The upcoming Ubuntu 21.10 release features a number of visual changes big and small, and in this post I run through the most notable ones.

One change you probably know about: Ubuntu 21.10 uses the Yaru light theme by default. The ‘mixed’ version of the Yaru theme (dark headers but light control) has been jettisoned and is no longer available. Ubuntu’s Appearance settings pane is updated to reflect the change accordingly:

Appearance settings in Ubuntu 21.10
Appearance settings in Ubuntu 21.10

Notice anything else different about the screenshot above?

I won’t be surprised if you don’t as it’s a very subtle change. But, the selected row styling no longer has a little orange bar at the start of it. Here’s a comparison pic of Yaru GTK before and after today’s update:

screenshot comparison of the Yaru gtk theme
Orange bar in selected row removed

GNOME 40 looks much more at home in Ubuntu 21.10 now when first arrived, thanks to a combination of GNOME Shell and Yaru theme tweaks.

Firstly, the top bar no longer disappears when you enter the overview or the app launcher. This stops the Ubuntu Dock from looking oddly blunt at the top, as it had done I the daily and beta builds. Drag the slider in the comparison image below to see the changes pop into view:

You’ll also notice that workspaces in the overview now have drop-shadows (as do the workspace thumbnails in the app launcher, which you can see a few paragraphs down).

Upstream GNOME 40 uses drop shadows by default and it really helps to lift workspaces off the background (and thus imply they’re not part of the background, i.e. static and non-interactive).

The Ubuntu Dock is also semi-transparent in the overview. Ubuntu’s handling of horizontal workspaces mean workspaces slide underneath the dock when paged. This is a subtle visual reminder that what’s beneath remains accessible.

a screenshot of the app launcher and workspace thumbnails in ubuntu 21.10 impish indri
new icons and more drop shadows

The especially eagle-eyed amongst you might spot a couple of updated icon in the screenshot above. For example, the windows within the ‘Startup Applications‘ app icon now have header bars, while the ‘Characters‘ icon has a more consistent colour palette. There’s also brand new icon for one of the included games — but I’ll let you spot which!

An icon change that didn’t make it in to Ubuntu 21.10 (it arrived after UI freeze, when screenshots had been taken for the installer, etc) is a new icon for Nautilus. Yaru devs plan on switching the icon’s chief motif from a folder to a cabinet drawer-based file manager. This is a change I’ve personally wanted to see for a while, and it is more in keeping with the upstream icon for the file manager.

Ubuntu's new nautilus icon in the Yaru theme
This change DIDN’T make it in

An updated version of the Desktop Icons NG extension ships by default. Among a raft of miscellaneous changes (like a more descriptive settings label) the update intros a new “highlight” style for selected shortcuts. The orange accent now wraps around the shortcut icon and it label, rather than parking an orange box all the way around it:

Various Desktop Icons NG tweaks

Fittingly, we end on the lock screen and the login/user selection screen. The changes here aren’t easy to spot unless you’re intimately familiar with it but they bring consistency to the look of buttons and input fields, giving them outlines and focus rings (when highlighted) — a small, but important tweak:

highlight rings on buttons

A few miscellaneous items including a less-janky boot screen spinner animation, improved toggle switches in the GNOME Shell theme, and (notably) Yaru now has Xfce support.

That’s pretty much all the main changes I’ve spotted. There are plenty of bug fixes throughout the Yaru GTK, GNOME Shell, and icon themes too, so if there’s an issue irking you, have hope that it has been ironed out.

Let me know what you think of the changes down in the comments.

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