 10 enables deep and direct integration of Ubuntu in Windows desktops and servers. WSL2 is used for cross-platform development and for sophisticated blended Windows/Linux production capabilities, according to Canonical.

Ubuntu has become the platform of choice for Linux workstations. Canonical certifies multiple Dell, HP and Lenovo workstations, and supports enterprise developer desktops.

Machine learning and AI tools from a range of vendors are available immediately for Ubuntu 20.04 LTS, along with 6,000 applications in the Snapcraft Linux App Store, including Slack, Skype, Plex, Spotify, the entire JetBrains portfolio, and Visual Studio Code.

"As to the significance of WSL, it is another place for Ubuntu to be," Shuttleworth said.

Ubuntu is widely deployed as a Kubernetes host in public cloud and private infrastructure. It also is used widely for containerized operations in mainframe environments.

Ubuntu Desktop

Canonical's presentation on the Ubuntu 20.04 LTS release focused largely on the growing commercial products and services related to Ubuntu's server and cloud performance. Little was said about the Ubuntu desktop.

Still, "the Ubuntu desktop remains central to Canonical's mission," said Fabel. "The 20.04 release addresses the needs of enterprise customers and consumers. Ubuntu 20.04 is our best desktop ever, and there is growing demand for Ubuntu workstations in the market."

Ubuntu 20.04 LTS Focal Fossa
Ubuntu 20.04 LTS 'Focal Fossa' delivers a substantial set of desktop improvements.

Ubuntu is one of the most popular choices for developers. Canonical has seen growing engagement around machine learning technology, scientific research and containerization. The company also has seen steady growth over the last two years in financial, media, games and telco sections involving the use of Ubuntu, Fabel noted.

Ubuntu 20.04 LTS delivers a substantial set of desktop improvements affecting nearly every aspect of the OS. Users will find marked advancements in boot speed, application appearance and bundled software.

Ubuntu's Focal Point

Focal Fossa suggests much about the new Ubuntu upgrade for desktop users, both personal and business. "Focal" is meant to suggest "most important part," while "Fossa" refers to a cat-like predator native to the island of Madagascar.

Ubuntu 20.04 LTS features include usability and user interface refinements. Updates extend throughout the whole system. Ubuntu 20.04 LTS ships the Linux 5.4 kernel release for improved hardware support. Ubuntu developers enabled support for integration with Livepatch for reboot-free kernel updates.

The default kernel and initramfs compression algorithm has changed to lz4 to deliver much faster boot times. The boot screen shows the OEM logo on the boot splash in an effort to deliver a flicker-free boot experience.

Other features and/or changes:

  • Dark theme
  • Fractional scaling setting
  • GNOME 3.36
  • Redesigned login screen
  • New lock screen
  • Snap-based Ubuntu Software app
  • Improved GNOME Shell performance
  • Refined ZFS install support
  • Game mode added to the archives

Sustainability No Issue

Perhaps as an effort to hype Canonical's image as a prime computing product for the enterprise and beyond, Shuttleworth briefly referenced the durability of the Ubuntu OS during the conference call.

Ubuntu is beyond sustainability concerns, he declared.

"The product will live on if I were to meet my maker tomorrow," said Shuttleworth. "Customers haven't asked me about sustainability in years."

Ubuntu 20.04 LTS is available for download here and on major public clouds.


Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software. Email Jack.


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