Thursday, October 14, 2010

Is Ubuntu 10.10 Worth the Upgrade?

Newest is not always best. Take the Ubuntu 10.10 release that came out on October 10th. Ubuntu users who are happy with their current release may want to hold off before taking the plunge.

The Ubuntu 10.04 release was very solid, with a lot of major improvements that made it a no-brainer for an upgrade. That, plus the fact that it’s a Long Term Support (LTS) release, which is the right time to grab an upgrade for almost all users. The 10.10 “Maverick” release brings some improvements over 10.04, but they’re so minor that it’s probably not worth making the change.

I’ve been running 10.10 betas and the RC for weeks, and had been running Ubuntu 10.04 LTS on a few machines before that. Honestly, it’s hard to see much difference between the two. Plus several points for consistency, but that doesn’t add up to rushing to upgrade at the first opportunity.

Ubuntu does make it easy to upgrade in place — but going from Ubuntu 10.04 LTS to Ubuntu 10.10 means giving up 18 months of support. For some users, 36 months is entirely too long to use a release — you’ve probably already upgraded if you’re in this group. But for more conservative Linux users or for folks who are maintaining machines for others, the transition from 10.04 to 10.10 may not make sense.

Why not upgrade?

Giving up 18 months of support means there has to be a compelling reason to upgrade. For instance, I’m volunteering with a small organization in St. Louis called ByteWORKS. Like Free Geek, ByteWORKS takes in older computers that have been donated by companies or organizations that are refreshing their hardware. Part of the refurb process is installing Ubuntu on the machines — usually a Long Term Support release because most of the users are not Linux experts and it’s important to have a release that’s going to be supported for a long time.

With Ubuntu 10.10, there simply aren’t enough compelling new features over Ubuntu 10.04 to justify switching to the new release. While 10.10 does have some nice refinements and plenty of new packages, none of them are super-compelling. The primary improvements in 10.10, outside the usual version bumps, are in Ubuntu One and the Software Center.

Ubuntu’s revamped Software Center is a bit nicer to use and offers some real improvement over 10.04. The primary new feature in the Software Center is the ability for Canonical to offer proprietary packages for sale. Not exactly a compelling reason for most users to upgrade — especially when there are only a few packages to buy.

The Ubuntu One improvements, likewise. The streaming clients for the iPhone and Android are nice, but probably not worth an upgrade in and of themselves.

Netbook and KDE

The KDE and Netbook editions are slightly different beasts. Let’s start with the Netbook Remix. I’ve played with the Netbook Remix a bit, and my advice to users who are using 10.04 LTS is to stand pat. The new interface that Canonical is working on isn’t quite fully baked yet. You might not have any problems, but I’ve found it to be a bit buggy. It needs another release cycle to really be ready to go. This one isn’t on the fence — it’s to be avoided unless you’re really into being on the cutting edge.

I’m not the only one that feels this way, either. System 76, which ships laptops, netbooks, and desktops based on Ubuntu is giving 10.10 a miss on the netbooks. Why? Because it’s slow, confusing and generally not ready for prime time. This brings up the question whether Ubuntu should really force all releases to be synced. Maybe the netbook release should have come later when it was ready.

Kubuntu, on the other hand, is worth the upgrade to get KDE 4.5. KDE 4.4 was a good release, but KDE 4.5 finally brings KDE back (in my opinion, at least) to the state it was at with KDE 3.5. It feels much more polished, its fairly speedy, and the Kubuntu take on KDE 4.5 seems very well done.

Again, moving to KDE 4.5 means only 18 months of support — but in this case the switch is worth it. KDE 4.5 is enough of an upgrade that it merits the update right now. The updates in GNOME 2.32, due to the GNOME Project’s work towards 3.0, aren’t nearly as exciting. Which is not an insult — 2.32 is a solid release, but it’s not such a major leap that I’d spend an afternoon upgrading a stable machine. Well, I would, but that’s because I have to write about such things. You probably have better things to do.

Final Word

None of this should be taken to mean that I don’t like Ubuntu 10.10. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to someone who’s not running Linux yet, or to users who are running older Ubuntu releases. If you’re still on an older LTS and starting to feel itchy to update, or if you’re running Ubuntu 9.10 or 9.04, don’t wait any longer. The cumulative changes from those releases to 10.10 make Maverick an excellent upgrade option.

Likewise, if you’re installing Linux for someone else, 10.10 is a good option — though you might want to think about sticking with 10.04 if they’re not particularly computer savvy. And OEMs or organizations like ByteWORKS should definitely stick with 10.04.

But this is a modest improvement over 10.04. Hold off until Spring 2011, and Ubuntu 11.04. If tradition serves, the 11.04 release should be chock full of major changes, and a very interesting update.

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