Ubuntu 10.04 is due out today, and there are quite a few improvements in "Lucid Lynx", a long-term support release. What's worth checking out, beyond the geeky guts? A pretty nifty social manager, a great music store, faster boot-ups and more.
We took a look at what was new in the Lucid Lynx beta just over a month ago, and some of those features — the Mac-style, left-side window buttons, the default theme — are debatable bits of style, which can be easily changed (including the buttons). Having actually used Ubuntu for work and play, on and off for about a month, here's what sticks out about it, from a user's perspective.
The Music Store and Ubuntu One Syncing
I gave Ubuntu One, the free, 2GB cloud syncing service included with every Ubuntu desktop, a hard time when it first launched. It was, I thought, basically a Dropbox clone that only worked on Ubuntu. With the inclusion of the Ubuntu One music store, a DRM-free MP3 market with a surprisingly robust artist roster, and an early version of contact syncing, Ubuntu One makes a lot more sense. When you buy music from the store, it's automatically synced into your Ubuntu One space, and can then be downloaded onto at least three other computers that aren't running Ubuntu One. Your contacts on mobile devices, and from email desktop clients, should theoretically be hooked together too, and Ubuntu One looks a lot more like a Dropbox clone that makes Ubuntu work better.
Ubuntu is continuing its obsession with improving boot-up times. I didn't notice it on the first, second, or maybe even third start-up of the Ubuntu daily build I've been using for the past week, but now Ubuntu 10.04 starts up at a pretty unbelievable pace, on a 2.0 GHz system with 2GB of physical memory. If Ubuntu wants to start winning hearts and minds among the laptop, netbook, and, heck, tablet communities, super-fast startup is a good goal to have.
Social Apps and the "Me" Menu
If you don't use, and in fact actively dislike, social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr or FriendFeed, you won't much care about Gwibber, a streamlined social network aggregator that's built into Ubuntu 10.04. It's a really nice client, with desktop notifications of replies and messages, and a very elegant view of all your messages at once. But it's just one of many changes made to how Ubuntu handles messages. Your new email, contacts, IM messages (using the default Empathy app), and, yes, tweets arrive through a "Me" menu, latched onto the status bar as a tiny mail icon that turns green when there's new stuff. It fits a certain style of communication — instant notifications of new stuff, but all tucked away for whenever you're ready. Those behaviours can, of course, be tweaked, but it's an interesting offering overall: an operating system that comes with built-in messaging control.
Simplified Default Apps
Ubuntu 10.04 took out the open source Photoshop alternative GIMP, and the very densely-optioned XSane scanner application. In their place, they put in a dead-easy Simple Scan, while allowing those who need more than basic photo manager editing to install GIMP in quick fashion. Smart moves, we'd argue, because GIMP and XSane are tools for those who know exactly what they need, not easy deafults. Replacing Pidgin with Empathy for an instant messenger client was probably a tough call, but given how it integrates with the Me menu, it makes sense.
PiTiVi Video Editor
Ubuntu's new PiTiVi Video Editor doesn't support every video format you've ever heard of, and it's a fairly simple drag-and-drop, cut-and-paste linear video editor. But — it's a video editor, and it can actually stitch together a watchable video of your birthday party (most parties, anyways). This is one of the main things we've always wanted to see in Ubuntu, and it will, hopefully, get better with each release.
What new features or changes are you liking most about Ubuntu 10.04? What do you wish you could change back, or see move forward in the next release? Speak up in the town square of comments.