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Ubuntu 14.04 beta 1 review – steady as she goes

Various members of the Ubuntu family have received a beta release of the upcoming Ubuntu LTS. What should we be expecting from the next big Ubuntu?

Kubuntu is getting the most updates this time round

Kubuntu is getting the most updates this time round[/caption]An Ubuntu LTS release sets off a long chain of events that goes far beyond Canonical’s desktop offering. The different flavours of Ubuntu and the Ubuntu-based distros are the tip of the iceberg, with LTS-only spins getting a refresh and enterprise’s possibly getting in on or updating to the newer version. It’s an important release for both Canonical and the Linux/FOSS community, and it will mean big business for the former.

Some of the promises of new features for Trusty Tahr seem to have missed the feature -freeze deadline though. Caonical’s plans for their new display server Mir making it into the LTS have long since been delayed to October’s release, which otherwise leaves the core of the system with relatively few new features. On the surface, this could very well work in their favour; during the last round of LTS development, Canoncial were keen to drive home the message that they were focusing on the stability of the distro. From a philosophical point of view this makes complete sense – the LTS is the version of Ubuntu people will want to rely on. Focusing on stability will make it better for users, and Canonical will sell more support packages in the process. It benefits everyone involved, as long as the final product actually is stable.

Kubuntu is getting the most updates this time round

Under construction

The beta version isn’t a true indication of how stable the distro is yet, or even of the final product in general. Feature-freeze has occurred though, a week or so before this beta release, so the major changes and updates are all here. As stated before there’s not a massive amount of new core-features, however there are some distro specific changes that can be seen in the selection of official Ubuntu beta releases. These official ones include Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Lubuntu, Edubuntu, Ubuntu GNOME, Ubuntu Kylin and Ubuntu Studio; all the major Ubuntu-spins bar Ubuntu itself. Unofficially, you can still get the Ubuntu beta via the dailies.

There are a few things that are common across all the releases. The Linux Kernel included is the latest 3.13 release, and all the packages have been updated to the latest version. The kernel will likely have updated to 3.14 by the time the distro is released, however this shouldn’t really be a problem. With 3.13 being out for a few months any major bugs will have been properly dealt with, and Canonical will do their own updates for the kernel over the course of 14.04’s lifespan.

As for using the latest version of third-party software, this is the best way to ensure the software is relevant, up-to-date and stable.

Unique qualities

Ubuntu and its family have also received individual updates in the beta, mainly tied to their interfaces.

Unity has received probably the smallest update of the lot. As we mentioned early, the original plans to work on converging the mobile and tablet versions has been abandoned. Instead, the focus on stability has meant there are very few new additions. Notable examples include the option to return menu bars to the windows they belong to, rather than living on the top bar. There’s also the ability to search your open applications with text entry, previously a compiz feature.

Xubuntu’s new features are a little more major, with a brand new lockscreen and lockscreen manager in Light Locker, a new menu customisation system and other settings updates.

Kubuntu is the release with the biggest changes. Muon – Kubuntu’s alternative to the Ubuntu Software Center – has had a bit of an overhaul; the codebase is now a little more robust, while the interface has experienced some minor tweaks to support this. A new KDE Software Development Kit gives users a great way to get started with coding KDE and Qt apps. It provides an IDE to work in and it’s a nice, quick way to learn how to use Qt.

There’s a new driver manager and a new touchpad config tool, and some major updates to Gwenview, KDE Telepathy/IM client, localisation support, network manager and more. It may well be the version of Ubuntu that has the most to offer this time around, however it’s something we’re not too worried about.

Same old same old

As we mentioned before, an LTS release is best when it’s stable. This means relying on tried and tested software, and maybe having a more boring release for the desktop users that are looking for the next big thing. For the moment Ubuntu 14.04 is looking good, and we’re interested to see how this is going to shape the future of Ubuntu and many other distros.

Verdict

4/5

Not revolutionary, but it’s not supposed to be. Delaying features will only make them better further down the line while also reducing the risks for the LTS. As a beta, it’s already showing signs of being one of the better releases in years.

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