The next version of the world's preeminent Linux distro, Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, is almost upon us. The final beta of 14.04 Trusty Tahr (an African wild goat) has just been released, with the final build due on 17 April. Trusty Tahr is the first long-term support (LTS) build of Ubuntu in two years, and thus it contains a lot of exciting features that thousands (millions?) of Ubuntu 12.04 users can't wait to get their hands on.
Because Trusty is an LTS, most of the changes are fairly conservative in nature. Unity 7 is still there. Mir, the new graphics stack being developed by Canonical that is due to eventually replace the X Window System, is still a long way off.
Despite Canonical's Shuttleworth saying that Ubuntu 14.04 would include the Touch/Mobile, it appears they won't make it into the final build. (Canonical has revised its estimate for the first Ubuntu smartphones to the third quarter of 2014, so there's still a little time to polish things up). For the big changes, you'll be waiting for Ubuntu 14.10 (or likely even later for Mir).
So, what is new in Ubuntu 14.04? There is finally the option for locally integrated menus (LIM) in an app's title bar (see the image below), instead of forcing the app's menu to appear at the top of the screen (enable it in the new Unity Control Centre). There's a new Unity lock screen. You now have the option of minimising apps from the launcher (and launcher icons can be made much smaller, too). Windows are now completely borderless, rather than bounded by a one-pixel black line. The shift from Compiz to GTK3 means window corners are now antialiased – oh, and resizing windows in Ubuntu 14.04 now occurs in real time.
Moving down the list of importance: Ubuntu 14.04 also improves support for high resolution displays, TRIM is enabled by default for Intel and Samsung SSDs, Nvidia Optimus support is improved, and you can pump the system volume up above 100 per cent. All of the default applications have been updated to their latest stable versions (Firefox 28, LibreOffice 4.2.3, Nautilus 3.10.1, etc), and it rocks Linux kernel 3.13.
This video from WepUpd8 shows most of Ubuntu 14.04's new features, but be sure to turn your sound down before pressing play.
Overall, Ubuntu 14.04 is a surprisingly pleasant operating system. It feels very polished, especially for a Linux distro. If you've been using 12.04 for the last couple of years, 14.04 will feel like a sizable step up. The question, though, is whether Canonical should even be putting much time into desktop builds of Ubuntu – the desktop PC is undoubtedly on its way out, and I'm not entirely sure what role Canonical can play on other form factors. It might be able to gain some traction on TVs, but I'm fairly certain that mobile has already been sewn up tight by Android (also a Linux distro) and iOS. (I'm looking at you too, Firefox OS.)
Download Ubuntu 14.04 Trusty Tahr here. For the first time, every flavour of Ubuntu 14.04 (Desktop, Server, Edubuntu, Lubuntu, etc) has been approved for LTS status, meaning they'll all be supported for a minimum of three years, and some of them will be supported for five.
Image Credit: WebUpd8