Even though Ubuntu's servers were absolutely hammered today, I was able to download and test out the latest 9.10 Karmic Koala beta.
Tech Broiler Ubuntu Karmic Koala 9.10 Beta Tour from Jason Perlow
While I would consider Karmic Koala to be an evolutionary improvement rather than a revolutionary one over Jaunty Jackalope and Intrepid Ibex where functionality is concerned, I can certainly see where a great deal of the development time went, and that is raw performance.
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I used Sun xVM VirtualBox 3.06 to create a Virtual Machine using the 64-bit version of Karmic Koala, with two vCPUs, 2GB of RAM and a 40GB virtual disk file. Once I tweaked my virtual hardware settings accordingly for all of the AMD64/AMD-V performance optimizations -- something that I wouldn't need to do with native hardware -- installation was a breeze and an absolute pleasure. The installer application itself is extremely polished and looks like something that even Apple might produce, it's that good, using nice transition effects and a fully automated hardware detection.
The Karmic Koala desktop is GNOME 2.28, which is the latest and greatest. Ubuntu has made a number of tweaks and improvements to the built in applications, namely the Software Center which has a friendlier look and feel. Empathy is a new multimedia Instant Messenger application that replaces Pidgin, which had a few issues with Google Talk protocol that I needed to resolve by changing the default settings to "use old SSL" and forcing the server to talk.google.com and specifying port 443. Otherwise, it seems like a nice alternative to Pidgin but doesn't quite have all the plugins that I'm used to. Fortunately with the Software Center, you can add Pidgin back in.
For productivity Karmic Koala also comes with the latest GIMP 2.6 as well as OpenOffice 3.1. Firefox is 3.5.3, the latest patched version. In the 64-bit version of the OS Ubuntu preloads the 64-bit version of the browser, which presents a few issues when it comes to plugin compatibility, particularly with Flash. You might want to consider installing the 32-bit version of Firefox manually.
Under the hood, Karmic Koala sports a 2.6.31 Linux kernel and now uses the GRUB 2 bootloader and ext4 filesystem by default, as well as significant tweaks to udev that contribute to some of its performance improvements.
Koala looks like it's going to be a nice release, I'm looking forward to the final version with all the various buglets and glitches I've encountered all cleaned up. For those of you who like to be on the bleeding edge, definitely give the beta a whirl.
Have you tested Karmic Koala yet? Talk Back and Let Me Know.