Canonical – Ubuntu 10.10 review

latest version of open source Linux distro
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Released at ten past ten on the 10th October 2010 (all the tens – get it?), Ubuntu 10.10 is the latest version of the popular Linux distro to hit the streets. If you were expecting a slew of new features and functionality, however, disappointment beckons. New features there are, but the expected headliners didn’t quite make it. Indeed, Ubuntu 10.10, or Maverick Meerkat as it’s known, is more about polishing the big changes of the last release, Ubuntu 10.04 (Lucid Lynx), than adding much that’s new.

Existing users will, inevitably, notice a few changes, the first being the updated graphical installer. This we found a lot slicker and friendlier, allowing both updates and non-open source software such as multimedia codecs to be included in the process. The slideshow accompanying the install has also been tweaked, giving new users and upgraders alike a good idea of what they’re in for while they wait for the install to finish.

Once loaded, however, it’s not that different. As with 10.04 the colour scheme is a muted purple (Ubuntu calls the theme Ambience), plus there’s a new set of wallpapers and a new default typeface called, unsurprisingly, Ubuntu, but you don’t really notice it. Other than that, however, we found just minor tweaks to the GUI and odd changes to icons and menus here and there.

More importantly, the expected move to Gnome 3.0 isn’t there, just an update to Gnome 2.32, presumably to meet the 10th October deadline, and down to Gnome rather than the Ubuntu developers. Disappointing for some, perhaps, but not a major issue, with Gnome 3.0 now expected in the next version – Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal) – expected in Spring 2011. The KDE version is also updated, using the latest release of this alternative and less popular desktop environment.

The Ubuntu Software Center – the tool for browsing, installing and removing software – gets quite an extensive makeover. Among the tweaks, a new “History” tab lets you see what’s been installed or removed while new “featured” and “what’s new” sections have also been added. Software descriptions have been enhanced too and facilities included to purchase and install commercial applications. Something to be expected in the era of the online app store, but a move that could give some open source purists cause for concern.

Support for Ubuntu One, the so-called personal cloud storage service, is further enhanced and more closely integrated into the OS in 10.10, making it a lot easier to synchronize photos, files, contacts and browser favourites. Additional capacity can also be purchased, adding to the 2GB provided free to every Ubuntu user, at a cost of $2.99/month or $29.99/year for each block of 20GB. Plus there’s an all new Ubuntu One Mobile option ($3.99/month with the first 30 days free) enabling users to stream music files from the cloud to their iPhone or Android powered mobile device. Contacts can also be synced to mobiles and syncing photos will be added shortly.

As well as the client in Ubuntu itself, Web access to Ubuntu One files is included for free, enabling us to upload and share files from Windows systems, plus there’s an integrated store through which music can be purchased, just like Apple’s iTunes. A native Windows client is currently in beta, while outside Ubuntu One there’s enhanced support also for booting Ubuntu systems from cloud-based images.

Other changes in this release include support for multi-touch screens and gestures, plus an enhanced Netbook implementation with a cut-down interface to make it more friendly towards small displays. This now uses the Unity software by default, which we found still a little buggy in places so netbook users may want to wait until the next release before updating.

Elsewhere 3.2.1 is installed as a matter of course, the Shotwell utility replaces F-Spot as the photo tool of choice and the sound indicator gets new music player controls. The OS also boots a lot faster than before, with sub-15 second start-ups in some of our tests. We didn’t notice any other improvement in performance, but some users reckon it’s more responsive too.

Available for both 32-bit and 64-bit hardware, Ubuntu 10.10 can be had for server as well as desktop and Netbook deployment. A CD/DVD version is available if wanted but, otherwise, it’s free to download and use, and if running a previous version, the install program will perform an in-place upgrade preserving desktop preferences and other settings.

Support is available from development sponsors Canonical for 18 months, although Ubuntu 10.10 isn’t a Long Term Support (LTS) release and those concerned about such things may prefer to hold off until 11.04 becomes available, as that will be an LTS product.

Company: Canonical

Contact: 020 7630 2400

The thirteenth iteration of the popular Linux distro, Ubuntu 10.10 is mainly concerned with buffing and polishing the additions of the last release rather than adding much that's new. The install program is a bit easier, the interface a little slicker, and the software centre updated to embrace commercial apps. Support for the online Ubuntu One storage service is also enhanced with mobile streaming of music to mobiles a new option. The Netbook version gets tweaked too, but other than that it's business as usual, making Ubuntu 10.10 a useful point upgrade even though not a Long Term Support (LTS) release.