Canonical had huge plans for Ubuntu on everything from desktops to phones. Their ambitions and the way they were approached created bad blood between the company and the wider Linux community, leading to accusations of reinventing the wheel for no good reason and causing further fragmentation in the Linux world.
And now, these plans are dead.
Ubuntu is back to focusing on its core strengths – desktops, servers, and more recently, the cloud (which is really just more servers, but shhh).
For desktop users, this means that Ubuntu will become more in line with most other Linux distributions, with the biggest such change being the return to using the GNOME desktop environment, after using Unity for over 6 years.
New GNOME, familiar Ambiance
With Artful Aardvark, Ubuntu joins many other distributions such as Fedora and Debian in using GNOME as the default desktop environment.
This isn't just your ordinary GNOME session, though. As described by Didier Roche in his "Ubuntu GNOME Shell in Artful" post series, the Ubuntu team has taken various steps to make GNOME more familiar to Unity users. These include:
- System-wide Ambience theme
- A new Ubuntu Dock, based on the Dash to Dock extension (and at long last, you can change where the dock is located!)
- App indicator support, based on the KStatusNotifierItem/AppIndicator Support extension
- Showing minimize-maximize-close buttons by default
- Showing icons on the desktop by default
- Using the Ubuntu font in place of GNOME's Cantarell
- Allowing volume levels above 100%
Since Ubuntu is now attempting to be as close to vanilla GNOME as possible, various patches that were previously used for features such as Ubuntu's HUD menu bar will no longer be developed – and neither will be those features.
Ubuntu 17.10 is using the latest release of GNOME 3.26, which also brings with it a set of new features, such as:
- A redesigned Settings app
- Search improvements
- Adobe Illustrator and .cbr support in Document Viewer
- Smarter window tiling
You will notice one omission – colour emoji support, a big feature of GNOME 3.26, did not make it into this release of Ubuntu and is tentatively scheduled to be added in the next version, 18.04.
The biggest change in Ubuntu 17.10 that you will (hopefully) not notice is that Ubuntu is now using Wayland by default. Wayland is a new protocol designed to replace the painfully outdated X11 as Linux's primary windowing system, promising improved security and better support for things like HiDPI and active compositing.
Wayland is one of the bigger recent developments in desktop Linux world, and it's amazing how far it has come – with two major distributions (Fedora and now Ubuntu) using it as the default compositor.
However, it is still not perfect. GPU support is still not as good as it should be, and various applications will struggle with Wayland's security model, which does make sense, given how important it is to isolate applications from one another, but does hurt usability.
There are two classes of applications that are particularly hurt by this. The first is virtual machine software, which can no longer exclusively capture the keyboard, preventing the user from accidentally executing commands on the host OS while using a VM. The second is automation and text expansion software such as AutoKey, which is completely neutered on modern Wayland apps.
The good news is that Wayland is in active development – for example, there is already a proposal to add key grabbing protocols for virtual machines. In addition to that, Ubuntu 17.10 will still have Xorg included, so if Wayland happens to not work as well on your machine, you will still have the option of going back to an X11 session.
Release Notes & Download
Beyond all that, Artful Aardvark brings with it other new changes and improvements, including:
- 32-bit installer images are no longer provided (but 32-bit systems are still supported)
- Linux kernel 4.13
- Improved wireless printing support
- Printer configuration is now done through the Settings app
- Python 2 is no longer being included by default
- A new Logs app for viewing the systemd journal
- QEMU updated to version 2.10
You can find the detailed changelog at Ubuntu 17.10's Release Notes page.
Ubuntu 17.10 is available now, so if you would like to get a taste of all those new features, you can grab the new release at the official Ubuntu website, or by upgrading from your current Ubuntu version.
What do you think? Did you get a chance to try Ubuntu-flavored GNOME? Let us know in the comments below!