On October 29, Canonical is set to release Ubuntu 9.10 (codenamed “Karmic Koala”), the newest installment in the Ubuntu product line. In anticipation of this release, we took the release candidate (RC) for a test drive. Ubuntu 9.10 RC comes on a LiveCD just like its predecessors and allows you to test a fully-functional installation of the operating system without installing it. The boot process looks very different from previous versions, especially since the old progress bar has been replaced with one that just moves from left to right while providing very little useful boot progress information. However, the boot process is still extremely fast compared to many other distros and you always have the option of disabling the boot splash screen if you want to see detailed boot information.
Additionally, the installation process now automatically sets your system time from an online time server and now includes a slideshow to introduce you to the features of Ubuntu as the system installs. And for the first time, Ubuntu now allows you to encrypt your home directory out of the box by providing a new option for it during the setup process.
Ubuntu 9.04 comes with Linux kernel 2.6.31 and GNOME 2.28 . There are lots of other under-the-hood changes that may not be immediately obvious. HAL (hardware extraction layer) is in the process of being deprecated, so this functionality is now handled by DeviceKit and Udev . The Intel graphics driver has been modified to fix some of the reported problems it had in 9.04.
AppArmor security software has been improved, and GRUB 2 is now the default bootloader for new installations. Existing installations will continue to use legacy GRUB since replacing the bootloader is risky business From 9.10 onward, ext4 will be the new default filesystem in new installations instead of ext3. Existing ext3-based installations will remain unchanged if you decide to upgrade from 9.04 since changing the filesystem would require a complete reformat.
Ubuntu 9.10 features significant appearance changes. The login screen has been drastically updated; names of users are now shown in a small box in the middle of the screen that is very similar to the OS X login screen. Those who prefer the old-style login screens will be disappointed to know that there is currently no easy way to replace the new login screen in the RC with themes similar to the ones found in previous versions of Ubuntu.
Ubuntu's standard brown “human” theme has also been modified, giving it a purplish tint and darkening it considerably from the bright pumpkin-orange appearance found in previous releases over the past few years. Ubuntu 9.10 uses new minimalistic icons in the system tray that look much better and are more consistent than the old ones (new icons are also found in the home directory). There are rumors that the default Ubuntu theme is going to get a makeover in 10.04 (the next long-term support release coming out next year) so 9.10 is probably the last version that will use the classic Ubuntu brown theme by default.
Furthermore, Ubuntu 9.10 includes several new utilities. One of the most prominent changes is Palimpsest, the new GNOME disk utility. It allows you to work with your hard disks and partitions in an easy-to-use interface similar to the Disk Utility found in OS X. It seems like GNOME in general is borrowing heavily from OS X these days, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Palimpsest is very powerful and more user-friendly than the Gparted utility which has been standard issue in Ubuntu for a long time.
9.10 also implements Ubuntu One and IBus (Intelligent Input Bus). Ubuntu One is a cloud computing solution from Canonical that offers 2GB of online storage for free and 50GB for US$10 per month. In addition to that, Ubuntu One allows you to synchronize your documents on the online service between one or more computers. Some Linux purists may not like a proprietary utility like Ubuntu One, but using it is entirely optional. IBus is a framework that makes it easier to work with different languages other than English. Ubuntu's old Add/Remove programs tool has been replaced with the Ubuntu Software Center, (previously called Ubuntu Software Store) a tool that splits available software into categories and provides detailed information about each program you may want to install.
In summary, current and prospective Ubuntu users should definitely upgrade to or check out 9.10.