Late October signals the .10 release of Ubuntu and its official derivatives, and this year is no exception.  So for the past few weeks (yeah, I grabbed the pre-release candidates to get a jump on testing), I’ve been putting the various Ubuntu distributions through the wringer, checking out new features, looking for bugs and so forth.  My findings could be best summed up by Charles Dickens immortal words….

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”

Well, maybe that is a little dramatic, as we certainly don’t have the worst release ever.  But for some of the distributions, this release is just plain boring, starting with Ubuntu proper itself.  For the average user, there’s nothing new here.  Oh sure, the Linux kernel has been upgraded to 3.16 (from the previous 3.13), and software packages have been upgraded to a more recent release, but for most users, theses updates are hardly worth mentioning.  In fact, if you’re a current Ubuntu 14.04 user, I would recommend sticking with your current release since it is supported for five years.

In all fairness to the team at Canonical (the developers of Ubuntu), they are hard at work on the new Unity 8 interface, which is projected to become the default Ubuntu interface by the 16.04 release (possibly the 15.10 release).  A few of the other Ubuntu-based distributions are in the same boat as well:

  • Lubuntu is working on the LXQt desktop but it’s not quite ready for prime-time.  (As a side note, you can add LXQt to Lubuntu to test it out.  I’ve played around with it a bit and found it a very nice lightweight desktop.)
  • Kubuntu 14.10 ships with KDE version 4.14, but the KDE 5 series is in full development, and we should see Kubuntu 15.04 ship with KDE 5.

So in many ways, this may be the lull before the storm. 2015 may prove to be a great year for Linux, and the Ubuntu desktops seem to be poised to take advantage of all the great stuff in current development.

Xubuntu has long been a favorite distribution of mine, so I was rather disappointed to see nothing in the way of upgrades since the last release.  In fact, I don’t see where any work was done at all, as all of the old bugs from version 14.04 were present (and even a few new ones were introduced).  They did add a new wallpaper (yawn) and added a nasty pink highlight to the theme.Boring!

The real development in the 14.10 series has been in two of the spin-off distributions: Ubuntu Gnome and Ubuntu Mate.  Ubuntu Gnome continues to impress, and in the latest release upgrades to Gnome 3.12, with 3.14 as an option for those who wish to add some developmental ppas.  Gnome Maps has been added as well, and several bugs have been fixed.  This continues to be my favorite distribution, and is what I use on a daily basis on my desktop computer.

Ubuntu Mate is undoubtedly the gem of this release cycle.  Yes, I know it hasn’t achieved “official” Ubuntu status…yet.  Pairing Ubuntu with the Mate desktop has been done before (Linux Mint uses Mate as its lightweight desktop version), but this distribution has a decidedly retro feel.  At first glance, this distribution reminded me of the old Gnome 2 days of Ubuntu, but that wasn’t what sold me on this distro.  For me, it was the ease of customization.  Want compiz?  No problem.  Different theme?  Tons available.  Customize the panels? No sweat.

In many ways, the Mate desktop reminds me of XFCE.  Both are GTK2 based, and are highly customizable.  However, while the development of XFCE is extremely slow (the last stable release was in 2012), Mate development is robust and active.  GTK3 should be available soon, and there are a host of other fixes and features coming down the pike.

So where does this leave me after testing this crop of Ubuntu desktops?  Ubuntu Gnome remains my favorite, so it continues to reside on my desktop computer.  Ubuntu Mate found a happy home on my laptop, and I look forward to playing with this distro to see what it is truly capable of.  Of course, I change operating systems like some people change socks, so who knows what may be on that laptop in a month or two.  Until them, I’m going to enjoy the Mate desktop to the full.