The latest version of the most popular Linux distribution is here, and it’s called Ubuntu 16.10. This release comes six months after its predecessor. The user-friendly desktop doesn’t offer any substantial new features this time around. Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, views the existing experience as largely complete.
The lack of substantial changes leads to a simple question — is Ubuntu 16.10, also known as Yakkety Yak, even worth a go?
I can’t answer that question for you, but I can give you a few reasons why your decision might be Yes.
1. You Get to Try Out Unity 8
Unity 8 is the next generation of the Ubuntu desktop, which Canonical has been developing for years. It’s all part of the company’s convergence vision, the idea of a single system working across PCs, tablets, and phones. The experience is already up and running on mobile devices, but the desktop still needs work.
Ubuntu 16.10 offers a sneak peak at the current state of Unity 8. You can select the preview as an alternate session when signing in. Just don’t expect to spend much time there. Unity 8 currently only handles basic web browsing and little else. Here’s a peak provided by OMG! Ubuntu!.
2. Updated GNOME Apps
Canonical doesn’t develop most of the software on your Ubuntu desktop. Much of what you see comes from the GNOME project. This includes applications such as the text editor and calculator.
Canonical does make changes to these programs in order for them to properly integrate with the Unity desktop. As a result, this software lags behind the versions you see in other distros.
Now all GNOME applications are at least version 3.20.
Many are even 3.22, which is the most recent release. This means Ubuntu users now get to enjoy the enhancements GNOME has introduced over the past few years. This is especially noticeable in core applications such as the file manager, which now provides better sorting options and search filters.
3. Newer Software
Every Ubuntu release comes with newer versions of your favorite applications. When you boot up Yakkety Yak for the first time, Mozilla Firefox 49 will be your gateway to the web. Thunderbird 45 will handle your mail. LibreOffice 5.2.2 will be the office suite for your next assignment.
You may be thinking to yourself, “Of course the apps are newer, why is that worthy of a mention?” Simple — this will probably be the single biggest reason many people embrace 16.10. Long-Term Support releases like 16.04 offer more stability and a longer shelf life, but application updates are slow to arrive, if ever. Making the transition to Yakkety Yak will keep your experience feeling more fresh.
4. Linux Kernel 4.8
Ubuntu 16.10 comes with the latest Linux kernel, 4.8. Why should you care? A big draw of kernel updates is expanded support for more devices and accessories. For example, this kernel supports the Microsoft Surface 3’s touchscreen.
The kernel has gained support for mode-setting on new NVIDIA Pascal cards using the Nouveau driver. Plus AMD GPU owners can now overclock using the free AMDGPU driver.
5. Newer Versions of Other Desktop Environments
Unity may not see much love these days, but it’s not the only way to enjoy Ubuntu. Kubuntu has taken KDE from version 5.5 to 5.7. Ubuntu GNOME gives you those core GNOME apps without Canonical’s changes. Ubuntu Mate has leapt from 1.12 to 1.16.
Not every flavor has an updated desktop environment. Xubuntu still runs XFCE 4.4. Not much has changed with Lubuntu either. But these alternative flavors remain an important part of the Ubuntu ecosystem, and you might find them more appealing than the core experience.
Is That All?
For the most part. If you’re feeling underwhelmed, you probably remember the Ubuntu of yesteryear. Back in the days of 8.10, 9.04, and 10.04 each release brought forth a new theme or ambitious feature. Unity first appeared in 10.10 as a network interface before replacing the regular desktop in 11.04.
By comparison, modern Ubuntu updates feel relatively stagnant. You would be forgiven for not being able to distinguish between 12.04 and 16.10. Canonical’s priorities have been elsewhere. Much of that work hides in the background, such as transitioning to Snap packages. Until Unity 8 is ready for prime time, this appears to be the way life in Ubuntu will be.
In the meantime, you could use this opportunity to try out other distros. Rather than wait years on Ubuntu go get the latest GNOME features, experience them now with Fedora. Or try a distro that’s relatively agnostic about your desktop environment, such as openSUSE. If you’re using Ubuntu because of its user friendliness, take a look at Elementary OS — which you can make look like Ubuntu. And I would be remiss if I failed to mention Linux Mint, a distro some have long regarded as better for newcomers.
Are You Making the Upgrade?
You don’t have to do so right away. The early days after a new release are often the most buggy. Taking your time gives the developers time to receive feedback and produce fixes. There’s no need to rush, but you might want to switch eventually if for no other reason than to get newer software.
What are your thoughts of Ubuntu 16.10? Have you made the upgrade? What encouraged you to make the switch? Or did you simply see no reason not to? Join the conversation in the comments below!
Image Credits: kamalrana/Shutterstock