Ubuntu 9.04: What's New for Desktop Users?

With Ubuntu 9.04, otherwise known as the Jaunty Jackalope, set to be released in less than three weeks, WorksWithU will be publishing some posts about what the latest and greatest version of Ubuntu will mean to different groups of users.  Today, we begin with a look at the new features that Jaunty brings to traditional desktops.

Jaunty doesn't include any earth-shattering changes for the traditional desktop--and it shouldn't, because Ubuntu already works pretty well on most personal computers.

Below is a breakdown of the features most noticeable to desktop users, most of which represent incremental improvement in areas where Ubuntu was pretty strong to begin with.

Look-and-feel

The first change that desktop users are likely to notice is an updated look-and-feel.  Although plans to completely revamp Ubuntu's look for the 9.04 release were postponed for a later version, Jaunty still comes with some aesthetic improvements, including the much-vamped notification system and a more diverse set of alternative themes available by default.

2.6.28 kernel

Under the surface, Jaunty sports the 2.6.28 Linux kernel, the latest stable release (2.6.29.1 is the latest stable kernel as of 7 April).  While most of the new features in the kernel are of little consequence to most desktop users, changes most likely to affect the desktop include a more feature-rich wireless stack with support for a broader range of devices, which will be a welcome improvement among users who previously had to install wireless drivers manually.

Desktop users can also benefit from the latest kernel's support for the ext4 file system.  Although there were reports of data loss using ext4 under the Jaunty alpha releases, this bug has reportedly been fixed.  Users who opt for ext4 (ext3 is still the default choice in the Ubuntu installer) can enjoy impressive boot times and other performance improvements.

Gnome 2.26

Ubuntu 9.04 will ship with Gnome 2.26 desktop environment , which, unsurprisingly, is responsible for the lion's share of new features useful to desktop users.  The latest Gnome release offers such improvements as:
  1. support for Microsoft's MAPI protocol in the Evolution mail client, which will make the lives of people working in Windows-dominated environments easier (here's hoping Gmail IMAP also finally works reliably in Evolution--I haven't gotten a chance to try it yet)
  2. an updated screen-configuration utility, offering better support for multiple monitors
  3. the ability to assign arbitrary commands to key bindings of the user's choice, meaning that hotkeys can be created for almost every task imaginable, rather than being limited to the choices available in the "Keyboard Shortcuts" utility
  4. a more intuitive interface for Brasero, the CD/DVD burning utility

Summary

In short, Ubuntu 9.04 won't be a revolutionary release for desktop users, but it brings some attractive new features offering incremental improvement in areas from look-and-feel to boot time to wireless support.  And at this point in Ubuntu's development, slow-but-steady advancement on the desktop is precisely what it needs in order to continue its encroachment onto the personal computers of casual users.

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