The latest Ubuntu release promises to be a perfect 10, but how does it really rate? We check out Ubuntu 10.10 and take a look at what's new, to see if it measures up.
Ubuntu 10.10, aka Maverick Meerkat, is a special release. It helps greatly that Canonical decided to release it on the 10/10/10 last year, doing its best to maximise a marketing opportunity, but is it "the perfect 10" as the Ubuntu home page would have us believe?Installation
Usually there's not much worth mentioning with the installer, which hasn't changed drastically over the years. But in 10.10 there's been a real push to make it simpler and easier, especially when it comes to partitioning. In Maverick the partitioning step hides ancillary partitions and provides a clean, simple view of the main partitions on the drive, along with logos for Ubuntu and Windows to clearly identify them.
Also new is the option to automatically install updates, and whether to enable third-party repositories for closed-source drivers. This is clearly to address the long-standing problem of Ubuntu being unable to do certain tasks out of the box like playback MP3s due to licence restrictions. Here a user must choose to enable this functionality, but at least it's available from the get-go now.
The new partitioning dialog from the installer.The small print
One of the first things you notice after booting into Maverick is the new theme and font. Mostly the font, in fact. At first I found it took a while to get used to, but after a few days I absolutely love it. It's clean, easy to read at all point sizes, and works brilliantly with font smoothing for LCD screens. This more than any other visual change makes Ubuntu look slick and modern.
Complementing the font are updated Ambiance and Radiance themes, which have been further polished and now strengthen the orange elements, which can be seen in menu highlighting. The buttons are still on the left unfortunately, so if you want to restore them to the right you can follow the same steps as covered in previous issues: Press Alt-F2 and fire up 'gconf-editor'. Scroll down to Apps > Metacity > General and change 'button_layout' to ':minimize,maximize,close'. Note the preceding colon ':' is essential.
Other visual improvements include updated icons, a range of new backgrounds, and a new volume control dialog that lets you control Rhythmbox as well. It's a neat addition, and helps to make managing sound a simple affair.Software Centre
One of the more important changes in Maverick is an upgrade for the Software Centre. Aside from a new visual style it now provides better feedback when installing or uninstalling applications; splits up third-party PPAs so you can easily browse and manage software repositories; automatically hides "technical packages" (aka dependency packages, like libraries) from view unless you choose to see them; and displays a history of all installed, updated, or removed programs. Helpfully, it now also displays where in the menu a program can be found. No more installing a program and then wondering where you go to launch it.
The Featured and What's New are one of many new features for the Software Centre.
But these are just the small changes. One of the more useful new features includes an 'Add-ons' category for any packages that can optionally have other programs or tools associated with them, making it very easy, for example, to install a media player and then optionally select for browser-plug-ins for media playback to be installed too. So far I've found many add-ons for programs I regularly use that I didn't know existed.
There's also now two new additions to the front page of the Software Centre: Featured and What's New. These two boxes, as you might expect, showcase some of the programs available and rotate among a selection of regularly updated programs. A great way to find software you may not have heard of before, considering the repositories contain more than 20,000 applications.
Finally there's one slightly controversial change - the addition of a new "For Purchase" category. While some hardcore open-source fans may be against the idea of paying for any Linux-related software, commercial Linux programs exist, and as Linux increases its market share it's going to be an increasingly attractive market for closed-source companies. And if the right tool for the job happens to be a paid product, most Linux users will be happy to pay for it.
It could however be an uphill battle with so much high-quality open-source software available for just about anything you need to do on your PC. As if by example, the only application available at launch time in the For Purchase category was the Fluendo DVD player at US$24.95. There's little reason to buy this however when there are a dozen different DVD players for Linux, all of which do the job just fine. But again it's just the start - if one day you open up this category and see Adobe Photoshop, you can bet there'll be thousands of Linux users with their credit cards at the ready.
An example of the new Add-Ons display for the Software Centre.
About the only thing missing from the Software Centre now are user reviews and ratings. This is something Linux Mint already does with its software manager and it's a brilliant feature to help sort the wheat from the chaff. Reportedly, this functionality is on the cards, so we'll have to wait and see.
In terms of new software, not too much has changed beyond all the usual suspects (OpenOffice, Evolution, Firefox et al) being updated to their latest versions. The exception is a new photo manager called Shotwell that replaces F-Spot. It's very similar in functionality, but from a brief run around does appear to be easier to use and importing photos from an iPhone was a cinch.Unity
Maverick brings with it a new release of the Ubuntu Netbook Edition, which now comes with an interface called Unity and a new input layer for touch. Unity is built using the same tools that go into the Gnome Shell in Gnome 3.0, and so looks and feels similar to it despite being distinct from it. In practice it's designed to maximise screen real estate and makes using Ubuntu on a Netbook or tablet quick and easy. And that's the most interesting part - that Ubuntu now has both touch screen and gestures support makes it not only apt for netbooks, but groomed for tablets too.
The new Unity interface is optimised for small-screen real estate.Cloud
The other major advance with Maverick is a tighter integration of Ubuntu's cloud service called Ubuntu One, with, for example, the ability to directly publish files and folders via Nautilus, so you can literally right-click on a folder and make it available to the world via the cloud.
And while Ubuntu One started primarily as online storage, it now integrates contact syncing, cross-platform syncing (yes, with Windows), the Ubuntu One music store, and an interesting feature that allows you to stream your music collection to smartphones running Android or iOS. Some of these features are paid subscriptions, revealing an interesting way Canonical can generate revenue while providing useful services for Ubuntu users. A perfect 10?
No release is flawless, and Maverick was plagued by a severe CPU usage bug that caused some systems to stall and freeze. Not everyone was affected, and it was fixed a few days after release via updates, but there's always something, it would seem! Beyond this Maverick certainly comes close, and as we'd expect, is a fine follow-up to its predecessor. It's the fastest, most polished, and beautiful Ubuntu release to date. But if it is a perfect 10, how is Canonical going to top it?