Ubuntu 13.10: It just works

Find out why Jack Wallen thinks that Ubuntu 13.10 is a solid, reliable platform that just works. Do you agree?


I've been using Ubuntu for a very long time. I was one of the few in the media who adopted Unity as my primary desktop interface. In fact, I've grown so used to Unity that I have trouble finding any form of efficiency in other desktops. So, naturally, when a new Ubuntu release is about to be unleashed upon the world, I grab a beta and install it.

The hype surrounding the upcoming 13.10 (Saucy Salamander) was fairly significant. Leading this charge was the much-anticipated switch to Xmir. Well, thanks to a few show-stopping issues (such as dual-monitor support), Xmir has been pushed back to 14.04. Is this a big deal? Yes and no. Yes, because Xmir will be a major change to the sub-systems of Ubuntu. No, because Xmir must be faultless when released -- otherwise, the backlash will knock Canonical back so far in the past that they'll have a hard time recovering in the eyes of the Linux community.

Beyond Xmir, the biggest change from .04 to .10 is the much-maligned inclusion of Smart Scopes. What are Smart Scopes? Let me explain it in the simplest terms as possible.

When you open your browser and begin typing a string of characters, you know how that browser will make suggestions for you based on search terms, location, and history? Smart Scopes brings that same functionality to the desktop. I've run some tests on it, and it's pretty incredible. Search for nearly anything, and it will return results based on a number of criteria. Want to know the location of a restaurant in your area? I conducted a search for my favorite Mexican restaurant, Bazos, and an entry appeared in Smart Scopes (Figure A). Click the entry to get the address or open that entry in a web browser to get more information (and even reviews).

Figure A

Figure A
My favorite place to eat listed in Smart Scopes.

I get it, there are people out there suffering from apoplectic fits of terror because Smart Scopes is an invasion of privacy. This is no different than what your web browser is doing. So, unless you constantly run your web browser in Incognito mode, all those search strings are saved and compared anyway. And the truth is, why wouldn't you want your search results based on your preferences and behavior instead of some generic algorithm? Personally, I don't mind my search results being quantified and qualified, so long as it constantly refines the search results based on my needs.

Smart Scopes isn't limited to seeking out search results from the network. You'll be happily searching for anything and everything on your local (or locally attached) drives as well. With this inclusion, Smart Scopes becomes one of the single most powerful search tools available.

Of course, if you don't like Smart Scopes, you can turn them off. Here's how:

  1. Click the Settings launcher
  2. Select Security & Privacy
  3. In the Search tab, turn Include online search results to Off (Figure B)

Figure B

Figure B
It's easy to turn off the Smart Scopes feature.

With all of that said, let's step away from the arguments for or against search privacy and let me explain exactly why Ubuntu 13.10 is the perfect desktop for nearly any user.

The install was fresh from the latest daily build. During the installation, I included third-party software, updates, and was even able to authenticated to my UbuntuOne account. The install was incredibly simple (as most modern Linux distributions are), and at first login, everything was smooth.

What initially struck me about Ubuntu 13.10 is how everything worked out of the box. There was no need to install codecs to listen or view various multi-media files, flash worked, and everything was ready for average, daily computer use. You could work on office documents, set up your email account... you name it. But that has become the standard operating procedure for Ubuntu. 

So, what's different? Honestly, not much. However, what little difference there is should go a long way with the average user. Probably the single most important thing I've found is that a lot of the little quirks and oddities are gone. There are no longer any strange errors that randomly pop up to cause confusion and disdain among new users. Windows don't artifact or stall, the Dash is very responsive (as is Smart Scopes), and the compositing is smooth and effortless against your CPU. Also, the bug is resolved that plagued the Dash when trying to use the arrow keys to navigate through search results.

Ubuntu 13.10 just works

I would go as far to say that Ubuntu has done to the desktop what Apple did with hardware/software -- it developed a clean, solid convergence of pieces to create a cohesive whole. Although that whole has ruffled some feathers, Ubuntu 13.10 should go a long way to smooth them out. How is that possible, considering how many users have turned their back (thanks to the Wayland kerfuffle)? 

Outside of Smart Scopes, there are no major changes. There's little excitement on the desktop -- it's still the same old look and feel. Oh sure, there are tiny tweaks here and there, but overall, 13.10 and 13.04 look the same at first blush. Under the hood? Same thing. You'll find a new kernel (3.11) and a few other tweaks, but nothing to cause the cheerleaders of the world to frustratingly toss their pompoms in the air.

Instead, Ubuntu 13.10 is a refinement of something that was already there and polished. There are no show stopping or curtain call worthy new features --  just countless tweaks here and there that make the whole system run smooth and fast.

The final release of Saucy Salamander is set for October 17, 2013. You can get a copy of the daily build or wait for the release date. Either way, you're going to get a solid, reliable platform that just works.

What are your thoughts about Saucy Salamander? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.