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Ubuntu 13.10 Released – But Is It An Essential Upgrade?

Ubuntu 13.10 Apps

It’s release day for Ubuntu 13.10. After 6 long months in development the ‘Saucy Salamander’ is finally available to download.

With a growing user base of some 20 million plus, every update to Ubuntu, no matter how trivial it turns out to be, commands attention. This release is no exception.

But is it an essential upgrade?

Read on for our verdict, or hit the button below to grab a copy and find out for yourself.

Download Ubuntu 13.10

“Ubuntu 13.10 Is Boring” – The Internet

I’ve seen many people – tech journalists, bloggers and arm-chair critics alike – describe Ubuntu 13.10 as a ‘boring’ release.

While it’s true that the Saucy Salamander brings fewer new features to the desktop than previous releases have, there are definite improvements and changes to be found – it’s just that most of them are relatively minor.

Emphasis on ‘most‘.

A Dash Full of Things

Smart Scopes in Ubuntu 13.10

How much of this is actually useful?

Unity’s new Smart Scopes feature is the big draw of this release. It super-charges the Dash with semantic intelligence, drawing together information from a wide range of online sources for every search you make.

Amazon, eBay, Etsy, Wikipedia, Weather Channel, SoundCloud – over 50 web services are queried.

‘…unintelligible, irrelevant mess.’

On paper the feature sounds helpful: with the tap of a key you can bypass your browser and find whatever it is you’re looking for, wherever it may be, right from the desktop.

In practice it’s less of a help and more of a hindrance. With so many web services offering results for a search term – however innocuous it might be – the Dash ends up resembling a wall painted in unintelligible, irrelevant mess.

‘In its current form the feature fails to trump the browser experience.’

There is an attempt at bring order to this chaos. Results are ‘grouped’ by theme, e.g. Shopping, Music, Video. The Results Filter also helps give some control over the flood of info.

But, quite honestly, in its current form the feature fails to trump the browser experience. Google is smarter at knowing what it is I’m trying to find, and presents results in a format that is, visually, easier to browse and filter.

Ubuntu developers say that results will become more relevant as the service ‘learns’ from users, so there is hope.

Turn Scopes Off

Disable a Smart Scope in Unity

Each Scope can be turned off individually

Switching the ‘Smart Scopes’ feature off entirely is simple enough, though my tip would be to individually disable the Scopes returning results of no relevance to you. That way you can continue using the feature, but filter out the noise.

The Ubuntu 13.10 Desktop

Indicator Keyboard

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Whether you need it or not, a new ‘Keyboard Indicator’ has been added to Ubuntu to make switching between multiple input languages easier.

To turn off the applet head to Text Entry Settings and uncheck the box next to ‘Show Current Input Source in Menu Bar’.

Ubuntu One Login

A login/sign-up page for Ubuntu One has been added to the Ubuntu installer, saving the need to configure accounts after installation.

Performance

With Unity 7 now sticking around for a lot longer than originally planned (it’ll be default in 14.04 LTS, due in April) some much needed maintenance has gone on.

While I haven’t run any benchmarks myself, those who have done so note there are notable performance gains arriving with this release.

The Unity Dash is especially responsive, while Compiz leaves less weight on system resources.

Applications

Although the Ubuntu Software Center is on hand for all your application needs, the latest versions of Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice and Shotwell come pre-installed out of the box.

The Ubuntu repositories are also stocked with newer versions of other popular apps, like the Geary mail client and popular image editor GIMP.

Finally, GTK3 apps now look better under Ubuntu’s default theme. 

Summary

A solid, reliable release – more of a footnote than the start of a new chapter

Ubuntu 13.10 is a solid, reliable release that cements its position as the ‘go to’ Linux distro for new users and seasoned pros alike.

At face value this release does seem like more of a footnote in Ubuntu’s history than the start of a whole new chapter. A handful of small, iterative changes, including a more performant Unity desktop, certainly make it a worthwhile upgrade – but far from an essential one.