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Ubuntu 11.10 Released – See What’s New

After 6 months in the making the latest release of Ubuntu – version 11.10 – is now available to download.

Sporting a retuned Unity interface, new and improved features, and even some new applications Ubuntu 11.10 certainly promises a lot – but does it live up to the hype?

Ubuntu 11.10 – minor, but major

Ubuntu 11.10 builds upon the groundwork laid in Ubuntu 11.04. Whilst there are many changes within Ubuntu 11.10 they are evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

But that’s not a bad thing, for example the Unity interface has matured into a dependable and intuitive work tool; the default application set has been rethought; and the new login screen ‘fits’ the overall style of the Unity desktop. All relatively minor or subtle changes on their own by all add up to a greater cohesive whole.

Canonical’s Jane Silber cites this ‘ease of use and stylishness’ as why Ubuntu is now a global phenomenon, ‘not just for system administrators, developers and expert users’ she says ‘but for a growing community of home users that want a simpler, safer way to use the PC.”

Whilst you’re waiting for your download to finish feel free to cast your eye over the current crop of changes…

Unity Changes

The changes to Unity are apparent from the get go. The Dash is now opened by a launcher icon: -

Ubuntu 11.10 Dash button

The colour of the Dash is derived from the average colour of your desktop wallpaper.

Lenses have been integrated into the Dash itself, and sport many changes including faster loading times, improved results, and new filtering options – all of which make finding your applications and files easier.

Amongst the Lens changes comes the addition of a new ‘Music Lens’. With this one can browse locally available music as well as that available to buy via the Ubuntu One Music Store. Clicking on a track you have, or don’t have, opens up the default music player Banshee,

Looks

The default Ubuntu themes (the dark ‘Ambiance’ and the lighter ‘Radiance’) look all the better from their port to GTK 3.

14 new HQ photo wallpapers are available for you to choose from:

A New login screen

A new login screen called ‘LightDM’ is in use for Ubuntu 11.10. Sleeker, lighter and – lets be honest – far sexier than the previous login screens it’s a minor change, but one that gives a polished impression from the get go.

New Default Apps

Ubuntu comes with the most important of software pre-installed.

Firefox 7 is the default web browser, giving you access to a whole world of add-ons and extensions.

For office-suite needs Ubuntu provides the Microsoft Office compatible LibreOffice suite – word processor, spread sheet and database apps all included.

Mozilla Thunderbird replaces Evolution as the default e-mail application. This is a breeze to set up with web-based e-mail accounts: just enter your details and Thunderbird does the complicated stuff for you. Keep an eye on the launcher icon for unread mails.

Shotwell photo manager gives you intuitive management and basic editing of your photos, as well as supporting uploads to Flickr, Facebook and other social sites.

Special mention goes to Ubuntu’s default social client ‘Gwibber’, which has been totally revamped. Now lighter, more responsive and sporting a slicker interface it’s a joy to use for reading your Tweets or updating your Facebook status.

Backing up is important, so Ubuntu provides the ‘Deja Dup’ backup tool by default. Head to System Settings > Back Up to set up backups of you important files on to a separate hard drive, partition, or even Ubuntu One.

backup tool in Ubuntu 11.10

Banshee music player, with integrated Ubuntu One music store; Totem movie player; and Tomboy notes, with Ubuntu One syncing, are also included out of the box.

Six games are pre-installed, including perennially popular titles like Mines and Mahjong. For more advanced/challenging titles head on into the Ubuntu Software Centre.

On the flip side two applications have been removed: Video editor PiTiVi and advanced package management tool ‘Synaptic’.

Ubuntu Software Centre 5.0

The Ubuntu Software Centre in Ubuntu 11.10 has been completely revamped, with a more intuitive ‘toolbar’ for navigation; an improved layout and new filtering options for more refined searching of software.

Indicators

It’s all change on the Indicator front with the removal of the Me Menu; the addition of a ‘Clear All’ item to the ‘Messaging Menu’; new-look user menu, and a new ‘Power Indicator’ providing quick access to attached devices, session controls and system settings.

Installer Changes

The Ubuntu Installer has been streamlined yet again – now adding in a ‘Wifi’ connection step (if applicable) and the option to take a user account photo via your webcam.

Multi-arch

A new feature to Ubuntu 11.10 is “multiarch” support that allows 64bit Ubuntu users to install 32bit applications and utilities on their systems with no jiggery-pokery needed.

One Conf

OneConf is a new Software Centre feature that helps you keep a list of installed applications in sync across multiple computers. To activate it, open the Ubuntu Software Centre (icon on the Dash) and head to “File > Sync between computers…“.

Performance

So it looks prettier than its predecessor, but does it perform better?

The short answer is yes: the improvements to Unity and Ubuntu as a whole makes for a responsive and nimble desktop. To get the best out of it you’re still going to need fairly recent hardware, but I wouldn’t expect anyone with less than 1GB of RAM and a above-1Ghz processor to worry too much; my netbook is more than capable of handling Oneiric with more than enough oomph.

The downsides to 11.10 are in two areas: -

  • Boot time has increased from Ubuntu 11.04 – but only marginally. Those with SSDs and i7 Quad core processors won’t notice too much of a different, but those on ‘typical’ hardware should expect to wait anywhere between 15 – 25 seconds before the login screen loads. Phoronix have more in-depth details on the performance of Ubuntu 11.10 compared to earlier releases.
  • Battery drain – the kernel used in Ubuntu 11.10 suffers from a ‘power regression’ that sees it suck the juice from your battery or power source quicker than Eric Northman on Sookie Stackhouse’s blood. Not everyone will be affected by this, but see here for more information.