While a good chunk of the tech world was watching the release of Windows 7 recently, there was another release of an operating system that rivaled that of Windows 7; if not for sheer volume then for sheer expectations and excitement. And that was the unveiling of Ubuntu 9.10.
Code named Karmic Koala in Ubuntu's famously alliterative style, this release of the popular Linux distribution focuses heavily on usability. Also beefed up is its hardware support, especially support for wifi cards, network cards, and Intel graphics cards.
But Karmic Koala also packs some very interesting, and very useful enhancements at the user level.
Here Are 5 of the Best...
Ubuntu Software Center
While it's fairly easy to install software in Ubuntu using a tool called Synaptic Package Manager, you need to do a lot of hunting to try to find what you want to install. The Ubuntu Software Center makes doing that a lot easier, especially for newcomers to the world of Ubuntu.
To open the Software Center, click Applications > Ubuntu Software Center. You can find close to 2,200 different pieces of software to install in 12 categories: Accessories, Education, Games, Graphics, Internet, Office, Science, Sound & Video, System Tools, Universal Access, Programming, and Other.
All you need to do is double click one of the categories and then double click an application in the list. You get a brief description of the application and a button labeled Install. When you click Install, you're asked for the root password (required to install software in Linux), and then the Software Center installs the package and any other software on which the application depends.
Ubuntu One Client
A previous TechTip briefly looked at Ubuntu One, the online storage service from Canonical (the folks behind Ubuntu). Version 9.10 of the distribution comes with tighter integration with Ubuntu One.
The desktop client is now a standard piece of software on the Ubuntu desktop. You can start it by selecting Applications > Internet > Ubuntu One. All you need to use it is an account with the Web-based Ubuntu One service. It works the same way as older versions of the client, although seems to run more smoothly now. On top of that, if you're using Tomboy (a note taking application) or Evolution (a mail client) then you can sync your notes and contacts.
At the heart of Ubuntu 9.10 runs version 2.6.31 of the Linux kernel. This is the latest version of the kernel, and offers more security, better startup and shutdown (more on that in a moment), better performance from graphics cards, and improved security. While most of these changes are behind the scenes, they do make for a smoother experience.
The main Ubuntu distribution uses the GNOME desktop as its graphical user interface. Ubuntu 9.10 includes version 2.28 of the desktop. There have been a few cosmetic changes to the desktop, as well as changes under the hood. The interface is cleaner and many of the system icons are a lot more compact – in fact, they're almost Mac like.
All of the default software that comes with the GNOME desktop has been updated as well. Again, there are some new features (like full-screen editing in the default text editor) and some minor tweaks to the look and feel of the applications. Speaking of look and feel, the desktop notifications are smaller and more compact; they don't get in the way in the same way they did in Ubuntu 9.04. Overall, the GNOME desktop is more stable. There's even enhanced support for Bluetooth keyboards, headsets, and and mice.
Faster booting and shutdown
Most Linux distributions start slower than Windows or Mac OS. That's mainly because Linux loads a bunch of drivers and libraries at startup; Windows and Mac OS load them as needed or after startup.
Ubuntu's developers have done quite a bit of work to pare down the amount of time it takes for your system to start up. And it shows. On my laptop computer, about 15 seconds has been shaved off the boot time. Your mileage may vary.
But it's not only the amount of time required to start up that's been decreased. I, and other Ubuntu users I know, have noticed that our lap and desktop computers shut down much faster. I can't give you an exact number (mainly because I usually walk away from my computer when I shut it down), but I've noticed that it does power down within 10 seconds.
Encrypted home directory
Your home directory (for example, /home/scott) is your own personal space in the Linux file system. That's where you store your files and whatnot. If you're installing Ubuntu 9.10 and not just upgrading, you can encrypt your home directory (and the home directories of any users you add during installation). This is done by slapping something called eCryptfs (a secure file system) on top of the home directory.
This feature was available with a couple of previous versions of Ubuntu. However, to use it you needed to do the deed after an installation was complete. And from the command line, too. You can now apply eCryptfs with a graphical interface during installation.
Are you an Ubuntu user? What are some of your favorite features in Karmic Koala? Any frustrations? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.