Ubuntu 13.10, aka Saucy Salamander, is almost here. The popular Linux desktop just when into final beta and it's on schedule to go final on October 17. While Ubuntu desktop users will be happy to see the latest and greatest from Canonical, the important news for Ubuntu's corporate backer will be the release of its smartphone brother, Ubuntu Touch.
With only weeks to go before launch, Ubuntu Touch is still having some teething problems (Google Docs). On its reference hardware, the Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 4 smartphones, Ubuntu Touch is working well. On tablets, it's also working on the Samsung Nexus 10; but on the Asus Nexus 7, it's having real trouble. The core smartphone functionality, however, is there.
I've had a chance to play some with Ubuntu Touch and I think it has a reasonable chance to be a mobile operating system contender. That said, I'm looking forward to seeing the first real release and trying it out in day to day use.
Moving to the desktop, Ubuntu 13.10 is based on the 3.11 Linux kernel, jokingly known as Linux for Workgroups. It will include the usual Linux desktop programs: Firefox 24 for the Web browser; LibreOffice 4.1 for the office suite; Thunderbird for email; and Rhythmbox will be the default music player.
So much for the basics. Where things get interesting, and controversial, is with Ubuntu's new graphics stack and its built-in search options: Smart Scopes.
Mir won't be 100-percent ready for Ubuntu 13.10. Instead, it will use Xmir. This is a stack where X and Unity 7, the Ubuntu desktop, will run on top of the Mir system compositor by default, with a fallback of running X if there's no hardware that the Mir drivers can support. Intel, for one, will not be supporting Xmir.
For users, none of this is likely to matter. Regardless of your platform, you'll still be able to watch your LoLCat videos or what have you. For developers, it's a different story. At this point, while Wayland has the momentum, there's still no telling which, if either, will succeed X Window. It's worth noting that Linux game vendor Valve is electing to stick with X in its forthcoming Ubuntu-based SteamOS.
In Ubuntu 13.10, when you search with Unity Dash you'll have the option of having your local search not only look into Amazon but in Facebook, Google Drive, Yelp, and dozens of other services as well. Personally, I think this will be a handy feature.
While I'm really looking forward to seeing the next Ubuntu desktop, what's really going to be important this go-around will be Ubuntu Touch. It's this, far more than on the desktop, that Canonical is counting on to bring in the business to finally make it a profitable company.