Ubuntu Linux gets released twice a year—once in the spring, once in the fall. The releases are numbered to indicate the month of release. Most spring releases (with the exception of Ubuntu 6.06, also known as Dapper) were released in April (5.04, 7.04, 8.04, 9.04), and all fall releases so far were released in October (4.10, 5.10, 6.10, 7.10, 8.10).
I’ve always been a bigger fan of the April releases than of the October ones. That’s changed with this next release (9.10) nicknamed Karmic Koala. I just installed the beta release (it had gone through six alpha releases previously), and all the standard disclaimers apply, of course (if you install beta, you do so at your own risk, don’t use it on a production machine, you may lose data, blah blah blah. There is no warranty, real or implied.) Nevertheless, I’ve generally found (with few exceptions) that Ubuntu beta releases are more or less stable. I haven’t had anything catastrophic happen with a beta Ubuntu release (your mileage may vary).
And I like this October one. I think Ubuntu is finally heading in the direction Mark Shuttleworth has said for years that it should head in. It’s focusing on usability. It’s focusing on looking better. It’s focusing on hardware compatibility and working out a lot of the little bugs that make a big difference.
With the last release (Jaunty, 9.04), boot time was a little over a minute from the moment I pressed the power button to being actually able to use the system (that’s what I consider boot time, not when you see your desktop). With Karmic (9.10), boot time is only 37 seconds. It’s not the 10 seconds some people have been touting (and, yes, I have a solid state drive, too). Still very impressive.
More importantly, the interface is more responsive. I don’t know how to do actual timing benchmarks. I’m sure the difference is just a matter of milliseconds, but it feels much snappier. There is no lag switching windows or clicking on a button. In Jaunty, there would be a barely noticeable delay in rendering when simply closing a tab in Firefox and having the next tab appear in focus. In Karmic, no delay at all. It’s nearly instantaneous (not as fast as Chromium, but for all intents and purposes fast enough). I’m using a crappy Intel Atom processor, by the way.
Aesthetics is, to a large degree, subjective. Nevertheless, there are certain visual implementations in interfaces that are in vogue in the corporate and consumer computing worlds, and I think Ubuntu is moving in a good direction here. The boot-up is so fast that there isn’t even a loading boot screen (there is in the live CD session, though, and it looks nice). The icons are much cooler-looking. It’s pretty clear, though, that much has been copied from Mac OS X, including the applets for wireless and power management, which now have a simple light-gray iconization instead of pixelated blue bars and complicated graphics that don’t always render well.
One gripe I have is that there is still text displayed during bootup. Granted, if you want text displayed during bootup (some kind of verbose mode), that’s good. The default should have only graphics, though. The Grub boot menu is all text (white text on black background), and then there are little boot messages that scroll by very quickly (visible for only a couple of seconds). I’m hoping that’ll be fixed in Ubuntu 10.04.
Along with the Macification of icons, there is also the simplification/Macification of the interface. System > Administration > Login Window no longer brings up a multi-tabbed preferences window with lots of options. It now has basically two options (autologin or not, show the screen to log in or not). System > Preferences > Sound shows a sound dialogue that looks an almost exact carbon copy of the Mac sound preferences dialogue.
Most importantly, the new Ubuntu Software Center is even easier to use than Add/Remove or Synaptic. It just puts all the options in your face and filters things quickly. You don’t have to mark things for installation and then apply. You just click to install each item, and it does it right away. The progress bar is inline instead of a new pop-up window. It just seems fast.
Jaunty was pretty good at recognizing hardware. There was a little regression, though, that made it so that certain Intel sound chips didn’t work and Alsa had to be recompiled from source… oh, and for my set-up anyway, PulseAudio (the default sound management system) always had to be uninstalled to get sound to work. There was also a bug that had wireless take “forever” (between 30 seconds and a minute) to come back after resume from suspend (or “sleep”).
In Karmic, sound worked with PulseAudio (I just had to change the input from Microphone 1 to Line-In), wireless worked after resume within seconds, and everything else worked, too (no regressions for screen resolution, power management, or hotkey recognition, etc.).
One little bug (which I filed) is that the hardware drivers for Broadcom 4312 install fine during the live CD session, but once you install Karmic, the drivers need to be uninstalled and reinstalled to work, and then only after a reboot. Hoping that gets fixed before final release.
Overall, this is a totally awesome Ubuntu release. If my friends would just stop using iPod Touches and iPhones (or if Apple would play nice with other systems or port iTunes to Linux), then I could actually recommend Linux to people.