All platforms: You want change? Ubuntu 10.04, the next long-term release of the free operating system, is full of change. Window buttons are on the left, default apps are replaced, the theme is new and many more upgrades are worth exploring.
Click any of the images in this post for a larger view.
One of the first things any user will notice in the pic above, whether new to Ubuntu or a veteran Linux user, is the button layout. Ubuntu 10.04, also known as "Lucid Lynx", has opted for a left-side, Mac-style lineup of maximise/restore, minimise and close buttons, but switched around the order, so that the close/kill button is the right-most button on a left-hand button panel. That is certainly new, and will take some getting used to. An alpha-testing friend of mine said it took "a few hours" over one or two days to start using the buttons without thinking too much about it, but he still occasionally catches himself mousing toward the wrong side of a window. Time will tell whether this was a smart long-term move for Ubuntu.
There's also a new purple/dark grey theme that's seen the usual "It's elegant"/"It's awful" debate around the net. I haven't used the beta enough to render a real verdict, but it was definitely time to try something new.
As predicted, Ubuntu 10.04 will have a built-in music store that ties together with the free 2GB of Ubuntu One cloud storage given to each user. Ubuntu One's music store is built into the Rhythmbox music player, and once you try to access it, Ubuntu will install the proper MP3 codecs so you can, you know, play MP3s. Alas, I didn't get very far with my own installation, but it does look like a nice alternative to buying songs manually through Amazon and processing them through Rhythmbox.
Ubuntu One itself is integrated into the operating system and logs in automatically when you sign into your account, after first setting up your credentials. The Ubuntu One folder that automatically syncs whatever you drop in it, just like Dropbox, is stashed in your home folder; why the left-hand location links don't include Ubuntu One by default, I don't know. From your user panel (detailed further down), you can set preferences for how much bandwidth Ubuntu One can use, and control which computers your Ubuntu One account syncs to.
Ubuntu is moving, with each release, toward a more social, net-connected experience built more tightly into the operating system. Clicking on your user name icon in the upper-right corner brings down a user panel that can set your chat status through the Empathy chat client, which connects to Google Talk, AIM, Yahoo Messenger, ICQ and many other protocols. You can also set up "Broadcast" preferences to send out messages through Twitter, Facebook and other short messaging/social network services. And Ubuntu One preferences are controlled through this panel as well.
I've called Simple Scan a big step forward for Ubuntu, as it takes something that previously involved four windows and hundreds of micro-controls and pared it down to what most people need: a "Scan" button, a rotate-and-crop tool and a choice of just a few DPI resolution levels. Simple Scan is a default application in Ubuntu 10.04, along with the PiTiVi video editor, which I haven't had a chance to try out in much depth (I've found OpenShot to be remarkably usable of late).
There's a quick tour through what's new and changed in Ubuntu 10.04, but it's certainly not everything. Ubuntu 10.04 Beta 1 is a free download that can be used as a live CD or installation disc on most hardware.
If you give Ubuntu 10.04 a go as a live CD, virtual machine, or on your hard drive, tell us what's new and exciting and what's just goofy, in the comments. If you're an Ubuntu user who doesn't want the fuss of setting up a test run, consider using TestDrive for a super-simple VirtualBox try-out.
Ubuntu 10.04 LTS [Ubuntu]