The heart of the Linux desktop beats on with the latest release of Canonical's Ubuntu distribution: Ubuntu 19.04. But, in addition, the server version comes ready with the latest cloud and container tools.
Now, if you're using Ubuntu in production, you probably should stick with the Long Term Support Ubuntu 18.04. After all, it comes with ten years of support. But there's a lot of tempting goodness in Disco Dingo, Ubuntu 19.04's playful moniker.
Under the hood, Ubuntu 19.04 runs on top of the Linux 5.0 kernel. While this kernel doesn't include any powerhouse improvements, it brings some decent updates. These include: support for AMD Radeon RX Vega M graphics processor and Intel Cannonlake graphics. It also comes with USB 3.2 and Type-C and power-savings improvements.
What I found much more interesting is it comes with the brand new GNOME 3.32 desktop. The changes in this release are primarily on the surface. It comes with a refreshed look featuring new app icons and many of saturated base colors. The buttons are also more rounded and have a softer "shadow" border. The result is a more vivid, vibrant look, which I like a lot -- and I've not been a fan of GNOME's appearance for quite some time.
The default desktop also has a more consistent look. Ubuntu's default Yaru theme, which first appeared in Ubuntu 18.10 now has wider support with third-party applications.
Another nice new visual feature is fractional scaling for HiDPI screens which is now available with both the X-org and Wayland windows manager. In English, what that means is this makes reading fonts, especially in the terminal, on HD screens much easier.
One change I don't care for is that switches now use status colors instead of explicit ON and OFF text. I'm also not crazy about the departure of top-level application menus. GNOME, not Canonical, made this change. With it, all application menus now appear within-app windows.
If you install proprietary drivers and your PC has an Nvidia GPU, Ubuntu now automatically installs Nvidia's proprietary graphics driver best suited for your Nvidia graphics. If you like gaming on your Linux computer, this is a nice add-on. Even without those drivers, GNOME is now faster than it was in previous versions.
All-in-all, I like the changes to Ubuntu's default GNOME desktop. Of course, if you'd rather use another desktop there are versions -- such as Kubuntu with KDE, Ubuntu Mate; and Xubnutu, which uses Xfce -- for every taste. The desktop also comes with the usual assortment of the latest desktop programs. These include: Firefox 66.0, Thunderbird 60.6, and LibreOffice 6.2.2.
What I think is more interesting are this desktop's programming tools. Besides recently making Microsoft Visual Studio available as a snap, the new Ubuntu has the latest programming languages and tools. This includes glibc 2.29, OpenJDK 11, boost 1.67, rustc 1.31, and updated GCC 8.3, optional GCC 9, Python 3.7.3 as default, ruby 2.5.5, php 7.2.15, perl 5.28.1, and golang 1.10.4. On the POWER and AArch64 POWER and AArch64 toolchains you can now cross-compile for ARM, S390X and RISCV64 targets.
Another handy trick is that in this release you can install multiple instances of the same snap, Canonical's easy-to-install software packages. Why is this important? Because they don't have to be the same version. You can install two or more versions of a program. This makes Ubuntu 19.04 ideal for continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD), testing, or phased rollouts. Snap epochs control when and how data migration happens between major version upgrades.
If you run the Ubuntu desktop on VMware WorkStation, you'll be glad to know it now automatically installs the open-vm-tools package for improved integration. It also runs just fine, I found in my own tests, on my desktop virtual machine of choice Oracle VirtualBox.
As fun as all that is, the real improvements are in Ubuntu server and for the cloud. For example, Ubuntu comes with support for the just released OpenStack Stein Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) cloud and Kubernetes 1.14 container orchestration. Canonical is also providing optimised Ubuntu Server 19.04 and Minimal Ubuntu 19.04 images on all major public clouds.
Canonical is also continuing its work on Ubuntu for the edge and the Internet of Things (IoT). For example, Amazon published Greengrass for IoT as an Ubuntu snap. Ubuntu also supports The EdgeX IoT stack.
Taken all-in-all, this is an important update. I wouldn't get rid of Ubuntu 18.04 for the bulk of my work on the desktop, server, or cloud. But I would consider using 19.04 as my programming desktop. Maybe you will too. What do you think? Will you be giving Ubuntu 19.04 a try?