GNOME and Windows 8 developments have resulted in some controversial changes for Ubuntu 12.10 (codenamed Quantal Quetzal), which has now reached the Beta 2 stage. Fortunately, solutions now seem to be in place in time for the 18 October release to proceed as scheduled. Canonical has generated further controversy by introducing online scope results, specifically from Amazon, into the Dash search.
GRUB 2 boot loader
The adoption of the UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) secure boot by Microsoft complicates the issue of running Linux and Windows 8 as operating system choices on . Previously, Canonical had considered using the Intel efilinux loader because of possible legal problems over the terms of the GRUB GPLv3 licence. Now these problems seem to have been resolved and present plans are for Ubuntu 12.10 to use Microsoft-generated keys with a signed version of GRUB 2.
The GRUB 2 menu has been streamlined, with boots from earlier kernel versions now being assigned to a secondary page rather than listed on the first page.
The login prompt
The login prompt now includes an option for remote desktop access, so it's not even necessary to log into your local copy of Ubuntu. If you've set up an Ubuntu Remote Login Account, the Remote Login gives access to any remote machines you've added to that account, which appear as entries in the login prompt.
The Nautilus file manager
The GNOME developers have decided to slim down the latest version (3.6) of the Nautilus file manager, so that it sits more sensibly within GNOME 3. Unfortunately, Nautilus 3.6 no longer provides the features felt to be essential to Ubuntu, and so — as already reported in our— Ubuntu 12.10 sticks with Nautilus 3.4.
The 3.5 Linux kernel
As usual with Ubuntu, the Linux kernel shipped with the new release is updated, to a tweaked kernel based on the 3.5.3 upstream version. Key Linux kernel 3.5 features include: improved support for DisplayLink monitors and the hybrid graphics technologies mainly found in notebooks; performance monitoring support through uprobes; and the elimination of the cause of the 'leap second' bug. There's also improved support for FireWire hard disks, while the move to X.org's X Server 1.13 should deliver a general improvement in graphics performance.
Two of the biggest changes in Quantal Quetzal, already introduced in Beta 1, are the addition of the Unity Dash preview feature and the removal of the Unity 2D shell to simplify Unity development.
The Ubuntu developers have been busy porting the OpenGL compositing manager, compiz — and therefore the Unity shell — to GSettings, the GNOME high-level API for application settings. As a result, Unity 2D has been dropped because the metacity patches won't be ported, and Unity 2D isn't maintained to port from gconf to GSettings.
New Dash, More suggestions
New online results have been added to Unity Dash. Entries in the Dash search bar now generate results from Amazon and Ubuntu One in a 'More suggestions' category in the Dash display. For example, typing in 'Fir' (en route to 'Firefox') also generates hits for a Kindle Fire and, among other odd results, various music download links via the Ubuntu One cloud service.
Following the addition of game, book and magazine recommendations to the Ubuntu Software Centre, this further move 'to the dark side' of commercialisation has already provoked a strong response. Mark Shuttleworth has responded to the criticisms in a blog posted on 23 September.
Canonical's motivation for adding online scope to the appropriate lenses is that any Amazon purchase made via Ubuntu's servers generates a small percentage of revenue for Canonical through the affiliates programme, helping to fund further Ubuntu development.
The most recent news on this feature suggests that the final release may include an easy way to turn it off.
The Software Updater has been simplified and removed from the System control menu (accessed through the gear icon at the extreme top right of the display). Software Updater is now treated like any other application and is accessed via Dash. On launching, rather than requiring the user to initiate checks by clicking on a Check button, Software Updater now immediately checks for updates. The status display is simpler and smaller and shows just a moving status bar. With checks complete, details of the available updates are displayed. By default the technical descriptions of the updates are not shown. To install any available updates, users must confirm by clicking the Install Now button.
If there are no messaging related applications installed, such as Gwibber or Empathy, the Messaging menu now hides. Chat status is displayed via a new indicator at the bottom right corner of the Messaging envelope icon.
New versions for the bundled applications
A new Linux distribution release is always an opportunity to update to more recent versions of the bundled applications. In Ubuntu 12.10, for example, LibreOffice is incremented to version 184.108.40.206 and — although it's not installed by default — GIMP to version 2.8.
The indications from Beta 2 are that the release of Ubuntu 12.10, scheduled for 18 October, may make more of a splash than initially expected. According to the release schedule, further development freezes with the second beta, from which point only bug fixes and polishing should occur before the final release. However, there may be further adjustments to features such as the Amazon results for Dash search. Look out for our review of the final release in October.