Ubuntu’s next release, the Oneiric Ocelot (11.10), will soon be upon us and the first beta for this release is now out! At this point, Oneiric has already gone through three alpha releases and the features and the interface should be, essentially, set in stone (both the feature and the user interface freezes have past). Following the beta release today the focus should shift from the user interface (UI) to polishing up the release, squashing bugs, and improving over all quality (see the overall workitems here!).
So, essentially what we have as of this beta 1 release, is a buggy, unpolished version of what will become the final release of Ubuntu 11.10 (Oneiric Ocelot)! So, if you have a computer you don’t rely on, or if you’re not worried about dealing with the occasional (or even frequent) bugs (and filing the subsequent automated problem reports to help ensure that the final release is as solid as possible!) now is a great time to install or upgrade! To upgrade from an Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal) install simply press Alt+F2 and then type update-manager -d (if the Update Manager fails to come up, or fails to notify you of a new release, try this command from the Terminal).
If you were to upgrade from Natty to Oneiric today you would simply need to keep updating your system until the final release and you will receive all updates, up to, and including, the final release itself! In other words, whether you upgrade today, or tomorrow, or anytime before or after Ubuntu 11.10 is released, you never have to wipe what you currently have and do a fresh install!
sedux and I have both been running Oneiric on testing systems since just after the alpha 3 release, and just last night I went ahead and upgraded my main computer as well. Overall, I have to say, 11.10 is looking to be a swell (albeit not perfect) release!
The new LightDM based login screen looks great and fits much better with the Unity and Unity 2D desktops. Speaking of which, both Unity and Unity 2D are progressing nicely. I’m actually quite fond of Unity 2D, and it should provide a solid option for those that want a snappier desktop environment while still maintaining the same layout and function as the Compiz, OpenGL, and GTK+ 3 based “3D” Unity variant.
The most prominent visual change of Unity in 11.10 is likely the Dash home button (formerly the Ubuntu button, or Home button, or Big Freakin’ Button) being moved onto the Launcher. From my perspective as a guide writer, this should simplify my guides a bit as the previous implementation and naming was a bit too ambiguous. Apart from that, I still don’t like that the application menus are hidden under the window titles at the top and I also wish that the window buttons (close, minimize, maximize) were permanently affixed to the menu bar for a greater degree of consistency as the window titles are often very short and there’s currently just a lot of wasted space on the top menu bar.
Speaking of wasted space, for those of you that miss the ability to monitor the weather from the Gnome Notification Area (now the Status Menus or Indicators), there’s a great little application that brings this functionality back. It’s titled simply (Weather Indicator) and should be the first search result for “weather” from the Ubuntu Software Center. Once it’s installed, search for “weather” again, this time in the Dash, and launch and then configure the Weather Indicator from Status Menus. I’ve grown quite fond of this little application, and may end up doing a (very) minor guide on it!
Getting back to the Unity and interface updates, the direction of change throughout is one of simplification and polishing (a similar change came about during the Ubuntu 9.10 release in preparation for the 10.04 LTS release). One place where I really like this simplification is in the file manager (Nautilus). A lot of the visual noise has been removed, and all that’s left is really all that’s needed. Its application menu bar is moved up to the global menu bar. The back and forward buttons have been moved (along with a Search button) inline with the location bar and all the other buttons are gone. This has created a much tidier look, as well as much more usable space in terms of total window size, and honestly, there’s just nothing I don’t like about these changes!
Another area that sees gross simplification and polishing is the System Settings window and the various system setting applications themselves. For those that are familiar with OS X’s settings screen, the parallels are unmistakeable. The organization and the look is very similar to OS X’s throughout (and this isn’t a bad thing!).
However, where I start to get a bit nervous with these changes is not at the simplification, but at the actual reduction in functionality that some of the current system setting applications in Oneiric have gone through. One example here is that the traditional Desktop Settings application is gone. In its stead is the new Appearance application. This new application allows you to change the theme (via a simple drop down list) and the wallpaper. However, gone is the ability to change or adjust the font options as well as the ability to customize any of the default themes!
This loss may just be a temporary casualty of the overall redesigning of the System Settings, and at least the font size can still be adjusted (now through the Universal Access application), but this was something that made me a bit nervous. With that aside, the various settings through the System Settings are much easier, much more consistent, and much cleaner throughout. I just hope we get some more flexibility back in-time for Ubuntu 12.04.
Some of the other UI changes include an updated and re-organized Ubuntu Software Center, and a fix that allows the XBMC Media Center icon to show up properly on the Launcher! Another minor change is the addition of a gear sub-icon, on the power button, on the top right of the Systems Menus. This should help people find and become familiar with the fact that the System Settings (and other System level controls, such as updates) are now accessible from the same menu as the power functions!
Apart from the UI changes, one of the changes I really like is to the Update Manager’s settings. The previous Automatic Updates settings have been broken out into three drop down lists that allow for a more robust dialing in as to how you prefer your updates to be managed! These changes should allow users to stay in better touch with, and better control of, their system’s updates
Apart from the changes discussed above, the rest of the changes in Ubuntu 11.10 are more or less behind the scenes (like the update to the Linux 3.x Kernel, GTK+ 3, NVIDIA drivers, and other updated packages, libraries, and drivers). Also, as mentioned in my recent Firefox 6 article, Firefox 7 will be the default browser in Ubuntu 11.10 (Oneiric Ocelot) and Thunderbird 7 will make a debut as Ubuntu’s new default email client (in place of Evolution). Even just from Firefox 6, version 7 includes some significant enhancements in terms of reduction of memory usage, and also feels even faster than Firefox 6 did. Thunderbird 7 beta 1 currently has a few annoying bugs that affect typing an email, but overall it should be a solid release once it’s finalized.
Apart from that, you should also be aware that the issue with increased power consumption that came about in the Linux Kernel in Natty Narwhal has not yet been fixed and is still present in Oneiric. Ubuntu’s developers have set a milestone to triage this problem by their beta 2 release. However, whether or not they’re able to accomplish this, we shall see (as it was previously set to be triaged by beta 1!).
That’s about it for the Ubuntu 11.10 (Oneiric Ocelot) beta release. Internally, at Ainer.org, we have been waiting for this release to start updating our guides (and hopefully releasing one or two new ones!). So, if you’re looking to do a fresh install, or want to see our updated recommendations for the various application configurations stay tuned and check back in over the next month or so!