ubuntu 16.04 lts desktop screenshot

A day later than expected, but the second beta in the Ubuntu 16.04 development cycle is now available to download.

Although this is the second beta release in the Ubuntu 16.04 release schedule it is the first to include the regular version of Ubuntu with the Unity desktop.

Ubuntu 16.04, which many of us know by the codename Xenial Xerus, is set for its stable release on Thursday April 21, 2016.

But you’re not here for a recap of what you already know, are you? So let’s dive into this release to gawk at the shiny new stuff.

Ubuntu 16.04 ‘Xenial Xerus’ Beta 2

If you plan to trial this beta out for yourself you’ll find a download link at the bottom of the article.

But if you haven’t been keeping track of Xenial’s development you’ll need to brace yourself for a big shock¹: not much has changed from Ubuntu 15.10, at least superficially.

There are a couple of new apps to enjoy (and some old ones to miss) and plenty of polish has been applied to the Unity interface.

In fact Unity has never looked or worked as good as it does here.

It would be remiss of us to not mention the headline-grabbing change shipping Ubuntu 16.04, so let’s get it out of the way now:

Yes: Ubuntu 16.04 finally lets you move the Unity launcher to the bottom of the screen — nearly six long years after users first asked. And you have the Ubuntu Kylin team to thank for it for it is they who did the heavy work of hacking Unity to be moveable.

While the ‘option’ to change position is buried deep in the geeky depths of dconf-editor it is the one change that everyone is talking about.

But it’s not the only welcome improvement.

New Apps

software calendar and usb apps on ubuntu 16.04

Two major new apps début in this release: a new desktop calendar app and a brand new software store.

Both bring huge benefits to Ubuntu as a distro, the former plugging a sorely needed gap,  the latter improving on a shoddy predecessor.

The USB Startup Creator tool also receives some overdue love, attention, and (importantly) bug fixes. Having been left almost untouched for several years it’s great to see the tool dusted off. I can finally recommend it make USB sticks with once again!

Unity 7.4

session shortcuts in ubuntu unity 7.4

Ubuntu 16.04 is all about making Unity as rock solid as possible. After all, it is to be supported for five years on the desktop — and its successor is nearing the starting line.

It’s this focus that sees ample fixes, polish and minor usability tweaks targeted at the Unity desktop shell and its Compiz backend.

In Unity 7.4 you’ll find the following notable changes:

  • Search for session shortcuts (restart, shutdown, etc) from the Unity Dash
  • App icons appear in launcher while loading
  • New (hidden) option to move Unity launcher to the bottom of the screen
  • Online searches are disabled by default
  • Option to ‘Always Show’ app menus
  • New scroll bars in Unity Dash
  • Indication of how many external storage/Trash windows are open
  • Workspace switcher launcher item now has a quicklist
  • ‘Format’ option added to removable devices’ unity quicklist
  • External storage on launcher can be opened using Alt+{num}
  • Ubuntu themes now draw (most) CSD windows correctly

In addition the Sound Menu shows a microphone input volume slider when a microphone is connected or present (e.g., on laptops). This replaces the previous behaviour of only showing the input slider when the microphone was in use by an application.

sound menu microphone input

New Default Wallpaper

ubuntu 16.04 wallpaper

There’s a new default wallpaper to gawp at (assuming it’s not the first thing you change!).

There are no new ‘community contributed’ wallpapers to enjoy in this beta but they should arrive in an update shortly. The wallpaper contest held as part of the ‘free culture showcase’ attracted just over 50 entries this cycle.

Linux 4.4

This beta of Xenial ships with Linux kernel 4.4, with the following highlights:

  • Improved Intel Skylake processor support
  • 3D support in the virtual GPU driver
  • New driver for Corsair Vengeance K90
  • Support for TPM 2.0 chips
  • Journaled RAID 5 support

Linux Kernel 4.4 also includes less obvious changes including bug fixes and improvements for various file systems, power efficiency, and memory management.

Want a fuller overview of changes? Check out Kernel Newbies’ rundown of Linux 4.4.

Core Application Updates

A batch of updates to Ubuntu applications are also included. Among them you’ll find:

There are also some new applications included:

  • GNOME Software 3.19
  • GNOME Calendar 3.18
  • Cheese

And several apps have been removed:

  • Brasero
  • Empathy
  • Ubuntu Software Center

Download Ubuntu 16.04 Beta 2

Beta releases of Ubuntu are not for everyone. If you need a stable system, hate bugs and can’t deal with potential package breakages, wait for the stable release next month.

And if you are keen to try it out stick to running it off of a live USB or DVD. Also note that there is a major bug that may cause beta installs to fail on hard-drives which already contain a swap partition.

You can download a fresh desktop image of Ubuntu 16.04 Final Beta from the Ubuntu releases server:

Download Ubuntu 16.04 Beta 2

Download Reviews Unity Xenial Xerus