Let’s get it out of the way first, here are the new features that are just about to hit us from Canonical, with the latest version, Ubuntu 17.04, Zesty Zapus. The expected release date, Thursday April 13th:
- Slick new artwork
- Unity 8/Mir Desktop Preview (yes, you’re still not getting a new desktop!)
- The swap partition is going the way of the dodo, being replaced simply with a swap file (you know, like how Windows does it).
- IPP Everywhere – the dawn of driverless printers. Apparently it’s going to be a lot easier to use your printer of choice. Most new printers sold come with the IPP standard, making this a great saviour to all of us that have suffered printer driver hell over the years.
- Linux Kernel 4.10 with support for improved graphics, WLAN and ATA-disk performance.
- GNOME Applications and libraries have been upgraded to v3.24. Includes week-view in Calendar.
- LibreOffice updated to version 5.3.
There’s a few other bits and bobs here and there in Zesty, and a few things going out the window too, like gconf, the handy tool that let you get under the hood with GNOME settings. It’s being replaced with the CLI tool dconf, but I’m not convinced that’s a step forward.
How do I upgrade to 17.04 from 16.10?
Like all beta software, it’s not recommended to upgrade to it until the stable release is made, however, it would seems that Beta 2 is pretty low on stability issues, and most will be fixed by the time you read this. If you really want to upgrade to Zesty ahead of the day, it should be fairly ready to go. To do so:
- Go to Software & Updates -> Updates. Select ‘Notify me of a new Ubuntu version -> for any new version’.
- Then click ‘Pre-released updates’.
- Launch your terminal and enter:
sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get dist-upgrade
- Finally perform the update with the following command:
sudo update-manager -d
Ubuntu used to be fun.
The mere mention of a new release of Ubuntu used to have me running for the upgrade button and getting excited at all the new goodies that I’d be getting, but as with all the latest versions, I can barely bring myself to utter the word ‘Meh’. Zesty is almost upon us, and it’s probably their most boring release yet. What happened?
Unification be damned?
Ubuntu decided to drop the default GNOME Shell in favour of their Unity desktop starting in 2011 with Ubuntu 11.04. Although it still sits atop the GNOME subsystem, Unity looks, feels and works in a very different way. GNOME 3 at the time wasn’t quite as polished as it is today, and aside from any differences Canonical might have had with the GNOME team at the time, Unity was probably a good call back then. However, as you can see from the above Google Trends graph; interest in Ubuntu peaked about the same time. Unity itself can’t have all the blame. As much as it was criticised at the time, Unity today is a very solid, if yet boring or behind-the-times interface, comparative to that of Elementary OS, or Solus, say. As the folks over at OMGUbuntu! noted, the Mobile market became stratospheric around that time. People stopped using PCs as much and started to move much of their day-to-day computing needs to their smartphones and tablets. Ubuntu tried in this marketplace, but after a number of failed attempts, it still feels like they are stagnating there too.
Ubuntu 17.04 was perhaps touted as the release that would see the Mir Windowing environment and their shiny replacement for the Unity desktop we all know well, in Unity 8. Although you can preview Unity 8 in 17.04, it’s not much more than a confusion. It doesn’t work at all well, and it’s difficult to get excited about something that just doesn’t work well and, well, doesn’t even look that great.
Truthfully, if you are looking for a shiny, and exciting desktop right now, I’d choose elementaryOS because it’s based on the core of Ubuntu, but looks a beauty and the shell works in a different way, some would say in a macOS kind of way.
The saddest thing about all of this is that like it’s upstream grandfather before it (Debian), the modern Linux desktop world has a huge debt of gratitude to pay to Ubuntu. Just a shame that Zapus is such a small jump. The zesty rodent by nature might jump about a lot, but they are only mouse sized jumps.