Next month’s Ubuntu release, 11.04 (codename Natty Narwal), will be radically different than releases before it. Using the Unity shell in place of the standard Gnome setup, 11.04 sports an elegant user interface and a plethora of changes. I’m using the alpha version on my primary computer (probably not a great idea, I realize) and am sincerely impressed. Expect a write-up next month, when 11.04 is officially released.
Many users won’t notice any changes, however, because they’ll keep using their older version of Ubuntu. Some won’t realize a new release is out, some won’t care to make the upgrade and still others will put off upgrading until later. While I wouldn’t recommend everyone make the switch on release day (bugs are sometimes known to be wiped out within a month of release), I do argue that using a relatively recent version of Ubuntu is a very good idea.
Happily, each release of Ubuntu is free to download and install. It’s also really easy to do an in-place upgrade; just run your update manager and you’ll be informed of the new release. There are more than a few benefits to staying up to date.
Get Security Updates
Security is probably the most essential reason to stay up to date. Simply put, many Ubuntu computers are no longer receiving security patches because the release they run is too old.
A new version of Ubuntu is released every six months, each with a number as its name. This isn’t a traditional version number; rather, it represents a year and a month. Next month, for example, is April of 2011; the fourth month of the century’s eleventh year. As such, the Ubuntu release coming out next month is version 11.04. Before that came 10.10, which came out in October (the tenth month) of 2010. Most releases are provided with security updates for 18 months after they are released. The exception to this rule, of course, is Long Term Service (LTS) releases, which are supported for three full years.
Confused? Click here to find out if your version of Ubuntu is still supported. You’ll see a nifty chart outlining the support lives of every Ubuntu release. It’s important you make sure your version of Ubuntu is still getting security updates. If it’s not, your computer could be vulnerable, and it’s time to upgrade to a newer version of Ubuntu.
The Latest Software, In Your Software Center
Ubuntu releases don’t just update what come with Ubuntu on the CD; they offer new versions of every piece of software in the repositories and the Ubuntu Software Center. As such, if you want quick access to the latest software, the simplest way is to use the latest version of Ubuntu.
That’s not to say that you can’t get the latest software on your older version of Ubuntu if you really want to. You could add an Ubuntu PPA and get access to the latest version of particular software. But it will only get you so far.
Bleeding Edge Software
Programmers are very likely to be using the latest version of Ubuntu. As such, if you want to try the latest and greatest Ubuntu software as profiled on MakeUseOf, you might need to be using a pretty new release. It’s not always convenient, but unfortunately it’s usually true.
As one of MakeUseOf’s Linux writers, I frequently feature exciting new apps for the platform. Frequently, in the comments section, I hear people saying a program doesn’t work on their computer. The reason is almost always a two-year-old version of Ubuntu.
Simply put: if you want to play around with new software you’re probably going to need a fairly recent version of Ubuntu.
Whether it’s Unity’s new user interface or improved printer drivers, there are usually a lot of great things in each new release of Ubuntu. Some of these can be added manually to older versions, of course, but the best way to get it all is to use the newest Ubuntu.
There are many different versions of Ubuntu, but pretty much all of them follow the same six month cycle. Regardless of what Ubuntu you use, staying up to date can improve your Ubuntu experience.
Can you think of any other compelling reasons to keep your Ubuntu installation up to date? If so, please share them below. Also feel free to offer any compelling counterpoints you might have, because I always love discussing these things with readers.