The first beta version of Ubuntu Linux 12.04 "Precise Pangolin" was launched late last week, giving fans of the free and open source operating system an early glimpse at what to expect in the final release due next month.

In the view of Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth, however, this new Ubuntu version is significant in many more ways than that. In fact, Ubuntu 12.04 LTS is the fruition of Canonical's work over the past three years to make free software "beautiful on the outside too: easy to use, visually pleasing and exciting," Shuttleworth wrote.

Now, Ubuntu 12.04 LTS represents the first time "real desktop user experience innovation is available on a full production-ready enterprise-certified free software platform, free of charge, well before it shows up in Windows or MacOS," Shuttleworth asserted.

HUD, in particular, is Canonical's first step toward "a totally new kind of UI for complex apps," he explained, noting that the new interface is completely optional. "We’re deconstructing the traditional UI... It’s going to be a rich vein of innovation and exploration, and the main beneficiaries will be those who use computers to create amazing things, whether it’s the kernel, or movies."

Also reflected in version 12.04 is additional testing with advanced users, Shuttleworth noted, including those with multiple monitors. In short, Ubuntu 12.04 is a milestone that embodies significant change, he added, and has required that its developers shift from being followers to leading the design of the platform.