[Updated to include some great news on the evolution-rss bug. -Peng]
The Ubuntu devs released the beta of Ubuntu 9.10 “Karmic Koala” back on the first of the month (now available as a Release Candidate), and while I snagged the disk image pretty quickly it wasn’t until Friday a week ago that I was able to actually get a chance to fire up the LiveCD long enough to see how well it played with my system. I couldn’t find any major glitches in it other than a problem with my USB WiFi adapter, and I had already seen that people were having enough major issues with the combination that there was a request to change the status on the support for the adapter from some support to absolutely no support. Luckily I was already having enough connectivity issues with our Linksys WiFi router that I has already gone back to using the good, old-fashioned CAT 5 cable to connect to it.
After looking at a number of other items that are important to me I went to the page on the Ubuntu website about the 9.10 beta to check for any known issues that I needed to be aware of and decided it was an upgrade I could probably do safely. I ran command
sudo do-release-upgrade -d with the Run Application (Alt-F2) tool, although you could also run it in the terminal, and waited the two hours plus while my system got upgraded. Your system may take the upgrade more quickly or more slowly than mine, but having done a clean installation for version 9.04 I decided I didn’t want to go through the hassle of having to reinstall every bloody app and tool I use this time around. I did notice a number of dbus errors during the upgrade and unfortunately I didn’t think to document what they were about. They may have had something to do with how long my upgrade took, but I hadn’t found any dbus issues connected with the upgrade so I have absolutely no clue what the errors should have told me.
Now that I’ve used and updating Karmic for just over a week I found some things that I want to point out, some good, some not so good.
I kept seeing people say that the boot times for Ubuntu 9.10 are shorter and sure enough my boot time is shorter. Of course since the Ubuntu devs decided to switch from using Usplash for the initial boot splash to XSplash any Mac4Lin boot splashes would have been broken anyway (I never did get a Usplash working for Mac4Lin 1.0, much to may chagrin) but I have to say that I really do like the look of the new splash screens. The boot splash is a simple Ubuntu logo on a dark background, but I have to say the new XSplash is a thing of beauty. As you can see in a YouTube video posted on Softpedia’s article on the newly released Ubuntu 9.10 beta, it’s no longer a simple case of the Ubuntu logo and a progress bar. The Ubuntu logo is now suspended and lit by an overhead spotlight and the animated bar now scrolls up rather than going from left to right.
In addition, they’ve added the Ubuntu Software Center (USC) as a new tool for adding software to the usual collection of Synaptic and Add/Remove Software. When I first looked at it I thought, “So what? I can do the same thing with existing tools.” Except the UI for the USC makes it a lot handier than Add/Remove Software. You can either search for a specific app or browse through the library and when you find what you’re looking for you’re provided with a much nicer information screen complete with buttons to wither install the software as well as to go to the app’s website where you can get even more information. The information screen even lets you know the version that’s available, something that Add/Remove Software never had. Have software you installed from a Debian package (.deb)? The USC knows about the app (at least what the package told the system) and gives you a button to remove it. It may not always have the application’s icon, but that may be more of a limitation in the package itself. Yes, you can do all this via Synaptic, but not everyone’s all that comfortable with it.
For the most part I’m pretty happy with the upgrade. I won’t bore you with a ton of specifics or screenies (I’ll include a link to some screenshots I made at the end) but there are a few things that I noticed are definite improvements in the user experience for me. The first thing I noticed was a dialog that popped up on my first reboot after the upgrade was done. I knew my hard drives were getting a bit old in the tooth, but now I could see just how bad things are getting. I dismissed the dialog, but now when I boot up I get an icon in my notification area and when I click on it I get a helpful message. I can click on the message and get more information, and I know I need to replace that drive one of these days but now I know I need to do it sooner than later (picture). I can disable the message if I want, as I can for the warnings that I’m getting low on disk space on my partitions. Those warnings come up each boot, as well as when I’m working with videos and the available space gets too small. Yes, they can be a little annoying, but I haven’t decided to silence them just yet.
An even nicer improvement comes in the Update Manager. Now it lets you know the source for the particular updates, plus it flat-out gives you more information on the update, such as the version number. This is information that’s been missing from the Update Manager for as long as I’ve used Ubuntu.
Another small, yet a very nice set of improvements came in Evolution. The first is a better visual notification of new messages coming in. In the past when you fired up Evo you simply saw the folder names bold when you had unread messages, which is okay, unless you left some messages marked unread to follow-up on as I do. Now you’ll see that there’s a star on the folder that has brand new unread messages.
The other improvements come to those who use Evo as their RSS reader. Not only does Evo show the site icons for the folders with feeds where available (the other folders use the stock RSS feed icon), but on many sites you can now see the comments when you look at the article summaries. I’m not sure why they show up on some feeds and not others, but I have noticed that some feeds still show a count for the number of comments without actually showing the comments themselves. But it’s not all good news with Evo though.
There’s one more fan-damn-tastic improvement in Ubuntu 9.10 that I just discovered trying to get caught up on my RSS feeds: It’s a piece of baklava to enable using Ctrl-Alt-Backspace to force a new X session. Just go to System > Preferences > Keyboard > Layouts > Layout Options. Then select Key Sequence to kill the X server and check Control + Alt + Backspace. That’s all it takes. Yooouge thanks to Panji Nushantara for pointing it out on his blog.
The Not So Good
First off all let me warn you about a potential deal breaker in the updated Evolution. If you’re like me and you use Evo for your RSS/ATOM feed reader you won’t want to grab the new Evo. The reason for this warning is the fact that for some unknown (to me) reason the evolution-rss plugin no longer works and no feeds are updated (filed as Bug #460462 with fixed link). Luckily you can export your feed list (Edit > Preferences > News and Blogs > Export) so you can migrate your subscribed feeds to another app like Liferea and hopefully not miss too many days’ posts. There’s also an advantage that Liferea has over Evolution’s RSS plugin: You can sort and rename your feed folders to your heart’s content without borking the feed settings, something that you can’t say about evolution-rss. Updated 26 October 4:00 pm: Thanks to some very quick work by Andrew Starr-Bochicchio the evolution-rss bug is already fixed. There’s a .deb package on comment #6 on the bug, or you can wait for it to be available through the Update Manager as it’s already been accepted for distribution.
There are more upgrades in Ubuntu 9.10 that aren’t such good news, and one that sticks out like a sore thumb on my system is the GNOME web browser, Epiphany. As I mentioned back in December I finally got tired of the decisions Firefox devs were making and switched to using Epiphany for my web surfing. There were two flavors of Epiphany, one using the Mozilla Gecko rendering engine and one using Webkit, but the Webkit version didn’t quite seem ready for prime time so I was using the Gecko version. It was great that I had the option and it allowed me the option of using a Gecko-based browser without dealing with what I thought were boneheaded UI decisions from Firefox devs. Unfortunately the Epiphany devs have stopped supporting the Gecko engine and since with the release of Epiphany 2.26.3 Epiphany/Gecko no longer exists, Epiphany/Gecko is simply not available in Ubuntu 9.10. You may think that’s not a big problem, except there are some basic behavior issues that no longer available.
There’s finally a semi-usable spell checker in Epiphany now. I saw semi-usable because if I select a correct spelling the misspelled word is deleted but not replaced with the correct spelling (filed as Bug #460450).
The biggest issue is that you can no longer right-click a link and select Open in New Tab from the context menu. You also can’t middle-click a link on every site and open it in a new tab, especially when the links are on a Google site like Gmail.
Another serious usability issue for me is that the extensions that I used don’t seem to work quite properly anymore. The biggest issue for me is the fact that my beloved New Blank Tab extension no longer seems to be working. I’m hoping someone will come along and fix it because while the Tab Foreground extension works it doesn’t let me open a new tab and go straight to the location bar so I can type (or paste) in a URI. This is a rather big pain in the arse, although not quite as big as the no middle-click issue.
Wallpaper Tray is another app that has broken in the upgrade. For some reason it flat out won’t launch on booting for some reason. I ended up switching to Desktop Drapes, which is a nice app that I can put right on my upper panel, but doesn’t have the hover feature of showing the path and filename for the current wallpaper like Wallpaper Tray does. Hopefully we can get that fixed before too long.
On the Whole
One the whole there are some nice benefits to the upgrade, as long as you don’t depend on the features I mentioned above. As I finally finish this post we have a mere four days before Ubuntu 9.10 “Karmic Koala” is released, now may be a great time to snag the ISO for the Release Candidate and try it out on your own system. Remember, try the LiveCD before you make the upgrade, and look at every app that you use now to make sure the upgrade won’t bring bad news as I found. make sure you also read the overview before you make the upgrade for more information on what’s coming in the upgrade as well as the known issues.
Check out all of my Ubuntu 9.10 screenshots in my Picasa Web Album.