Version 21.10 marks the latest version of Ubuntu, and while Canonical has turned more attention to the cloud and developers, Ubuntu "Impish Indri" brings a number of significant changes for the many who still use the Ubuntu desktop on a daily basis.
Here's what to expect when you complete your download.
1. GNOME 40 makes its big Ubuntu debut
GNOME version 40 marked a major visual change, if not very functional, when it was a redesigned GNOME that hit the market in early 2021. Canonical's tweaks and adjustments weren't ready in time for April 21st, so October 21st marks the big debut of these changes in Ubuntu.
In typical Ubuntu fashion, the dock maintains its always-visible position on the left side of the screen, but other changes from GNOME 40 have carried it over. For example, when you open the activity overview, workspaces now pan horizontally and are visible when you open the app drawer.
Ubuntu's dock is also seeing some changes as part of the transition. A separator now separates favorite apps from running apps, and a trash can icon on the dock also replaces the desktop version of the icon.
Another big change is the addition of multi-touch gestures on the touchpad to activate or switch between workspaces and access apps.
2. Firefox is now delivered as a snap
At the request of Mozilla, the Firefox version delivered by default with Ubuntu will no longer be packaged as DEB. Instead, it comes in Canonical's Snap format, which gives Mozilla more direct control over how quickly Ubuntu users receive Firefox updates.
You can expect a shorter delay between starting a new version of Firefox and the update appearing on your system. The Snap format also offers some security benefits due to containerization that restricts which parts of your system Firefox can access.
Firefox isn't the first browser Canonical is now selling on the fly. The first was Chromium, the open source foundation for the proprietary Google Chrome. Chromium was never shipped as the default browser, however.
This change is not only limited to the latest version of the Mozilla browser, but also includes the extended support version.
3. The Yaru Light theme is now standard
This is the first version of Ubuntu to ship with GTK4, and at the same time as this transition there is a switch to using the light version of the Yaru theme as the default. This means you'll see light gray header bars instead of black ones, a change that makes apps more in line with the look of developers who make their apps look.
Ubuntu tweaks remain, such as different icons and the retention of the "Minimize" and "Maximize" buttons. So you will continue to see discrepancies between Ubuntu and upstream sources.
4. Linux Kernel 5.13 brings better security and device support
21.10 comes with the Linux kernel 5.13, which offers new security functions such as Kernel Electric-Fence (KFENCE), a runtime memory error detector and a new "Landlord" security module that can be run together with other Linux security modules (LSM) to better control or restrict what running processes can and cannot access.
This kernel also adds support for Amazon Luna game controllers while improving support for other peripherals like the Apple Magic Mouse 2. Owners of various Microsoft Surface laptops can also see better support for their hardware in this version of Ubuntu.
5. Graphic applications in the Windows subsystem for Linux
This is technically a Windows feature, but a highlight of 21.10 that Canonical pointed out is the out-of-the-box support for graphical applications on the Windows subsystem for Linux. This means that Windows users can run full-fledged native Linux graphical applications, rather than just command line tools, without having to dual-boot or run Linux in a virtual machine.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, not long after starting WSL, people found a way to run graphical applications in WSL, but that was not a supported functionality and required a few steps. That is no longer the case. However, Canonical sees this as a feature aimed at Windows developers, rather than an attempt to trick general Windows users into running native Linux apps.
6. NVIDIA closed source driver now supports Wayland
In 04/21, Ubuntu once again adopted Wayland as the default display server on devices that could support it. That was largely all well and good for machines with Intel or AMD graphics. The elephant in the room? NVIDIA. Open source drivers enabled a working desktop, but the experience shifted back to X.Org when you enabled the proprietary drivers.
As of 10/21 you can now use Wayland with proprietary graphics drivers. This is a big change as Wayland is the direction Linux is going, with many security advantages over X.Org. But don't be surprised if the feature parity is still not 100%. There is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that Wayland and NVIDIA's closed code is completely on par.
Remember, Ubuntu 21.10 is an intermediate release
A new version of Ubuntu comes out every six months. Every fourth release is a long-term support version. H. Canonical has supported this version for years longer than the other releases known as interim releases.
The vast majority of Ubuntu users download the LTS version so they only have to deal with performing a major system upgrade every two years or more, or longer if they want to wait for the full support period instead of the latest version to jump.
Intermediate versions such as 21.10 offer a more up-to-date system and the opportunity to get a foretaste of the next LTS version in advance.
Should you download Ubuntu 21.10?
Intermediate versions of Ubuntu are stable and make for great desktops, just like the LTS. If you want a newer version of GNOME, this may be the main reason to choose 10/21 instead of 04/20. Thanks to the abundance of apps in snap format and the hardware enablement stack, you can also run the LTS on newer hardware and stay up to date with apps.
If you choose to skip this version, the next version of Ubuntu will be 22.04, the next LTS.
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About the author
(333 published articles)
Bertel is a digital minimalist who writes from a laptop with physical privacy switches and an operating system recommended by the Free Software Foundation. He values ethics over functions and helps others take control of their digital lives.
From Bertel King
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