The next major release for front-running Linux distribution Ubuntu hit beta last week, with 11.04 "Natty Narwhal" sporting a new default desktop in Unity.
Forgoing the Desktop Edition/Netbook Edition duality which marked recent versions of the OS, the next major iteration of Ubuntu, 11.04 (aka "Natty Narwhal"), hit beta last week in a new combined edition simply dubbed "Ubuntu", bringing with it Unity as the new default desktop environment
in addition to a number of other new features, which include Firefox 4 as Ubuntu's standard web browser.
By implementing Unity as the standard interface in place of Gnome, Ubuntu risks alienating a number of core users familiar with the former default UI. Unity was previously only utilised for Ubuntu's somewhat niche Netbook Edition; adopting it for the core OS offering represents a gamble for Canonical, but one in which the company can move forward with a unified (ahem) interface for its now singular consumer product.
The Unity interface, seen here in Ubuntu's no-longer-supported Netbook Edition.
Announcing the Natty Narwhal 11.04 beta in a development press release
, Ubuntu's release manager Kate Steward introduced the new interface, saying: "Unity is now the default Ubuntu desktop session. The Unity launcher has many new features, including drag and drop re-ordering of launcher icons, full keyboard navigation support, launcher activation through keyboard shortcuts, right-click context menu quick-list and switching between running applications."
As Canonical's marketing manager Gerry Carr said on the company's blog recently
: "The introduction of the new shell for Ubuntu means that we have a user interface that works equally well whatever the form factor of the PC. And the underlying technology works on a range of architectures including those common in netbook, notebooks, desktops or whatever you choose to run it on. Hence the need for a separate version for netbooks is removed."
The point about form factors is particularly pertinent given Unity includes multi-touch support, which potentially paves the way for Ubuntu to make significant inroads on touchscreen devices. We're not holding our breath for a tablet version of Ubuntu just yet, but the advent of touchscreen PCs alone warrants the feature for the core OS.
In addition to Unity, Natty Narwhal includes Firefox 4.0, LibreOffice 3.3.2, Banshee 1.9.5 and the 2.6.38-7.39 kernel. You can try out the beta for yourself here
, with the final release slated for just a few weeks away (April 28). Or just wait for APC's cover DVD (and save yourself some bandwidth).