Open Source

10 best features of Ubuntu 13.10

Jack Wallen lists the 10 features that make Saucy Salamander a more polished Ubuntu distribution.

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Ubuntu 13.10 (aka Saucy Salamander) is about to hit the streets, but not without much controversy and drama following behind in its wake. In fact, never before has their been a distribution release so mired in upset. Beginning with the choice to move away from the Wayland X server to a Ubuntu-specific Mir server to the inclusion of Smart Scopes, Ubuntu 13.10 couldn't catch a break. However, after using the release candidate for a while now, I'm here to say Ubuntu 13.10 enjoys more polish than any current Linux release. Outside of the many bug fixes and updates, I can give you ten reasons to like the latest version.

1. Smart Scopes

One of the biggest issues surrounding Unity lately is Smart Scopes. Think of this feature as an all-encompassing search for your desktop. Open the Dash, enter a search string, and you'll get results from one hundred sources. Search results include: Local disks, UbuntuOne cloud, Amazon, Wikipedia, UbuntuOne Music Store, Youtube, social networking sites, and much, much more. Of course, the big issue with Smart Scopes is that it transmits your search results, which some consider a security issue. For those that don't like it, it can be turned off. For those that do - you'll be amazed at how powerful a search tool can be. Personally, I fall into the latter category and use Smart Scopes every day.

2. Ubuntu One install login

During the installation of Ubuntu 13.10 you are prompted for your UbuntuOne account credentials. Although this doesn't really change much in the end, what it does is streamline the overall installation process - especially for those that already have a UbuntuOne account. For those that don't, they'll be made aware of the service and (hopefully) sign up for one of the most seamless cloud storage services available.

3. Keyboard language selector

If you happen to use different keyboard layouts for different tasks, you are in for a treat. With 13.10 comes a notification button that allows you to quickly switch between those keyboard layouts with a click of the mouse. You can even set up keyboard shortcuts to switch between your different layouts - making use of multiple languages incredibly simple.

4. Compiz performance improvements

Many users of 13.04 and earlier iterations found the performance steadily improving, but still lacked a certain zip to the opening of the Dash and other interactions with the desktop. With Saucy, the improvement of Compiz is noticeable. The speed at which the Dash opens is definitely a step forward in bringing Unity in line with the faster desktops on the market. With these improvements, the desktop no longer feels sluggish on any front, nor does it have any of the holdover flakiness of previous releases. Some of these improvements are a combination of Unity and Compiz - but much of the performance is thanks to Compiz updates.

5. In Dash payments

If you're looking for the means to quickly purchase items from various online retailers, Ubuntu 13.10 brings to you In Dash payments. Open up the Dash, search for an item, right-click the item, and click Buy. Clicking the Buy button will then launch the default web browser to that item's web page where you can purchase the item. What is nice about this is it will allow you to do a bit of price comparison - when, for example, a multi-media download will show up in Amazon and UbuntuOne Music store. Pick the right price and purchase.

6. Kernel 3.11

There are tons of tweaks to the new kernel that focus on performance. One of the major changes is zwap, which alters the way swap space is used. According to the zwap documentation: "...zswap basically trades CPU cycles for potentially reduced swap I/O. This trade-off can also result in a significant performance improvement if reads from the compressed cache are faster than reads from a swap device." Also included in the new kernel you will find: AMD DPM support, low latency network polling, KVM/Xen (for 64 bit ARM) support, better AMD Radeon support, and much more.

7. Radeon UVD support

Out of the box, Ubuntu 13.10 should include support for Radeon UVD (Unified Video Decoder - which deals with hardware decoding of H.264 and VC-1 video codecs). Prior to this, a number of tricks and hackery was necessary to get this system working. Not so with Ubuntu 13.10. Although much of this support is due to the kernel, Saucy Salamander should go a long way to making this much easier to deal with than previous iterations.

8. LibreOffice 4.12

The flagship open source office suite continues to get better and better with every release. With this release of LibreOffice, all of the new features that arrived in 4.1 finally have that polished look and feel they've desperately needed. One of the biggest improvements is the menu system. If you don't use the HUD (which you should), you will find the standard menus to respond far better than with 13.04 using LibreOffice 4.1. This improvement alone makes the upgrade worth your time (especially if you are a LibreOffice power user).

9. Easier server connection with Nautilus

One of the things I like about Nautilus is the ability to hit Ctl-L and enter the address of an SMB share on a network. Now there is a simple icon (in the left nav) that allows you click and then enter the address of the server. Although you still have to enter "smb://" followed by the IP address, it's still more intuitive than before. I do wish this would remove the need for adding the "smb://" in order to get into the share. It would be far more user-friendly if all you had to do is click "Connect to server" and then enter the IP addy of the share address. But that's picking at nits.

10. Back to Xorg

Ah the controversy hits a bit of a bump in the road. It was thought that 13.10 would be the first release with the new X server, Xmir. That is not the case. A few nasty issues raised their head (in particular was mult-monitor problems) and so the developers decided to hold off defaulting to Xmir. Personally, I think this was the right call. 13.10 doesn't need the added weight of a new X server. I believe Xmir shouldn't arrive until 14.04 - when it's ready for prime time and not before.

Ubuntu 13.10 should have fans of the distribution excited. But it's not just fans that should pay attention to what Canonical is doing with Ubuntu. Users fed up with the Microsoft platform should take note - Ubuntu Saucy Salamander is polished and easy enough for the average user to enjoy a robust and reliable desktop experience. Hopefully these ten features will pique your interest enough to get you to jump on board.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

19 comments
laMudri
laMudri

About #3, I think it's one of the worst changes. There was a keyboard layout selector before, and the default shortcut to change layouts was Shift+Alt. The new one doesn't allow that (and the shortcut, like that for the terminal, never works), and doesn't work properly just after login. It says I'm using En_1: (UK, Colemak), but I actually appear to be using some QWERTY variant. I have to switch out of En_1 (by mouse; the shortcut doesn't work) and back in before I can type. Also, my Lojban layout seems impossible to re-add after the upgrade.

jsargent
jsargent

Upgraded on 28/10/2013 to 13.10. I know it's EPSON's fault but it's a shame I still can't print on my EPSON BW305 though WIFI. If there was better support for printers then I would never need to open MS Windows. At least they have fixed the NTFS drivers and now I can see my Windows8 partition. I have noticed that there is always a something getting easier with each version. LibreOffice also seems to be working better and seems to run quicker.

linux_customer
linux_customer

I wonder when linucity.com will have the 13.10 customized with their systems.  Can't wait for the treat.

greggwon
greggwon

Linux is still, really, only an option for people that just surf the web.  If you actually use any productivity apps on other platforms, you will find some issues to deal with.  Even LibreOffice is not completely liberating.   In the end, as we watch more and more apps try and move to web based operations so that they can continually charge you for the overhead of that, instead of selling you software at a one time cost to you, it remains to be seen whether Linux can actually end up with a viable desktop environment and application base with finished apps.  There is an awful lot of barely functional software that is never finished in the Linux world.  Lots of developers starting over on particular domains because they don't know what exists, or how to work within a community of existing developers.  Lots of type-A personalities keeping people from working together etc.


Until there is a real 'market', I'm guessing Linux can't actually make significant gains in the desktop market place, except for cases where friends load Linux on friends machines after they die from a virus on windows.   We really do need to figure out how to get rid of that issue, and if we could rid ourselves of Microsoft's disasters tomorrow, it would not be too soon.

347769
347769

For the vast majority of people, moving from Windows 8 to Linux is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire....

Nitramd
Nitramd

I have just replaced a failed hdd for a friends AA1 D260 netbook. Unfortunately she didn't create a recovery image, so rather than the expense & hassle of installing Windows on this 3yr old she accepted the Linux option.

Although this new Ubuntut offers many featues that would suit the type of use a Netbook was designed for, the question is, could its minimal resources handle the much mentioned bloat that Ubuntu has reputed to have gained? To this end I regrtfully decided to go with.Mint as I have with other older slower machines & will continue to do so irrespective of the innovations that Canonical introduce.

enderby!
enderby!

@Adam Blackie There is a crisis - Win 8.  I am trying to convert to mint15 now from years of MS. Might try this distro as well.  Mint is great, but the biggest obstacle is moving my specialty and self written apps to the new OS or coaxing them on Wine.  It will be worth it once done, but it is a little daunting for me in a new environment.  I am dedicated to the move, but the effort required to move or replace pet apps will also affect the decision for even simple WIn users.

Adam Blackie
Adam Blackie

I am a fan, but I am not sure ms users will yet migrate in their droves. However, if there is ever a a crisis with the ms os I think more folks will change platforms to Ubuntu. It really is very easy to use in the latest release.

fairportfan
fairportfan

Most of these "features" are things i consider irrelevant, or downright negative. 

Aaln
Aaln

"Ubuntu 13.10 enjoys more polish than any current Linux release"

Not entirely true. Linux Mint 15 is a tremendously awesome distro, far better than Ubuntu 12.

Nitramd
Nitramd

Where as there are many applications suitable for home use, I agree that there is an absolute dearth of ones suitable for enterprise off the shelf (so bespoke ones do not really count here).

It does not matter how sweet the operating system is, as its the apps that do the work.

At least there is some light at the tunnel in the form of Steam, maybe that might raise the market share of the desktop to the critical mass needed to be included in major software releases.

mjc5
mjc5

@greggwon  wrote: "Linux is still, really, only an option for people that just surf the web."

Because the only applications that people use are Microsoft Office? That's sort of provincial.

I absolutely hate Ubuntu since they changed their interface around. But that's okay, because I just moved to Linux Mint. Nice GUI. But I digress.

Just as an example, I'm running an Amateur Radio Application on it at this moment, This application allows me multiple different communication modes, and logs and looks up contacts such as I make. It controls my radio, really quite a sophisticated and polished program, one that is contiinually updated.  Only thing that is "surfing" on it is the lookup function reports to a web page. I've installed LibreOffice on my Linux machine, my Mac, and my one remaining PC. So much for websurfing only.

But in the end, I could care less about the popularity of the OS - I use whatever happens to work for me.  on whatever platform. And despite your protestations about Linux's uslessness, I do many things with it, and so do others.


PreachJohn
PreachJohn

@fairportfan Same question to you. I'm interested. Give me an example of what you are talking about. Both of you may have excellent points, but what are they? I was thinking of moving to Mageia, but now Linux Mint 15 is being touted. But again, why? Relative to Ubuntu 13.10, and even Mageia, if you know.

Aaln
Aaln

I meant to finish with... It is yet to be seen if Ubuntu 13 can catch up with Mint.

greggwon
greggwon

@mjc5 @greggwon 73 mjc5, everyone has there own experiences and needs.  I started with Linux back in the early days, more than 20 years ago now.  I've seen it change dramatically, yet, the platform has floundered because of "hobbyist" kinds of development of applications.  The Java platform should now be, the most popular software development platform for desktop apps.  Yet, we still see inexperienced software "programmers" using languages such as python, that while usable, have really poor chances of delivering a great application development environment.

I've done driver development for ethernet drivers way back in the early days.  I've written stacks of C-language code on Unix before Linux existed.  I've had a large exposure to lots of different things about Linux.  What I see, is just a great operating system that simply has no chance to succeed on the desktop.  We could also have lots of discussion about the impact of the GNU licensing on participation of qualified software companies on Linux.  I feel it's the most predominate reason why the desktop environment is not attractive.  Lawyers and manager that I've been around from time to time, are just paranoid about the licensing "lock in" that they perceive will suck the life out of their software if they build/port for Linux.  

 When you look at the overall strategy of the Linux community, it's always JUST about the OS, the drivers, and the X-11 window manager.   Very few "community" focus happens around finding applications which might be valuable to the community, and then advertising and promoting them, as well as getting developers involved in making them better.

Look at the recent announcement of the City of Munich moving away from Windows, to a derivative of Ubuntu.  They had to find developers to pay to make Open Office start to work for them, and then they are now switching to LibreOffice, and still will probably need development there.  They can't find the "powerful" tools, in terms of integration, that are available in other production desktop environments.  

Its all of those details, the hard stuff, that is broad in scope, that isn't easy to do.  There is not focus on it for Linux, and there's just a lot of pain in trying to talk to any open source developer about custom changes for your specific application.  The answer is almost always, "Do it yourself and contribute to the project."  That's fine for one developer to say to another.  But, for people who are just users, they have no hope of making such contributions.  That means, that they will skip to whatever platform/software system/operating system that they can find, that solves their problems.

Since Linux doesn't solve a wide breadth of problems that give it critical mass to start with, it's almost always going to work out that people will pick something else, beside Linux, for their desktop environment.

Web based applications are working fine in most Linux ported browsers.  But, that's not what people need, in general.  They need all the other apps that make computers useful to be available.

lehnerus2000
lehnerus2000

@PreachJohn @fairportfan  

Deleted (double post)

PreachJohn
PreachJohn

@Aaln "far better" What significant features distinguish from Ubuntu for example? Don't carrot dangle.

mjc5
mjc5

@PreachJohn @Aaln "Don't carrot dangle."

Mainly the GUI is a lot easier to navigate in Mint. I was never able to easily get around in Ubuntu after they changed the interface. If you click on the menu, you get an application screen, kind of similar to the old Windows Apps, but arranged a little differently.

The lefthand side has major groups, like Office, Graphics, Accessories, etc. Hover the mouse, and the programs within that group show up. 

Getting you into your program is quick and painless, the only way I could get that  in Ubuntu was installing Docky which is like the docks on a Mac. So far, getting to the programs in Mint has been so easy and quick, I haven't felt the need for a dock.

I've only had one hardware issue, and it was a real flukey thing. I need a USB to Serial conversion in some of my Apps. Turns out in Mint you need to give the USB port special permission to run the dongle. Oddly enough, that's th eonly case. as I use an outboard sound card, and Mint just uses that without any fussing around.

Give Mint a try, I think you'll like the GUI