What will Ubuntu 10.10 look like?

Five key changes to consider for users wondering whether to upgrade.

When Canonical broke the news recently that Ubuntu 10.10 will include uTouch 1.0, a multitouch and gesture stack, it caused a flurry of excitement about the Linux release's potential for use in tablets.

Thanks to the new technology, users of Ubuntu 10.10--also known as Maverick Meerkat--will be able to switch applications or tabs within an application, for example, using gestures. Android users have already been enjoying the power of touch, of course, but this new technology will bring it to the Linux desktop.

Ubuntu 10.10 is currently in its third alpha release, with the final version expected on October 10. Current home and business users of older versions of Ubuntu will have to decide if the benefits make it worth upgrading the free software.

Though changes will inevitably happen over the next few weeks, here's a summary of some of the key features that are currently expected.

1. Simpler Installer

Ubuntu 10.10 is expected to use a new installer that makes the installation process simpler than ever. Startup options are now placed right in the installer itself, and they include just two options: Try Ubuntu and Install Ubuntu. A simplified partitioner, meanwhile, lets users choose between automatically using the whole disk and manual partitioning, while a new Wireless Network Selection page will be added as well. These features will be particularly helpful for newer Ubuntu users.

2. Processor Support

It sounds like the Maverick Meerkat will not run on processors older than i686, or anything before Intel's P6 microarchitecture. For most business users this probably won't be an issue, but it could affect some occasional users of older machines.

3. Default Environment and Applications

Ubuntu 10.10 Alpha 3 uses version 2.6.35 of the Linux kernel, which includes numerous security enhancements over previous versions. It also updates the GNOME desktop environment to version 2.31.

Among application changes, meanwhile, is that Firefox 3.6.8 will be the default, as will OpenOffice 3.2.1, for example. Photo tool F-Spot has been replaced with Shotwell, while a new sound indicator has been added to centralize controls for sound. The Evolution mail and collaboration software will be updated to the 2.30 version, which reportedly is much faster than the one in Ubuntu 10.04 LTS, or Lucid Lynx.

4. The Ubuntu Software Center

In version 10.10, the Ubuntu Software Center--the tool for browsing, installing and removing software on Ubuntu--will gain "Featured" and "What's New" choice icons on the front page, along with a "History" tab displaying recently installed software. It is also said to be faster and more responsive. Taken together, these improvements promise to make it much easier to track and find new software options.

5. Multitouch

Making the biggest splash, of course, will be the new multitouch and gesture capabilities, which will apparently make it possible for basic gestures to be chained, or composed, into more sophisticated "sentences." Toward that end, Canonical has created an open source gesture recognition engine and defined a gesture API that provides a way for applications to respond to users' gestures.

Canonical is currently targeting the Dell XT2 as a development environment for this new feature, but by release it expects it to be compatible with a range of devices from major manufacturers, and with add-ons like Apple's Magic Trackpad. Needless to say, this will pave the way toward a host of new capabilities on the Linux desktop and beyond.

For more insight into these and other changes in the new version, MaverickMovies on the Ubuntu Wiki offers a number of short video demonstrations.

Ubuntu 10.10 Alpha 3 is available to download for free from the project's Website, though it's not recommended yet for production systems. Still to come are a beta version and a release candidate of the software.

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