We've already seen Ubuntu before in its Breezy Badger incarnation, and again wearing its Xubuntu and Kubuntu clothes. Here is the very latest version of Ubuntu called 10.04 or "Lucid Lynx", and at the time of writing it's still a beta version so this won't be a full review but rather a sneak preview.
One interesting thing about Lucid Lynx is that it's another "LTS" or "Long Term Support" version, which means that like 6.06 and 8.04, it will be supported for a long time and treated more like a "stable" version of other distros. Pre-installed systems are likely to use Lucid Lynx even after its successor versions are released.
Another reason to take a sneak look at what's coming with Lucid Lynx, apart from the impressive growth and popularity of Ubuntu in recent years, is the controversy arising from the changed styles. Is this really something to get worked up about, or is it just a short-term adjustment to some horribly-communicated design decisions?
At the moment, the lucid lynx downloads are plastered with warning that it's still in beta status, don't install it on production systems, just for testing, etc etc. But it's an easy download, via http or bittorrent, and a simple burn (although the first time I tried it I just got an error about "I/O error reading boot disk" and it failed to boot. The iso was fine so this must have been a random bad burn). I used K3b on Debian to burn the iso onto CD-RW (always as an image), and then the reboot brought up smooth lilac tones rather than the warm browns and oranges we've come to expect from Ubuntu.
It runs fine, with a clear desktop and subtly-animated gnome menus. No 3d distractions, but a professional-looking, modern-looking system which looks well-designed. It has clearly been polished and benefits from it.
Of course, the desktop image and the window themes are some of the easiest parts of the system to change, and for many users the very first thing they change after install, so to a large extent they don't really matter too much. But this is the first view new users get of this potentially strange system. And I think it gives a good impression. It's not trying to copy any other systems in particular, although obviously the glowing desktop image does follow a certain theme, similar to Vista or KDE4. But the colour scheme is bold and new, the text is clear and readable, and it looks functional.
Some things look deliberately different, for example to power the system down you no longer go to the "System" menu, but instead to the tiny power symbol in the very top right of the screen. But there is plenty of familiarity, from the gnome menu to the applications like Firefox, Open Office, and simple games. gbrainy looks like a new addition though, and fun.
The main change which is heating up the user forums at the moment is the movement of the window icons. Instead of the minimize, maximize and close buttons being in the top right of every window, as they have been by default until now, with Lucid Lynx they're now in the top left of every window instead. A small change, perhaps, but one that takes getting used to and one which apparently has absolutely zero benefit. Here's how the top of the file manager now looks in lynx:
So the order of the buttons has changed, and the location. The window menu which was in the very top left has gone, and the right-hand end of the title bar is now completely empty. Can anyone claim any advantage to this layout? Certainly it brings scope for confusion and accidental clicks, especially because the icons for maximize and minimize are so similar at first glance. It's possible that it won't take too long to get used to, unless you regularly use a mix of other linux systems (which mostly follow the same layout in the top-right corner) or Windows systems (which again follow the same layout).
The placement of these controls in OSX has been different for some time, on the top-left of each window, but the order is different again from Ubuntu's chosen layout (OSX uses close, minimize, zoom, whereas Ubuntu has picked maximize, minimize, close). So Ubuntu's change just seems to be a change in order to be different.
Fortunately, double-clicking on a window's title bar still maximizes the window, so that's one way of reducing accidental clicks. And the red highlighting of the close button helps to warn not to click it.
It's also worth noting that there is a way to revert the controls to how they used to be - for this you need the gconf tool as noted for example by howtogeek.
The Ubuntu software center looks much improved since the last time I saw it, and provides an impressive catalogue of available software. The inclusion of screenshots for many of the installable packages is also a very useful addition. For some reason I wasn't able to actually install any of the packages, I just got advice to update the software repositories, but I assume this is just an effect of the beta version and maybe the repositories aren't fully available yet.
As mentioned earlier, this is just a sneak preview so it's not worth going into great detail about timings and applications, that could all change when the version is properly released. The important things to note from the preview are that it works, works well, looks good, and as always comes with a boatload of free software. It will be interesting to do a full review of the Lynx when it is released properly at the end of April 2010. Maybe the controversial window controls will be retained, or maybe the blogstorm will persuade the Ubuntu developers to roll back this change and keep things as they were.
The main Ubuntu site is at ubuntu.com although as noted, at the time of writing this Lucid Lynx version is still in beta status so most users are recommended to try out the previous version (Karmic Koala) instead.