Ubuntu Natty Narwhal beta surfaces from Canonical

The release is the first to introduce the Unity desktop as standard and includes updates to features of the Ubuntu One sync and Ubuntu Software Centre
Written by Ben Woods, Senior reporter on

The first beta version of the Natty Narwhal Ubuntu operating system is available, bringing with it the new Unity desktop as standard.

The release marks the first public beta phase of the Ubuntu 11.04 and combines the netbook and desktop editions. The update includes a host of changes to the Linux-based OS, such as the inclusion of Firefox 4 as standard, according to a developer notification from Kate Stewart, Ubuntu release manager, on Thursday.

Natty Narwhal beta 1

The first beta of Ubuntu 11.04, code-named Natty Narwhal. Credit: JA Watson

The Natty Narwhal desktop is the first version of Ubuntu to ship with the Unity interface as standard, instead of Gnome. Unity has been overhauled from its earlier incarnation and now allows for reordering of icons by dragging-and-dropping, and supports keyboard navigation and shortcuts.

Since announcing that Ubuntu would use Unity by default, several users have expressed dissatisfaction on the Ubuntu forums, with many preferring the 'classic' interface.

"I took a look at 11.04 beta 1 and find Unity most confusing. I have used Ubuntu for many years and will need to learn much to properly use Unity. I do not like the global menus for one nor the loss of space on the left," a user by the name of 'azurehi' wrote on Thursday, in a thread that began in October 2010 and has had nearly 100,000 views. "I fail to see what Natty will offer to new users of Ubuntu. Classic is still available but how long."

Default packages

Alongside making Firefox 4 the default browser, 11.04 includes LibreOffice 3.3.2 as the default office package and Banshee 1.9.5 as the standard music player.

Stewart also said that the Ubuntu One sync service is now faster and the control panel allows for selective syncing. The Ubuntu One icon also now shows sync progress.

Users of the Ubuntu Software Centre can now rate and review installed apps, and share reviews with social-networking services via new features added to Gwibber.

Although Natty Narwhal no longer has separate netbook and desktop editions, Canonical is still producing a version for netbooks based on ARM architecture. This release includes driver improvements — most notably the display driver, which now uses the HDMI port by default and will auto-detect monitor resolutions, Stewart noted. It will also include the Unity 2D interface.

Alongside the Ubuntu beta 1 release, Canonical also released betas of its Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Edubuntu, Mythbuntu, and Ubuntu Studio on Thursday.

The second beta release of Ubuntu is scheduled for 14 April, with the finished version due on 28 April.

On 7 March, founder of the Ubuntu project Mark Shuttleworth announced that the next version of Ubuntu — version 11.10 — would be code-named Oneiric Ocelot. Ubuntu has moved to a six-month release schedule meaning that Oneiric Ocelot should be arriving in October.

In January, Shuttleworth announced that, following the release of Natty Narwhal, Ubuntu would consider supporting Qt apps by default.

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