Exploring Ubuntu 18.10 "Cosmic Cuttlefish"

Back on the Block

© Lead Image Photo by Kris D'souza on Unsplash

© Lead Image Photo by Kris D'souza on Unsplash

Article from Issue 219/2019

Ubuntu Linux gets back to basics with the Ubuntu 18.10 release – an appealing and practical distro that isn't worried about conquering the world.

Ubuntu is back. The same Ubuntu that I loved back in 2011 before Unity and Gnome 3 happened. Both were great projects, but they broke my workflow, so I moved to openSUSE and Arch Linux with the Plasma desktop.

Much water has flowed under the bridge since then. Canonical's dream of taking over Microsoft (Windows), Google (Android), and Apple (iOS) didn't materialize, and they decided to reduce their focus on the consumer space.

What was supposed to be bad news for Canonical turned out to be good news for open source communities, because Canonical shut down its in-house projects and returned those projects upstream. The controversial Unity desktop went away, and Gnome resumed the throne of being the default desktop environment and shell for the world's most popular Linux distribution.

Canonical's shift of focus towards enterprise doesn't mean they don't care about desktop anymore. Even if Canonical has shut down consumer-centric projects, Ubuntu desktop remains critical to the company. Ubuntu is a dominant player in the public cloud, OpenStack private cloud, and on Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Developers and sys admins of all those enterprise customers who are running Ubuntu in the cloud, IoT, and Tesla cars, need a desktop to work from, and Ubuntu client workstations are an important part of Canonical's contracts with high-volume enterprise customers.

This mindshare leads to better support for Ubuntu by both hardware and software vendors. It's simple economics: Vendors target the platform that has most users, and this means average Linux users will have better luck finding the apps they need on Ubuntu than on other distributions.

"The desktop remains hugely important for numerous reasons for Canonical, and we still see a strong appetite and usage from a variety of audiences, including home users, enterprises and developers," said Will Cooke, engineering director for the desktop at Canonical. "In the PC market, we continue our positive relationships with the major vendors, including Dell and Lenovo, who ship workstations with Ubuntu preinstalled."

I am basing this story on a Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition that came with Ubuntu preinstalled. What more evidence do you need?

Ubuntu: Just Works

Dell XPS 13 (2018) came with Ubuntu 18.04. Instead of attempting an update, I wanted to see if the stock Ubuntu would work on it. So, I downloaded Ubuntu 18.10 and did a fresh install. Everything worked as expected.

When it comes to Linux, Ubuntu is one of those distros that offers a "just works" experience. I tried 18.10 on three different machines, and every one worked as expected. The only exception was full support for a touch screen. There is a fix, but since there aren't any apps on Linux that are optimized for touch screen, I didn't bother fixing it.

One thing I did notice was that Ubuntu 18.10 booted much faster than any other distro, thanks to new compression technology. It's very responsive, and I have had virtually no problem with it so far on conventional hardware systems.

A Tale of Two Releases

Ubuntu has two types of releases: Ubuntu interim releases and Ubuntu Long Term Support (LTS) releases. There is a release of Ubuntu every six months: in October and in April. All the even-numbered releases (10.04, 12.04, 14.01, 16.04, 18.04) made in April are LTS releases. The LTS version is supported for five years, plus Extended Security Maintenance for another three years.

LTS releases focus on stability, and interim releases introduce new features that are tested to get them ready for LTS, which also means those who like to see what is new in Ubuntu should stay with regular releases.

Ubuntu has made it extremely easy to upgrade from one release to the next without breaking anything. Although I stick to LTS on my server, I always run the latest regular version on my laptops. Jumping from one point release to the next is very easy.

Open the Software Updater and click on the Settings button (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Click on the Settings button in the Software Updater to make changes to which updates are installed on your system.

Then go to the tab that says, Updates. In the drop-down menu labeled Notify me of a new Ubuntu version, select For any new version (Figure 2). Click Close, which will take you back to the Update Manager. If any updates are available, you'll have a chance to install those updates.

Figure 2: Choose what kind of upgrade you want for your Ubuntu.

If the Update Manager doesn't show any updates, you can force an upgrade for your system. Close the Update Manager, and then run the following command in the Terminal:

update-manager -d

Just follow the instructions to upgrade your Ubuntu to the latest version.

A First Look at Ubuntu 18.10

Despite their so-called withdrawal from the consumer space, Canonical has done more work to make Ubuntu an appealing platform for desktop users.

Ubuntu 18.10 came with a fine-tuned and customized (not forked) Gnome using extensions, to make it more appealing to those who have a good aesthetic sense (Figure 3). A desktop user will notice a refreshing look and feel. It looks modern and elegant. Ubuntu 18.10 is using a theme created by the Yaru community. I like it.

Figure 3: A pleasant default desktop.

I don't care about the wallpaper; the first new Ubuntu feature that bloggers talk about is always the new wallpaper, but if you have time to notice the wallpaper on your PC, you are using it for all the wrong reasons. However, I do care about icons, window decorations, and fonts – for the same reason I care about an aesthetically pleasing environment in real life. Because I loved the new theme and Ubuntu fonts, I didn't need to stop for further customization (something I have to do with virtually every Linux system out there, except for Zorin OS and elementary OS).

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