What's New in Ubuntu 9.10

WorksWithU reported a couple weeks ago on new features in Ubuntu 9.10, like kernel mode setting and GRUB 2, that are likely to please geeks.  But Ubunti 9.10 (codenamed Karmic Koala) will also sport changes aimed at traditional users.  Here's a look at a few of them.

They include...

Ubuntu One

Perhaps the hardest-to-miss addition to Ubuntu 9.10 is the Ubuntu One client, which comes installed by default under the Applications>Internet menu.  The application allows registered users to share files between Ubuntu computers by simply dragging and dropping them into a folder in their home directory, or through a web interface.

I was impressed with how seamlessly Ubuntu One worked in Ubuntu 9.10, given the alpha/beta status of both pieces of software.  Signing up for the free Ubuntu One plan, which offers 2 gigabytes of online storage, was a snap, and file sharing worked seamlessly even on a flaky wireless connection.  I'm still processing my thoughts on other aspects of Ubuntu One and hope to dedicate a post to it soon.

Goodbye Pidgin, hello Empathy

Another significant change in Karmic is the replacement of Pidgin with Empathy, an instant-messaging client built by Gnome developers.  The decision to drop Pidgin was influenced, among other factors, by its lack of support for video chat and convoluted software overhead.

When I tested Empathy last winter, it was still missing some important features.  I haven't had a chance to play with Karmic's build of the application yet in any detail, but it's presumably been brought up to speed to become a full replacement for the functionality offered by Pidgin.

Of course, although Pidgin was removed from the default desktop software stack, it's still only an apt-get away for those who don't take well to Empathy.

Gnome interface changes

Last but not least, some minor tweaking has been applied to the default Gnome desktop.  In particular, I was happy to see the System>Shut Down/Log Out menu restored even when the fast-user switching applet is visible.  This feature was removed in Jaunty, making the user-switcher menu the only easy way to end a Gnome session, which never quite felt intuitive to me.

An entry for the Gnome Control Center has also finally been added to the System>Preferences menu in Karmic.  This application, which is similar to the Control Panel in Windows and allows users to configure various aspects of Gnome, was always available in Ubuntu, but the only way to launch it in previous releases was from the command line.  Making it more visible is a good move.

Karmic won't bring any revolutionary changes to the default desktop software stack, but there have been some useful overhauls of individual components.  Provided the backend of the system is also solid (note to Ubuntu developers: I'd love to have an ath5k wireless driver that finally works without a fuss), Ubuntu 9.10 looks to be a promising release.

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