Ubuntu 11.10 is out. Why is that important? It is a .10 release after all. Well, it's important because of one major issue: Unity. When Ubuntu 11.04 first arrived, Unity was a nightmare, seeming to take the Linux desktop (at least on the Ubuntu front) a few steps backward. It was a completely different desktop metaphor that just happened to be buggy and based on dated libraries, and it showed little promise. But with the release of 11.10, things have taken a turn for the improved. Much improved. I thought I would share with you 10 of the bits and pieces that have given Ubuntu a breath of... wait for it... hope.
1: Unity Dash
The Unity Dash is that ubiquitous tool that opens when you click the Ubuntu icon in the top-left corner. It allows you to access applications (ones that aren't on your favorites bar) and files, search, and much more. When Unity first arrived, the Dash was somewhat worthless. It was about as efficient as a Web server without a network connection. But now, the Dash has had a serious facelift, making it work more efficiently and giving it more features (such as new filtering mechanisms). If the progression of the Dash in 11.10 is a sign of things to come, Unity might have some serious firepower in store for end users.
2: Login screen
This isn't a huge deal, but the new login screen for Ubuntu 11.10 is quite nice. Not only have the look and feel been drastically updated, but the ease of use is quite improved. I really like how the users are easily displayed and selected, as well as the improved means of selecting the desktop to be started. No, this isn't a make-or-break enhancement. But it does give Ubuntu a sleek, updated look that is an improvement over its previous login screen.
3: 2D UI
Finally, the 2D version of Unity is complete. So those whose hardware won't support the 3D version of the desktop don't have to turn their back on the latest version of Ubuntu. The 2D version of the desktop will be automatically launched if there is no 3D-supported hardware. So it's not like end users will have to make a choice or install anything specific to their hardware. The good news is that the 2D version has been modeled closely after the 3D version, so 2D users won't be missing too much.
4: Bye-bye Evolution
Ubuntu 11.10 brings to life the replacement of Evolution as the default email client. This has been long overdue, since Evolution has become a fairly bloated hog of an application. The new default is Thunderbird 7.0.1. From my perspective, this is an outstanding move. Although some users might miss the Outlook-like interface of Evolution, the size and scope of the application has finally started to overshadow its usefulness. And besides, Thunderbird is an outstanding client!
5: Gwibber makeover
Finally. Up until now, Gwibber has been a to-be-avoided application. With its tendency to run away with your CPU cycles and memory, as well as its ugly interface and inconsistent updating, Gwibber was just not something I used. Now? I like it. The UI overhaul has made a difference, and the improvement in the performance actually makes this a social networking app worth using. How did they make such drastic improvements so quickly? The developers finally wised up and switched the Python and WebKit-based application interface with a GTK3 and Vala-based interface. Good call.
6: An actual backup tool
Ubuntu 11.10 comes with a default backup tool, the incredibly easy-to-use Deja Dup. It has few bells and whistles, but what it does have is a simple single-click backup and restore. Another nice touch is that the users' default backup destination is their Ubuntu One account. So not only do users get a backup, they get an offsite backup.
7: Software Center
The Ubuntu One Software Center UI has been completely overhauled. Gone is the standard look and feel, replaced by a more Apple App Store look and feel. Although I don't personally find this as an improvement, the average user will see this as much more familiar territory. What is really nice about this change is the ability to filter by ratings (Top Rated being one very handy filter).
Now this is just plain awesome. OneConf is a tool that lets you record software information from Ubuntu One to be synchronized with other computers as needed. At the moment, this does not include application settings and configurations, but it's not out of the realm of possibility.
9: ARM support
That's right, you can now get your Ubuntu on while using an ARM processor. What this means in the near term isn't as significant as what it will mean in the near future: tablet support. Although Canonical is certain that the big deal with ARM will be multicore ARM processor powered servers, I believe the bigger deal is tablets. I can only hope Ubuntu jumps on that bandwagon as quickly as possible. I want my Linux-powered tablet!
10: New Compiz + Unity
Yes, the compositor is Compiz, and the combination is really starting to gel. But what is best about this "unity" is the performance boost 11.10 enjoys. No more will having the compositor running cause the desktop to lag. You will now enjoy an incredibly snappy and robust desktop that works exactly as expected. No more do you feel like Unity and Compiz are at odds with one another.
Ubuntu 11.10 has made significant improvements over 11.04. This, of course, is to be expected. What wasn't expected was making Ubuntu Unity work as well as it does so quickly. Bravo to Canonical and the Ubuntu developers. They have worked some serious magic on a desktop I thought was bound for extinction.
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.