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.
The key difference between regular Ubuntu and Ubuntu Core is the underlying architecture of the system. Traditional Linux distributions rely mostly on traditional package systems—deb, in Ubuntu’s case—while Ubuntu Core relies almost entirely on Canonical’s relatively new snap package format. Ubuntu Core also gets a full 10 years of support from Canonical rather than the five years traditional Ubuntu LTS releases get. But it’s a bit more difficult to get started with, since you need an Ubuntu SSO account to even log in to a new Ubuntu Core installation in the first place. Ars takes a look at this rather unusual Ubuntu variant.
Ubuntu is going to be trying to switch over to using Wayland by default for the current Ubuntu 21.04 cycle to allow sufficient time for widespread testing and evaluation ahead of next year’s Ubuntu 22.04 LTS release. Canonical engineer Sebastien Bacher announced today they will be trying again for Ubuntu 21.04 to enable Wayland by default, four years after they originally tried but reverted back to using GNOME on X.Org for Ubuntu 18.04 LTS and since that point. Ubuntu with GNOME Shell on Wayland has been available as a non-default choice but the hope is now in 2021 they are ready to comfortably switch to Wayland. I try to use Wayland wherever possible, since the performance gains and battery life improvements are just too good to ignore. There’s still two major blockers, though – first, NVIDIA support is problematic, at best, so my main computer will remain on X until NVIDIA gets its act together. Second, my desktop environment of choice, Cinnamon, does not support Wayland and has no support coming in the pipeline, which is really disappointing. GNOME can be made usable with extensive use of extensions, and I’m seriously considering switching to it once the NVIDIA situation is sorted. My laptop already runs GNOME for this very reason.
Ubuntu 20.10 rides atop the Linux 5.8 kernel, includes the GNOME 3.38 release, has new wallpapers, Active Directory integration (for enterprise users) in the installer, and carries a clutch of updated software, tools, and libraries. Plus this is the first version of Ubuntu to offer desktop support for the Raspberry Pi 4 (4GB + 8GB models). Not a massive release, but welcome new versions of the core parts of the distribution nonetheless.
It has long been our vision for Flutter to power platforms. We’ve seen this manifest already at Google with products like the Assistant so now we’re thrilled to see others harnessing Flutter to power more platforms. Today we are happy to jointly announce the availability of the Linux alpha for Flutter alongside Canonical, the publisher of Ubuntu, the world’s most popular desktop Linux distribution. I welcome any additional investment in Linux or other operating systems that aren’t the macOS or Windows, but this one has a major downside: it’s all tied to Canonical’s snaps and Snap Store. In case you are unaware – snaps are quite controversial in the Linux world, and Linux Mint, one of the most popular Linux distributions, has taken a very proactive approach in removing them. Their reasoning makes it very clear why snap is so problematic: Applications in this store cannot be patched, or pinned. You can’t audit them, hold them, modify them or even point snap to a different store. You’ve as much empowerment with this as if you were using proprietary software, i.e. none. This is in effect similar to a commercial proprietary solution, but with two major differences: It runs as root, and it installs itself without asking you. On top of all this, the snap server is closed source. Snap is simply a no-go, and I’m saddened Google decided to opt for using it. Then again, Google has never shown any interest whatsoever in desktop Linux – preferring to simply take, but not give. None of their applications – other than Chrome – are available on Linux, and opting for snap further demonstrates Google doesn’t really seem to understand the Linux ecosystem at all. All they had to do was release a source tarball, and for a few extra brownie points, maybe a .deb and/or .rpm, but that isn’t even necessary. If your tool is good enough, it will be picked up by distributions and third parties who will make those packages for you. Google opting for snap instead indicates they have little faith in their own product being good and valuable enough to be embraced by the Linux distribution community. And if they don’t have any faith, why should I?
Ubuntu Touch is the privacy and freedom respecting mobile operating system by UBports. Today we are happy to announce the release of Ubuntu Touch OTA-12! OTA-12 is immediately available for many supported Ubuntu Touch devices. It is easily our largest release ever, featuring a number of new features while saying goodbye to some old friends. There’s quite a few changes, but device support is still a bit of a problem. I’d love to test this out though, and I happen to own two of the better supported devices.
We’ve already talked about snaps on Ubuntu, but it turns out it’s actually way worse than I initially thought. On the latest Ubuntu, if you try to download the .deb version of Chromium using either the Software Store or command line, it acts as an alias to installing the snap version! Essentially, Chromium snap is shoved down your throat even if you explicitly asked for the .deb version. This is not cool Ubuntu – just because Chromium may be easier to maintain as a snap app doesn’t justify this forced behavior. Snap applications auto-update and that’s fine if Ubuntu wants to keep systems secure. But it can’t even be turned off manually. Auto-updating of snaps can only be deferred at best, until at some point, like Windows, it auto-updates anyway. Even on metered connections, snaps auto-update anyway after some time. I only use Ubuntu on my laptop right now – my workstation and main PC run my distribution of choice, Linux Mint with Cinnamon – because the latest version of Ubuntu supports it better than the current Linux Mint release does. As soon as the next version of Mint is out, which will be based on the current Ubuntu version, I’m ditching Ubuntu right away. I don’t like snaps, FlatPaks, AppImage, or any of that other nonsense that do nothing but make a clean .deb/APT-based system more complicated than it needs to be. Debian’s package management system is incredibly robust and easy to fix in the unlikely event something does go wrong, so I simply do not have a need for additional application installation methods that I can’t control through APT. Ubuntu only barely just recovered from the Unity debacle, only for the project to now go down yet another route nobody is asking for.