Ubuntu Linux will never be the same after version 17.10

The latest version of Ubuntu Linux is here with the GNOME desktop as its new interface, as Ubuntu bids adieu to its own takes on the Linux desktop.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Ready for a really new Ubuntu desktop? Then start downloading Ubuntu 17.10 today. Canonical has abandoned its Unity interface in favor of the new GNOME 3.26 desktop, and has replaced its homegrown Mir display server with Wayland.

That may sound like a radical change, but if you look closely at the new Ubuntu 17.10, Artful Aardvark, desktop, it will look familiar. That's because while the underlying technologies have changed, Ubuntu's developers have customized its default GNOME desktop to look and feel like Unity.

At the same time, there is a fundamental change here. Canonical is no longer working on being a desktop leader. It's using the shared work of other Linux desktop vendors instead of trying to set its own software course. The company's developers are focusing far more on the cloud, containers, and the Internet of Things (IoT).

If the new Unity-like GNOME interface is not to your taste, you can also get Ubuntu 17.10 with the KDE desktop, Kubuntu 17.10; MATE with Ubuntu MATE; or Budgie with Ubuntu Budgie desktops. If you're an experienced Linux user, you already know the first two. Budgie, however, is newer. It's based on GNOME, but it's been adapted by Solus Linux developers to be extremely easy to use.

If you're upgrading from Ubuntu 17.04 or Ubuntu 16.04, you don't have to give up on Unity. While you boot into GNOME after upgrading, Unity is still there and ready to run upon completion of the upgrade process ... but Ubuntu 17.10 won't delete Unity. So if you'd rather continue to use the Unity environment, you can.

While Canonical is no longer investing in Unity, there's still some interest in finishing up the next version of Unity 8. Unfortunately, the last release from this group of independent programmers came out months ago, so I have little hope that Unity will prove a viable desktop interface.

As for applications, Canonical conducted a user survey and while there will not be an all EMACS version of Ubuntu, other changes were made or old decisions were reinforced. For example, Firefox 56 will remain Ubuntu's default web browser; Thunderbird 52, the email client; and LibreOffice 5.4.1, the office suite.

In addition, while Ubuntu users still love gedit for their text editor, Ubuntu also now supports the Atom editor and Microsoft Visual Studio Code for developer editors.

Under the hood, Ubuntu 17.10 ships with the 4.13 Linux kernel. This enables the latest hardware and peripherals from ARM, IBM, Dell, Intel, and others. This kernel adds support for OPAL-encrypted disk drives along with numerous disk I/O improvements.

This new desktop is also depreciating the 32-bit version. You can no longer download 32-bit ISOs. You can, however, upgrade your existing 32-bit version. You can also use Netinst, the MinimalCD image or Ubuntu 17.10 server to get a 32-bit version of the operating system.

Canonical is also moving forward with Snaps for application installation and updates. Snaps are a single delivery and update application mechanism for an application across multiple Linux releases and architectures, and improve security by confining the app to its own dataset.

Ubuntu 17.10 features platform snaps for GNOME and KDE, which enable developers to build and distribute smaller snaps with shared common libraries. Delta updates already ensure that snap updates are generally faster, use less bandwidth, and are more reliable than updates to traditional DEB packages in Ubuntu. DEB, nonetheless, continues to be supported, There are now more than 2,000 Snaps for Ubuntu and other Linux distributions.

For networks, it's easier than ever to connect Ubuntu with public Wi-Fi access points with better support for captive portals. Ubuntu 17.10 also supports driverless printing with IPP Everywhere, Apple AirPrint, Mopria, and Wi-Fi Direct. Artful Aardvark also enables simple switching between built-in audio devices and Bluetooth.

Network configuration has also been simplified. It now uses netplan as the back-end for network configuration. This is a YAML network configuration abstraction for various back-ends. It's backwards compatible, so you'll still be able to manage your network with managed-by tools such as NetworkManager, while providing a simple overview of the entire system in a single place. New Ubuntu 17.10 installations use Netplan to drive systemd-networkd and NetworkManager. Ordinary desktop users won't see this. They'll still see NetworkManager as their network interface.

While most people will be excited by the new desktop, Ubuntu 17.10 and the next long-term support (LTS) version, Ubuntu 18.04, are really meant for cloud, container and Internet of Things (IoT) users.

As Mark Shuttleworth, Canonical's CEO and founder said in a statement, "Ubuntu 17.10 is a milestone in our mission to enable developers across the cloud and the Internet of Things. With the latest capabilities in Linux, it provides a preview of the next major LTS and a new generation of operations for AI, container-based applications, and edge computing."

For cloud and container users, 17.10 brings Kubernetes 1.8 for hyper-elastic container operations, and minimal base images for containers. Canonical's Distribution of Kubernetes, (CDK), also supports native Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud integration, native deployment and operations on VMWare, Canal as an additional networking choice, and support for the IBM zSeries mainframe.

Put it all together and what you have is an Ubuntu that now relies more than ever on the work of other Linux distributors instead of trying to set its own course. Simultaneously, Canonical is clearly focusing more of its attention on the cloud, containers, and the IoT. In the past, Ubuntu was the Linux desktop. In the future, Ubuntu wants to be the Linux of the cloud-based enterprise.

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