So the theory goes that the interim releases for Ubuntu between the big LTS versions are where the biggest changes occur. Experiments, new features, etc, are added to these versions. When the LTS rolls around, development shifts to stability, with the end goal being an operating system you can use for the many years of support it receives. 13.04 is in the middle of the LTS cycle, with 14.04 succeeding 12.04 next year, however there just isn’t much more to it over 12.10.
Featured updates highlighted by Canonical are the fact that Unity search has better support for typos and common mistakes, and that general packages such as LibreOffice and Python have been updated. While the Unity search update is quite nice, and seems to be very lenient, it’s hardly a redefining feature. At the very least, it also makes its way into the HUD, however integration of online search results from Canonical’s retail partners is still as obtrusive as before. We quickly turned this off in the privacy settings.
The thing is, some of those online search results would be quite good. Displaying YouTube results in the video tab can work, however you can’t have that without Amazon trying to sell you something that is usually completely unrelated to your search. There’s also the ongoing issue of privacy with that as well. While you can filter out certain content on some of the specified tabs, such as the video or documents tab, you can’t filter out the Amazon results from the home tab. It also means you can’t see or use the new Friends tab for social networks when the online search is off – although notifications will still pop-up from somewhere.
As perhaps a trade-off for the lack of new features in the latest Ubuntu, Canonical claim it to perform faster than previous versions, especially on older hardware. In our tests, there was very little difference, although at the very least it was no worse. In general, installation seems to have received a minor speed boost, and while it does begin the installation early on in the process, it hides that fact in favour of letting you know how many more steps you need to complete. There are some other minor aesthetic changes throughout the new version, such as the file manager getting a slightly squarer, more modern redesign. This is typical of the handful of UI elements that have received an update.
Despite all that, the Ubuntu standards are all present. There are more “official” flavours of the distro, meaning there are a handful more desktops you can choose from in the repos. Said repos are full of the latest and greatest software, including non-free and the controversial paid content from the Software Centre. This includes the Steam client, which while free, requires you to create an Ubuntu One account to purchase and download.
So it’s at the very least worth updating to – the newer software is great, and the few changes that made it in aid the experience. However, Canonical still haven’t fixed the problems with the online search, or Unity search in general, nor have they added any more customisation options to the desktop. This doesn’t feel like a new version of a distro as much as a point-update to their current.
A disappointing update with very few changes, and none that fix any of the issues people have been having with Unity. For a non-LTS distro, there’s very little experimentation, and the supposed speed upgrades aren’t as major as Canonical would want you to believe. By all means, upgrade, but don’t expect the kind of jump you normally get.