Based on Ubuntu Core’s FDE design, we have been working on bringing TPM-backed full disk encryption to classic Ubuntu Desktop systems as well, starting with Ubuntu 23.10 (Mantic Minotaur) – where it will be available as an experimental feature. This means that passphrases will no longer be needed on supported platforms, and that the secret used to decrypt the encrypted data will be protected by a TPM and recovered automatically only by early boot software that is authorised to access the data. Besides its usability improvements, TPM-backed FDE also protects its users from “evil maid” attacks that can take advantage of the lack of a way to authenticate the boot software, namely initrd, to end users. I’m not well-versed enough on this topic to make any meaningful comments, other than as long as it’s a choice presented to users, it seems like a good thing.
The next version of the world’s most popular desktop Linux operating system (that’s Ubuntu, for those playing dumb) comes with fewer apps available out-of-the-box. Daily builds of Ubuntu 23.10 now ship with just a super-slim set of default software. These are designed to cover basic computing needs only. For anything else, the idea is that we, the user, fire up the Software Store (though the new one isn’t included in daily builds yet) and install what we want for ourselves. As an idea, it’s not without merit. But in practice, I think it’s a potential misstep. Basically, Ubuntu will no longer ship with LibreOffice, an email client, Shotwell, or a host of other applications and tools. While there’s certainly a market for slim distributions that install a lean and mean base installation for the user to expand into exactly the installation they desire, I doubt users opting for such an approach are interested in using Ubuntu, of all distributions (use Void. It’s the only Linux distribution with the official OSNews Seal of Approval™). In other words, this seems like an odd choice for a distribution aimed at relative newcomers to the Linux world. But then again, Fedora is a better choice for those people anyway.
Turns out that installing the Steam client from the Ubuntu repos on a new Ubuntu 23.04 install doesn’t work – and barely anyone noticed. Which is kind of surprising given the popularity of Steam, but also kind of not — and I’ll get to why in a second. So what’s the rub? This whole saga seems to illustrate that most Steam users on Linux install Steam from Valve itself, instead of using the packaged version. Interesting.
It has been a little while since we shared our vision for Ubuntu Desktop, and explained how our current roadmap fits into our long term strategic thinking. Recently, we embarked on an internal exercise to consolidate and bring structure to our values and goals for how we plan to evolve the desktop experience over the next few years. This post is designed to share the output of those discussions and give insight into the direction we’re going. These values form the framework by which we determine our priorities and measure our progress, and hopefully inspire those that want to contribute to this experience to focus their energies in ways that are aligned with our longer term ambitions. I was hoping for more concrete ideas, plans, and ambitions from Canonical here, but this one is a bit of a nothingburger. There’s a lot happening in the desktop Linux world, especially around immutability, and I see nothing here about such long-term plans, or even relatively short-term meaningful desktop improvements.
UBPorts has released the second update for the Ubuntu Touch version based on Focal Fossa. In this new version, the System Settings application has been improved in various places, the physical camera button now works (on devices that have one, I presume), and a whole load of bugs have been fixed. Device support has also improved, with the F(x)tec Pro1 X, Fairphone 3, and Vollaphone X23 now being supported by the Focal releases.
Ubuntu is a Debian-based Linux distribution but it’s increasingly positioning snaps as the preferred way to ‘get’ software. The aim is, eventually, to default to a full-snap experience on the desktop. With that plan in mind you won’t be mighty surprised (and if you are, welcome back to planet earth) to hear that showcasing DEB software will not be the primary aim of this new Ubuntu Software replacement. Ubuntu’s Director of Engineering says the new hub will be a “snap-first app store” designed around snap metadata. If the same piece of software exists in the Ubuntu repository and the snap store the new store will only make it possible to install the snap version. This is not a surprising move, but one that is sure to alienate at least some – including me. Not that I’d use Ubuntu any time soon anyway, but forcing Snaps down my throat certainly isn’t going to draw me back in.
According to Canonical’s Oliver Grawert, the next long-term support release of Ubuntu will be available to download in 2 versions: a classic, deb-based version (default) and, for the first time, an immutable, snap-based build. This makes sense, and was inevitable. I wonder how long they’re going to keep the .deb-based version around; I doubt they’d pull it any time soon. Still, competition is good, and it’s been clear for a while now that immutability is the next big thing in the desktop Linux world.
Two major Linux distributions released major new versions this week. First, Ubuntu: There’s a big user experience uplift courtesy of GNOME 44 and enhancements, and a brand new Ubuntu installer helps improves the onboarding experience. Foundationally, Ubuntu 23.04 runs on the latest Linux kernel 6.2 release, ships Mesa 23.0 graphics drivers (with in-distro access to proprietary NVIDIA drivers for those who need them), plus updates all of the requisite tooling, toolchains, and programming packages developers need. I’m curious to try the new installer if someone else adopts it (I have no need for Ubuntu), but other than that, this is a fairly small release that won’t rock the boat too much. Second we have Fedora: Fedora Workstation focuses on the desktop experience. As usual, Fedora Workstation features the latest GNOME release. GNOME 44 includes a lot of great improvements, including a new lock screen, a “background apps” section on the quick menu, and improvements to accessibility settings. In addition, enabling third-party repositories now enables an unfiltered view of applications on Flathub. With this release, we’ve shortened the default timeout when services shut down. This helps your system power off faster — important when you need to grab your laptop and go. Fedora is, in my view, the best desktop Linux distribution, and I use it myself on two of my three main PCs. So far, Fedora 38 doesn’t feel like a major new release either, but just more of what you already know.
Cubic (Custom Ubuntu ISO Creator) is a GUI wizard to create a customized Live ISO image for Ubuntu and Debian-based distributions. Cubic permits effortless navigation through the ISO customization steps and features an integrated virtual command line environment to customize the Linux file system. You can create new customization projects or modify existing projects. Important parameters are dynamically populated with intelligent defaults to simplify the customization process. This is an incredibly neat tool, and it’s given me the urge to see if I can create my own custom ISO with my personal defaults all set out of the box.
As part of our combined efforts, the Ubuntu flavors have made a joint decision to adjust some of the default packages on Ubuntu: Going forward, the Flatpak package as well as the packages to integrate Flatpak into the respective software center will no longer be installed by default in the next release due in April 2023, Lunar Lobster. Users who have used Flatpak will not be affected on upgrade, as flavors are including a special migration that takes this into account. Those who haven’t interacted with Flatpak will be presented with software from the Ubuntu repositories and the Snap Store. We think this will improve the out-of-the-box Ubuntu experience for new users while respecting how existing users personalize their own experiences. However, we don’t want this to come as a surprise. If you have comments specific to this change you are welcome to respond here on discourse. Canonical’s got Snap to peddle, so FlatPak is a competitor. That’s all there’s to it. I maintain they’re all bad and unnecessary – a .deb, an .rpm, and your source code is all you need to cover 99.9% of Linux users in a standard, easy-to-use, uncompromising way.
Last year, Ubuntu developers pushed to remove Zsys from Ubuntu’s Ubiquity installer. This is an integral tool Ubuntu created to make it easier to manage and maintain ZFS-based installations. In a bug report they bluntly noted that ‘priority changes’ in the desktop team meant Zsys was no longer something they want to “advertise using”. As of writing, Zsys remains available in the Ubuntu archives but development of it isn’t looking healthy. Canonical’s contributions effectively fall off a cliff circa April 2021 based on GitHub commits, with only a trivial tweak made in April of last year. Daily builds for the upcoming Ubuntu 23.04 release come with a brand-new installer that has been built using Flutter to Canonical’s exact needs. But guess what this new Ubuntu installer does not include? An option to install Ubuntu on the ZFS file system. I thought the Linux world had settled on Btrfs as the “ZFS-like” file system for the platform, and had no idea Canonical had even been working on giving users the option to install to ZFS. With Btrfs already being the default on e.g. Fedora for a while now, it seems that is a better route to go for Ubuntu and other distributions than trying to make ZFS work.
Traditionally, updates on Linux systems are controlled by the user. You get an icon in the system tray that looks important; you click on it; it asks you if you want to install updates; you say “yes” or “no”; updates are applied, or not; when you next restart any applications that you have running that were updated, the new version is picked up. Data isn’t lost, because updates don’t restart the application. You can (and do) update the Linux kernel in this way, and your computer just stays up (usually running on the old version of the kernel until you next restart.) Mechanisms have been added over time to allow auto updates to take place for critical security patches (“unattended upgrades”) but these have typically to be opt in. And again, they don’t restart running applications. Snap breaks this contract. The update channel for Snap is independent from the KDE updater (on Kubuntu), and seemingly the Gnome updater (on Ubuntu). If you consent to applying updates from the general system tray “updates needed” notification, Snap updates are not included; they’re not even listed in the pending notifications from the system tray. Snap updates only happen when the Snap updater is running, either if the application is not running or after the period of time required to force updates has expired. Snap updates happen without consent. I would really, really suggest moving away from Ubuntu, and opting for the countless better alternatives instead, like Fedora (the best desktop, in my view), Linux Mint (a great desktop, but a bit more conservative than Fedora), any of the Arch derivatives (for bleeding edge and tons of fooling around with AUR), or Void (for those of us with taste). Or any, any of the others. Ubuntu just does not seem to have its users’ best interests at heart, and Snap is the best example of that.
Highlights of this release include initial gesture support with double-tap to wake for selected devices, improvements to fingerprint unlock by allowing more backoff time between read retries, as well as support for media buttons on headsets for most Ubuntu Phone devices. In addition, the Ubuntu Touch OTA-24 update adds support for handling the sms:// URL scheme for properly opening the Messaging app, adds Full HD 1080p support to the Aethercast implementation, improves SMS and MMS support, and adds various performance tweaks to the Mir-Android-Platform. I’m kind of surprised the current releases are still based on Ubuntu 16.04 – that’s quite an old release. They are working on upgrading the base to 20.04, and the switchover should happen relatively soon.
Dubbed the “Kinetic Kudu,” Ubuntu 22.10 is here with the latest and greatest GNOME 43 desktop environment by default (yes, with support for GTK4 apps), which comes with numerous new features and enhancements for fans of the GNOME/Ubuntu desktop, yet the look and feel remain unchanged from previous releases. The default audio server is PipeWire instead of PulseAudio with WirePlumber as the default session/policy manager. Kinetic Kudu also ships with an up-to-date toolchain and subsystem consisting of GCC 12, GNU C Library 2.36, GNU Binutils 2.39, systemd 251.4, Mesa 22.2, Netplan 0.105, LLVM 15, Poppler 22.08, CUPS 2.4, BlueZ 5.65, Unicode 15, NetworkManager 1.40, as well as debuginfod support and an updated AppArmor component that now lets sysadmins restrict access to unprivileged user namespaces. While I’m personally not really using Ubuntu itself anymore, my gaming PC is still running Linux Mint, meaning I will still benefit from this new release. Ubuntu is still massively popular despite stumbles over the years, and countless popular distributions are all based on it.
All the remixes use less memory than the default GNOME edition. To be honest, we didn’t expect that. The last time we did this comparison, in 2013, Kubuntu scoffed the most RAM – and as before, it still uses the most disk. KDE Plasma 5 really has slimmed down its memory footprint impressively, although it’s still no lightweight. The KDE, MATE, and Budgie editions are quite close in resource usage so in those terms, there’s not a lot to choose between them. That means it’s down to your personal preferences. All credit to the Lubuntu team: their remix remains the lightest by quite some margin, both in memory and disk usage. Saying that, it does use an old version of the LXQt desktop. There is a repository to install a newer version, but that’s a big ask for a non-techie user. These differences seem minute and insignificant to me, especially once you start loading a browser with a few tabs or a few documents, and any of these small RAM differences will melt like snow in the Sahara.
Ubuntu 22.04 LTS comes with the latest GNOME 42 desktop environment with the triple buffering patch included, yet it still uses apps from the GNOME 41 stack due to compatibility issues between GTK4 apps included in the upstream release and Ubuntu’s Yaru theme. Apps that weren’t ported to GTK4 are from the GNOME 42 stack, such as the Nautilus (Files) file manager. This is also the first LTS release with Wayland as its default (except for machines with NVIDIA GPUs, which will stick with X.org), which is a major milestone. On top of that, it comes with the latest releases of all the various packages that make up a Linux system, and will serve as the base for countless popular Ubuntu-based distributions. Of course, the countless other Ubuntu flavours also made the jump to 22.04.
Ubuntu 21.10 brings a wide variety of improvements, most notably on the desktop side switching to GNOME Shell 40 and offering many improvements there including some theme refinements. There are also many underlying improvements to enjoy with Ubuntu 21.10, like what gets us excited about kernel and compiler upgrades along with other notable package version bumps. Adding Wayland support for NVIDIA drivers is a big improvement, as is the addition of PipeWire. There’s also a big regression in that Ubuntu has moved its Firefox package from deb to a Snap package, something I’d sure manually fix if I were an Ubuntu user.
Given that there is sufficient archive-wide support for zstd, Ubuntu is switching to zstd compressed packages in Ubuntu 21.10, the current development release. Please welcome hello/2.10-2ubuntu3, the first zstd-compressed Ubuntu package that will be followed by many other built with dpkg (>= 1.20.9ubuntu2), and enjoy the speed! Sometimes, it’s the obscure changes that can have a big impact. This change will speed up the installation of .deb packages.
With Canonical announcing Ubuntu support for so much new hardware, the announcement of Ubuntu ported to a new architecture can go unnoticed. But today, we have a big one. Working with the leading RISC-V core IP designer and development board manufacturer, SiFive, we are proud to announce the first Ubuntu release for two of the most prominent SiFive boards, Unmatched and Unleashed. This is great news for RISC-V and open source hardware in general. Of course, Linux on RISC-V moves forward with or without the support or major distributions, but having Ubuntu, probably the most popular Linux distribution in the world, on board is a major boon for the architecture.
Today, Canonical released Ubuntu 21.04 with native Microsoft Active Directory integration, Wayland graphics by default, and a Flutter application development SDK. Separately, Canonical and Microsoft announced performance optimization and joint support for Microsoft SQL Server on Ubuntu. Ubuntu 21.04 is an important release, if only because of the switch to Wayland, following in Fedora’s footsteps. Ubuntu did opt out of shipping GNOME 40, though, so it comes with 3.38 instead. The step to Wayland is surely going to cause problems for some people, but overall, I think it’s high time and Wayland is pretty much as ready as it’s ever going to be. Remember, Wayland is not X, as I said a few months ago: Wayland is not X.org. Let me repeat that. Wayland is not X.org. If you need the functionality that X.org delivers, then you shouldn’t be using Wayland. This is like buying a Mac and complaining your Windows applications don’t work. With NVIDIA finally seeming to get at least somewhat on board, and X.org development basically having dried up, the time for Wayland is now.