Canonical has announced the availability of Ubuntu 10.10, a major update of the popular Linux distribution. The new version introduces the Unity netbook environment, which offers a custom desktop shell that is optimized for ease of use on small displays and has a global menubar to conserve vertical screen space.
Ubuntu's installer got a major overhaul in this release, with substantial user interface improvements and new features. The new installer can start downloading updated packages during the early stages of the configuration process in order to save the user from having to run a full update immediately after installation. It also has a new option that lets users choose to automatically install closed-source components, such as multimedia codecs.
The Software Center has a new look and presents Ubuntu's application catalog in a cleaner and more intuitive way. When you select an application that supports plugins, the relevant add-on packages will be listed so that you can easily install them alongside the main application. It also has a new history view that shows a timeline of package activity. Canonical aims to start selling software through the store in the near future and has already started testing the infrastructure.
Bringing multitouch to the desktop is a major goal for Ubuntu, but the effort is still at a relatively early stage of development. Enabling multitouch hardware was the primary focus during this development cycle. Some devices like the Apple Magic Mouse and certain touchscreen displays are now supported, but multitouch features haven't been deeply integrated into the user experience yet. It has reached the stage where application developers can take advantage of the hardware support to start adding multitouch features to their software. It's likely that we will see more user-visible multitouch capabilities in future versions of the operating system.
Canonical's Ayatana team has continued its efforts to overhaul the desktop panel and notification area. The new audio indicator has built-in controls for managing playback of compatible audio applications, such as GNOME's Rhythmbox music player.
The underlying desktop has been updated to GNOME 2.32, a transitional release that introduces some new architectural components like dconf ahead of the upcoming launch of GNOME 3. There aren't a lot of user-facing improvements in GNOME 2.32, however. One that is worth noting is the addition of metacontact support to GNOME's Empathy instant messaging client.
The Ubuntu One cloud service, which integrates with the Ubuntu desktop and offers features like contact file and contact synchronization, has also been updated. Canonical has changed the pricing structure of the service to make it more competitive. Users can extend their storage capacity in 20GB increments for an additional $2.99 a month. The service has also gained support for mobile music streaming, as we reported last week.