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The Ubuntu Diaries
Part IV




Introduction

Adam wearing Lubuntu shirt

This is my account of using the Ubuntu and Lubuntu computer operating systems, as well as other free software.

On we acquired a used Dell PC to run the Linux-based Ubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn. Because of the success in using Ubuntu, on we reformatted the remaining Windows XP computer and installed Ubuntu 8.04 LTS on it, going Windows-free.

I haven't missed Windows at all, in fact I have been far better off without it. Linux is free, works better, is more stable and doesn't run viruses or spyware. It does everything I want to do and has been a perfect solution for my computing needs.

Over the years I have used both Ubuntu and Lubuntu, as well as tested Ubuntu Unity, Kubuntu, Xubuntu and Puppy Linux. Reviews of those are all here, along with write-ups on applications and other software tested.

I do these write-ups primarily for myself, mostly so I can remember my own "how-to" instructions, as well as pros and cons found, but I post them here to help out anyone looking for information.

I also write for Full Circle magazine and my reviews can be found there. Each archived Full Circle article is also linked from the equivalent article here.

This is the fourth page of my Ubuntu Diaries:


Entries




Firefox 87

By Adam Hunt

Firefox 87.0 came out two weeks ago, on . On its own this release is not a huge advance of any kind. In fact it only introduced a few new features. But overall Firefox has been on a steady run of incremental improvements for the last couple of years.

For instance this release includes an indication in the "page find - highlight all" feature that shows tick marks on the scroll bar indicating where each instance of the search item is found. A small, but good improvement.

On the down side, the new "cookie jar" feature of Total Cookie Protection in "Strict" mode introduced in Firefox 86 rendered my Cookie Auto Delete extension (CAD) ineffective at removing cookies and I now actually get better protection from cookies in "Standard" mode with CAD than in "Strict" mode without it working right.

Overall, though Firefox is getting better and I am happier and happier with it. In fact, for the first time since I started using web browsers I am actually not engaged in looking for a better one. Firefox is actually good enough and getting better. How good? Good enough that last November I made a donation to Mozilla to encourage them to continue on.

There are some bigger changes to Firefox coming too, as once again, Mozilla is going to try a UI update. The last one, Australis, didn't last long, as some users didn't like it and complained loudly. I actually thought it was an improvement, but it was undone in a IU remake called Photon. This upcoming UI is going to be called Proton and is expected to arrive in a couple of months, perhaps in Firefox 89. When it comes out I will review it.

In the meantime I am quite happy with Firefox. It has at least ended my browser shopping.

External links

Ubuntu Web 20.04.1

By Adam Hunt

Rudra Saraswat must be the busiest developer in the Ubuntu world these days. Not content to have started Ubuntu Unity, UbuntuEd and the server-focused Krob Linux, on he released the first version of a new Ubuntu-based distribution, Ubuntu Web, a project he had announced as started on .

Ubuntu Web is aimed directly at the market currently occupied by Google's Chrome OS, as it is a web-focused operating system that runs most functions from its browser, in this case Firefox.

Google's Chrome OS is the operating system that powers Chromebooks. It runs the Google Chrome browser and provides most features via Google's suite of cloud services. It is worth noting that 30 million Chromebooks were sold last year, driven by the need to get laptops into school kids' hands during the COVID-19 pandemic, so they can learn at home.

So what is the motivation for creating a competitor to the Linux-based Chrome OS? Saraswat explains that the main objections to Chrome OS are that it features the non-free software Chrome browser and that, because everything is cloud-based and uses Google's services, like Google docs, Google Drive and Gmail, that you are dependant on Google and subject to any privacy issues there.

There has only been one release of Ubuntu Web so far, version 20.04.1.

Installation

Right now there is no website for Ubuntu Web, just two hosted download locations:

The Ubuntu Web 20.04.1 download is 2.6 GB, which is oddly the same size as Ubuntu 20.04.1 is!

Once the bit torrent download was complete I ran the md5sum (the only sum checker provided) and that confirmed that I had a flawless download.

I used UNetbootin to write the ISO file to a 4 GB USB stick and booted it up on my ten year old System 76 Pangolin Performance laptop. Choosing "Ubuntu Web" from the boot menu loaded it up nicely and I ran a series of "live sessions" to test it out.

Testing

When Ubuntu Web boots up it presents a very attractive desktop, that looks more than just a little bit Mac-like, with a dock along the bottom. It uses Wayland by default instead of X11 and that seems to work fine. The default wallpaper is a seductive starry night sky over a sand dune, with the Ubuntu Web logo, but there are 36 other wallpapers to choose from if you don't like that one. Ubuntu Web uses the Adapta GTK theme and the Papirus icon theme.

Ubuntu Web is supposed to work in a similar manner to Chrome OS, so most work is going to be browser-based. The browser has to be free software, so the choice is Firefox. It launches from the bottom dock and opens as it normally would. Firefox gives you mostly expected functionality. The only glitches I found were in trying to play videos on websites. YouTube and DTube work, right on the webpage, but videos on other websites, like CNN and CBC wouldn't play. That looked like missing codecs to me and a command line check showed that Gstreamer and other codecs are indeed missing.

The launcher features a number of default "web apps" in wapp format. These are supposed to look and work like cell phone "apps", but are actually just Firefox windows that open without chrome and the URL bar, etc. There is a default web app installed for the peer-to-peer DTube video service. There are also web apps for webmail, a calculator, notes and file storage, all provided by /e/ cloud services. You need an account on /e/ or else these are not going to work. Saraswat is planning better integration with /e/ services in the future, but that is still a work in progress.

There is also a launcher icon for the Open Web Store. This allows installing a few basic apps in cell phone fashion, including ones for YouTube, DTube, Google Drive and Opendesktop. Saraswat explains, "to install a wapp from the Open Web Store, download it to your system. Then search for 'Run a file' in the application launcher, select the downloaded file and click 'OK'. After authentication, the app will be successfully installed."

There is also an ability to install Android apps using Anbox, although Saraswat notes it is "experimental" and "may not work properly in the LiveCD or a virtual machine, but should work fine in the installed system".

Clicking on the main menu icon at the bottom left of the screen brings up an Ubuntu-like menu. This shows that there are some actual, local applications installed, including Gnome Files (Nautilus), Gparted, Gnome Calculator, Document Scanner (Simple Scan), Gnome archive manager (File Roller), Run A File and the Gnome Screenshot tool. The presence of Gnome Files means you can save and manage files locally, which is a good feature. Using any of these local applications adds them to the "frequent" menu.

There is no word processor or spreadsheet program included with Ubuntu Web. Of course with Chrome OS you would use Google Docs for those functions and that is an option here, but it kind of defeats the attempt to shed Google's cloud services. There is also no way to edit photos or videos and no web cam application, either. There is no installed package manager, like Gnome Software or Synaptic, with which to install packages.

What is not shown on any menu is a terminal window, but it is installed by default and can be called up with ctrl+alt+T. This allows installing packages from the command line with apt, as I successfully installed Gnome Web (epiphany-browser). With apt you can install any programs you like from the Ubuntu repositories, including LibreOffice or GIMP, making Ubuntu Web into a full-featured operating system that will work just like Ubuntu ... but that kind of defeats the whole point. If you want a fully-featured operating system, then just install Ubuntu instead.

I did a command line apt policy test to see which normal default Ubuntu applications are actually installed and discovered that the Gnome Text Editor (gedit) is there, along with the Gnome Videos (Totem) and the Gnome Image Viewer (Eye Of Gnome). I opened them all up from the command line as they do not turn up in the main menu search results and do not get added to the "frequent" menu, even when they have been recently used, as they seem to be shut out from it. They can also be opened from Nautilus, by clicking on a file that calls them up, like a .txt file for gedit or a .jpg for Eye Of Gnome.

Overall, using Ubuntu Web over a few days I found it is basically "beta" software, good enough for user testing, but not ready for daily use yet. Perhaps future versions will be better.

The user case

Through my test sessions with Ubuntu Web the thought that I had constantly is, "who would use this?"

Certainly this is not the operating system for most Linux desktop or laptop users who want to be able to write word processing documents, make spreadsheets, edit movies or even edit photographs. They would want a fully-featured distribution, like Ubuntu, instead. I think that it Ubuntu Web has to be aimed at the same users who are the target buyers of Chromebooks:

Chromebooks have been very popular with schools and employers and particularly with the IT departments that have to procure and support them, because they are inexpensive, very secure, resistant to malware, have automatic updates and are hard for users to break the software. Also, because all documents are in the cloud, usually Google Docs, if you destroy or lose the hardware, you don't lose any data, you just get a new computer and carry on.

Users like Chromebooks because they are simple, easy to learn, have long battery life and very fast boot up times.

Unlike Chromebooks, which come with Chrome OS pre-installed, there are no computers that come with Ubuntu Web pre-installed. That means that someone is going to have to get a computer and install it. Given the three user profiles above, it would probably not be the students, employees or low-skill individuals who would do that, it would fall to the school or company IT department in the first two cases and the "tech-savvy" relative in the third case. I think it is pretty unlikely that any school or company IT department will buy a bunch of laptops and then install Ubuntu Web on them. It would take time and will not give any advantages over Chromebooks, unless the IT people were dedicated to free software and wanted to ditch Google services, or had a bunch of cheap, used laptops. Most probably wouldn't. As far as users go, Ubuntu Web is not going to give long battery life or a quick boot up, although Saraswat did note a two second boot up time on his test box.

The third use case, though, might make some sense. If you are a Linux user and wanted to get your grandmother a cheap, used laptop to surf the web, use social media and email, with good malware resistance and fairly unbreakable software, then Ubuntu Web might be a good way to do that. I do think that is a pretty small potential population user case, though.

Conclusions

Overall Ubuntu Web 20.04.1 is a good, "beta-level", start at creating a Chrome OS competitor. There is work to do to give it better cloud services through /e/ or some other service, better apps, including word processing and spreadsheets and also the ability to properly play videos outside YouTube and DTube. It will be interesting to see if future releases are forthcoming and if they solve the shortcomings noted.

It will be also interesting to see if there is any real user market for Ubuntu Web. I can't think that the Linux user looking to supply a used laptop to a low-tech relative is going to account for a large number of installations. Will other, as yet uncontemplated, user cases arise? If this distribution has some longevity, then perhaps we will see.


Ranking the Ubuntu Flavours

By Adam Hunt

, updated

Over the last two weeks since the 20.10 crop of Ubuntu flavours were released on , I have had the opportunity to thoroughly test and do written reviews of five of them. My reviews here, on this website, were essentially "warm-ups" for my reviews for Full Circle magazine. Aside from going over what is new in each one and how they are evolving (or not), this process has given me a chance to assess how each one would make it as an operating system for my own personal use.

As I spent time working with each distribution, exploring the settings, working with it for daily tasks and writing about it right from the desktop I was evaluating, using its own default text editor for that task, I couldn't help but rank them in my own mind as to which I liked best and why, at least for my own use. I didn't put any of that into my reviews, trying to stay a bit more neutral there, but now that I have finished the five reviews, I thought I would write up what I found in comparing them.

The big picture

In presenting a ranking of my own favourites, I think that a number of points need to be kept in mind:

5. Xubuntu

Xubuntu generally works well and has a flexible menu system in the Whisker menu. In the Xubuntu 20.10 release I found that it breaks my laptop touchpad and can only be used with an actual mouse. I have no idea why that is, but it is unusable on my vintage laptop.

Otherwise Xubuntu is very solid, does everything well enough. I can't really decide if, in putting out the 20.10 release with "no changes", the developers were being arrogant or if Xubuntu really has reached a state of perfection where it really doesn't need any improvements. In my review I assumed the latter. Better touchpad adjustments would be good, though.

I have to state that Xubuntu really doesn't light a fire for me and never has done. In general it works well enough, but the design seems bland and generic. It doesn't do anything badly, but it doesn't do anything really well, either.

Because of the touchpad issues Xubuntu is at the bottom of my list right now. Perhaps if I had a new laptop it would be ranked more highly.

4. Kubuntu

Kubuntu 20.10 is impressive if for all its user configuration options. To be honest I found working with the settings a bit daunting, just because there are so many choices. You could spend months tweaking it. You can make it look and work like almost anything, it is that chameleon-like. I think I could find a look and set-up that I liked and could happily work with, using a bit of trial and error. I might even be able to write down my settings and duplicate them next installation as well.

Still, I find that there is something oddly mediocre about Kubuntu each time I have tested it out. It works well, is highly customizable, but feels oddly ponderous in use, mostly due to the menu system. Of course there are options to simplify the menu and even replace it with the Application Dashboard widget, which is more "Ubuntu-like".

I would rate Kubuntu as my fourth choice for an operating system.

3. Ubuntu

Every time I booted up Ubuntu 20.10 to work on my review, I could see its appeal. It is well-designed, well-integrated, highly polished and slick.

The highly modified Gnome 3 desktop works well enough, almost as well as Unity 7. The packaging priority given to snaps over debs is annoying and it has very limited settings and user customization available. These days Ubuntu feels more like an enterprise desktop, serious and aimed at business use. It is good overall and I could use it happily, but it has a bit of an antiseptic sting to it.

I would rank Ubuntu these days as my third choice.

2. Ubuntu Unity

Ubuntu Unity continues to surprise me each time I boot it up and work with it. As a distribution it is still new, only on its second release, but then, as a combination of Ubuntu and Unity 7, it isn't really new at all.

The first release on , Ubuntu Unity 20.04 LTS, was quite good. It was nothing like a usual first try at building a new distribution and was ready for production use on day one. But then this wasn't really a surprise, as we already knew that Ubuntu+Unity worked from , and it still works.

The latest release, Ubuntu Unity 20.10 is demonstrably better than 20.04 LTS, with more user configuration choices and a sharper focus, by settling on Nemo as the file manager and Thunderbird as the email client and just dropping Nautilus and Geary altogether. It feels more refined now, more of a user-focused distribution and less of an enterprise one, unlike Ubuntu.

Unity 7 remains a great interface, fast and efficient with all the keyboard shortcuts. The menu system makes it so easy to launch applications without taking your hands off the keyboard, that it is tempting to set the launcher to "hide" and just use the keyboard instead. As a desktop, it is elegant, efficient and beautiful to look at.

Perhaps it was my own time using Ubuntu with Unity from Ubuntu 12.04 LTS through to Ubuntu 14.10 that has left me both familiar and comfortable enough with Unity to rate it as my second choice.

1. Lubuntu

In working through my reviews the one thing that really struck me was how much I enjoy using Lubuntu these days, especially the new LXQt versions, like the latest release, Lubuntu 20.10, even though it is minimally changed from 20.04 LTS.

The first version of Lubuntu I ever used was the second one released, Lubuntu 10.10, which was not bad on its release day and quickly got better with updates. I tried to use Lubuntu 11.04 and 11.10 but their lack of stability led me to try out many other solutions (including Puppy and Debian) before settling on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS with the Unity desktop and I liked it a lot. I probably would have stayed with Ubuntu, but the constant crashes in Ubuntu 14.04 LTS and 14.10, particularly of gedit, Nautilus and Unity itself, made both versions unusable. I switched to Lubuntu 14.10 when it came out, skipped the whole switch to Gnome 3 in Ubuntu 17.10 and haven't looked back since.

For me Lubuntu is light on RAM, elegant in design and simple to use. It also has the best suite of default applications, from FeatherPad to VLC. With the addition of a couple of my "most used" applications to the panel, the workflows are fast and efficient. Lubuntu's menu system is simple and fast and the distribution is quite customizable, allowing me to create a personal desktop that is both useful and ergonomically friendly.

I find Lubuntu 20.04 LTS the best operating system I have ever used and that is across 42 years of computing. At this point in time I can't see switching away from Lubuntu unless the developers find a way of breaking it, like they last did with Lubuntu 11.04.

I am sure that familiarity was a driver, but every time I booted out of the distribution I was evaluating and back to Lubuntu, I felt a sigh of relief and so Lubuntu remains my first choice.


Ubuntu Unity 20.10

By Adam Hunt

, updated

For those are not familiar with Ubuntu Unity, it is a new flavour of Ubuntu, using the old Unity 7 interface, just like Ubuntu did between 2011-17, along with a default suite of mostly Gnome applications. It had its first release, Ubuntu Unity 20.04 LTS on . Ubuntu Unity 20.10 is the second release.

Developer Rudra Saraswat released Ubuntu Unity 20.10 on the same day as all the other Ubuntu flavours came out, . This move puts it into sequence with the other Ubuntu flavours, after the first Ubuntu Unity release came out two weeks later than the rest of the pack.

That there is a second release at all shows that the previous Ubuntu Unity 20.04 LTS was not just a "one-off" release and that this distribution has some staying power.

Not content to just repackage Ubuntu with the Unity 7 interface, this release brings some notable improvements.

Being a "standard" release, Ubuntu Unity 20.10 is supported for nine months, until . There should be two more standard releases, 21.04 and 21.10, before the next long term support version, which will be Ubuntu Unity 22.04 LTS.

System requirements

Ubuntu Unity does not specify any system requirements, but it is reasonable to assume that it is the same as Ubuntu 20.10, basically a 2 GHz dual core processor and 4 GiB of RAM.

Installation

I did not install Ubuntu Unity 20.10 on my hard drive, but instead tested it in a series of live sessions from a USB stick.

Getting it onto the USB stick was another matter. The previous release of Ubuntu Unity, 20.04 LTS worked fine with the Ubuntu Startup Disk Creator, as did an early alpha of 20.10 I had tested, but Startup Disk Creator would not recognize the release version of 20.10 at all. I tried using dd from the command line and that did write it to the USB stick, but it would not boot. My next attempt involved installing an old favourite of mine, UNetbootin, from a Launchpad PPA. UNetbootin did the trick quite nicely and actually gave me the chance to become reacquainted with how well it works for writing bootable ISO files.

It is worth noting that Saraswat does not recommend doing an upgrade from 20.04 LTS to 20.10, but instead doing a fresh installation, due to some issues with the upgrade process.

New

Unlike some of the other 20.10 flavours (ie Xubuntu), Ubuntu Unity development is proceeding apace and this release introduces a number of improvements, mostly in the "look and feel" department.

In more substantive changes, Ubuntu Unity 20.10 now uses GRUB for both BIOS and UEFI booting. This release also includes the CompizConfig Settings Manager (CCSM), (package name: compizconfig-settings-manager), which enables a selection of Compiz plugins and desktop effects. Like all the 20.10 flavours, Ubuntu Unity 20.10 uses Linux kernel 5.8, which brings support for newer hardware.

At least one reviewer, who tested the early 20.10 alpha, found it was notably faster than 20.04 LTS. My testing from the USB showed it works well, with no hesitation and good speed opening applications.

Settings

There is a new Groovy Gorilla wallpaper that was designed by Allan Carvalho especially for Ubuntu Unity 20.10, plus many more new wallpapers included. In fact there is a total of 54 wallpaper choices, which may be a record for an Ubuntu derivative.

The default window theme is now Arc-darker. The Ubuntu settings manager offers up only four themes: Adwaita, Ambiance, Radiance and High Contrast, while the included Unity Tweak Tool has a total of 14, including Arc-darker. The tweak tool also has seven cursor themes and 27 icon themes!

Mainline Ubuntu itself offers very few user choices for look and feel and it seems that Ubuntu Unity is moving to compete with Ubuntu by giving users a lot of choice in that area. Ubuntu Unity is really on its way to competing with Kubuntu for user configurability choices.

Applications

Some of the applications included with Ubuntu Unity 20.10 are:

* indicates same application version as used in Ubuntu Unity 20.04 LTS.
** Launchpad indicates the latest version available as 0.9.5.92 for Ubuntu 12.04 LTS (Precise Pangolin).

Ubuntu Unity 20.10 continues to use the Unity 7.5.0 interface and it works very well, with its characteristic application launcher and wide variety of desktop shortcuts for efficient workflows.

As in the case of Ubuntu Unity 20.04 LTS, 20.10 includes the Cheese webcam application and omits a default CD/DVD burning application. This seems sensible, as CDs and DVDs are pretty much obsolete and computers have not come with optical drives for a decade now. As always, there are several choices of CD/DVD burning applications in the repositories, if needed

The Ubuntu Unity 20.10 packaging of LibreOffice 7.0.2 is complete, lacking only the LibreOffice Base database application. It can be installed from the Ubuntu repositories, if needed.

The Gnome software store continues to offer both snaps and deb files, where available, giving users a choice of packages.

In some ways Ubuntu Unity 20.10 is actually notable for what it does not include in the way of applications. The last release, 20.04 LTS, included two file managers, Nautilus and Nemo, while 20.10 omits Nautilus. Even though Nautilus is the default Gnome desktop file manager, it lacks needed features and Nemo, which is a fork of Nautilus, is the better choice, rendering the need for Nautilus moot.

The 20.04 LTS release also included two email clients, Geary and Thunderbird, while 20.10 drops Geary.

These cuts have all helped shrink Ubuntu Unity's previous 3.1 GiB download size to 2.4 GiB, making it smaller than Ubuntu 20.10, which is now 2.7 GiB.

Conclusions

Ubuntu Unity 20.10 has to be rated as a very successful release. It is smooth, fast and basically flawless. The Unity 7 interface remains a great choice for efficient workflows and pleasing aesthetics. Development seems to be focused on giving users a wide range of window themes, icon sets, wallpapers and other user choices in "look and feel", which alone differentiates it from mainstream Ubuntu.

Ubuntu Unity 20.10 has enough new to offer users that it may be worth switching to it, rather than sticking with 20.04 LTS, despite the shorter nine-month support period.

I am hopeful that by the time this development cycle ends with Ubuntu Unity 22.04 LTS, it will have grown into a distribution that makes up for many of Ubuntu's user choice shortcomings. By then it may even be accepted as an official Ubuntu flavour.

External links

UNetbootin

By Adam Hunt

, updated

I first used UNetbootin ten years ago, to install Lubuntu on an Acer Aspire netbook. Netbooks were a class of mini-laptops that all came without CD/DVD optical drives, which was something unusual back then. At that time the Ubuntu Startup Disk Creator could not make a Lubuntu USB stick, although it can do so now. Back then UNetbootin solved that problem and allowed a fast and smooth installation.

UNetbootin is short for Universal Netboot Installer. It is a small utility for making bootable USB drives from Linux operating system ISO files, which allows running live sessions to test out or install new Linux or BSD distributions.

UNetbootin is just a 224 kB download, although it has the following dependencies: libc6, libgcc-s1, libqt4-network, libqtcore4, libqtgui4, libstdc++6, mtools, p7zip-full, syslinux, syslinux-common and udev. It is free software, under a GPL v2+ licence.

The first question many people would ask is, "why would you want to use UNetbootin instead of Startup Disk Creator, which already comes with all the Ubuntu flavours by default?" There are two reasons. First is that Startup Disk Creator only works with certain Ubuntu-based distribution ISO files. For instance, it works fine with Ubuntu, Lubuntu, Xubuntu and Kubuntu. It also worked fine with Ubuntu Unity 20.04 LTS, but not with Ubuntu Unity 20.10, for unknown reasons. The second reason to use UNetbootin is that, unlike Startup Disk Creator, it leaves the USB stick in FAT32 format, meaning that there is no need to reformat the USB stick after using it for an installation.

Getting UNetbootin

The bad news is that UNetbootin used to be available in the Ubuntu repositories, but the last upload there was version 608-1, five years ago, in 2015, when it was available for Ubuntu 16.04 LTS Xenial Xerus. Since then, the Ubuntu package maintainer, Laszlo Boszormenyi, has not uploaded any new versions.

The good news is that the main UNetbootin developer, Geza Kovacs, keeps an Ubuntu PPA on Launchpad and so the PPA can easily be added to any Ubuntu flavour and then the application installed from a terminal window, with:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gezakovacs/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install unetbootin

Linux binaries are also available, as are packages for several other major distributions, such as Arch Linux, Debian, Fedora, Gentoo and SUSE Linux. The source code files are also available for compiling.

UNetbootin is also available as a .dmg file for Mac and as an .exe file for Windows., making it truly cross-platform.

Using UNetbootin

Once it is installed, UNetbootin can be just opened from the system tools menu in any Ubuntu flavour. The graphical interface looks like something from Windows 98, but actually using it is extremely simple. All you need to do is indicate which distribution it should download and install, plus the target USB device, which should be formatted in FAT32 format. Alternatively you can point it to a local ISO file (Diskimage) that you have on your computer. Then you just click "OK" and it does the rest automatically, producing a USB stick ready to boot to.

Once booted up, the USB stick acts normally, allowing running a live session or installing the operating system.

Conclusions

Overall UNetbootin could not be a better application, it is easy to install, it does one thing and does it really well: writing bootable Linux or BSD distributions to USB sticks that the Startup Disk Creator can't.

External links
Update -

There is a kind of a "reviewer's curse", whereby, due to a weird coincidence, as soon as you criticize any application, a new version immediately gets released that addresses the exact item criticized. Or it is possible that the developer read my post here and immediately fixed it. I might have that kind of "reach".

In this case, I noted above that the UNetbootin interface looked "like something from Windows 98" and it did, with its native colouring. Then today a new version came out, UNetbootin 700-1 and suddenly it adopts the system colour scheme, integrates very nicely and looks like it belongs on the Lubuntu 20.04 LTS desktop. I presume it looks as nice on any other distribution now, too.

So all I can say is "thank you" to developer Geza Kovacs. UNetbootin 700-1 looks better than ever!

External links

Kubuntu 20.10

By Adam Hunt

Kubuntu's latest "standard" release, Kubuntu 20.10, came out on and is supported for nine months, until .

This is the distribution's 32nd release and the 11th one with the KDE project's Qt-based Plasma 5 desktop, so you expect the result to be very refined and, indeed, it is.

This release was accompanied by the usual release announcement, but the release notes were "not available due to wiki login problems", so the usually available technical details about the release were missing-in-action.

Installation

I did not install Kubuntu 20.10 on my hard drive, but instead tested it in a series of live sessions from a USB stick, written using the Startup Disk Creator.

As usual I let the new automatic ISO image checking program run on boot-up to ensure that the stick had been correctly written. Once booted up, Kubuntu runs very quickly and smoothly from the USB stick.

System requirements

The recommended minimum system requirements for Kubuntu 20.10 have not changed and remain the same as for Ubuntu:

New

Typically the first standard release in a new development cycle after the last LTS introduces the direction that the developers have in mind. If so, then this cycle, leading to Kubuntu 22.04 LTS, means we can expect incremental refinements.

This version of Kubuntu is being promoted as "Cloud Ready" and includes "access to cloud and container technologies". The release also includes a new default hexagon-themed wallpaper, by Sandra Smukaste, named Flow.

This release uses the Plasma 5.19.5 desktop and includes Applications 20.08. While not the very latest versions, these two suites include a lot of incremental improvements that add up to make a good desktop even better. Most of the changes are hidden away in the menus, but some, like global menus no longer being the default, are obvious on boot-up.

Kubuntu's main menu system seems to run much more smoothly in 20.10 than it did in 20.04 LTS. There is also a conversion to a "simple menu" and also the Application Dashboard widget, which supplements the main menu with a full screen application menu, much like Ubuntu's, with the touch of one desktop button.

Very obvious in this release is the fact that the Kubuntu community is actually making changes and not just putting out at release with no changes, unlike Xubuntu 20.10.

Settings

As I noted in my review of Kubuntu 20.04 LTS, Kubuntu probably has the widest range of settings of any Ubuntu-based distribution. There are so many setting parameters available, that you can make Kubuntu look and work almost anyway that you like. For example there are:

And that is just the installed options. Most of those setting pages offer one-button download and installation of many, many more, right in the settings window itself.

Kubuntu 20.10 also offers 66 desktop widgets, small applications that can be added to your desktop to improve functionality, like the Application Dashboard widget, which provides a large, full screen application menu or an analog clock. Oh, and 66 is the number of pre-installed widgets; hundreds more can be downloaded, of course.

The Kubuntu philosophy for its users is clearly the diametric opposite to that of Ubuntu 20.10, which offers very limited user customization options. I think the biggest danger with all these options is that users could spend a lot of time tweaking the themes and appearance, and unless you make good notes, may never be able to duplicate it again in a fresh installation.

Applications

Some of the applications included with Kubuntu 20.10 are:

* indicates same application version as used in Kubuntu 20.04 LTS.

As can be seen from the lack of asterisks, most of the applications included are updated versions from Applications 20.08, with very few hold-overs from Kubuntu 20.04 LTS.

All the included applications are Qt-based, with the obvious exception of Firefox, which is GTK-based. The Qt-based Falkon browser, an official KDE project, is still not ready for prime time, yet.

Like both Lubuntu and Xubuntu, Kubuntu does not include a webcam application by default, as there does not seem to be any Qt-based ones available. There are several GTK-based one, such as Cheese in the repositories, however.

I should note that mixing Qt and GTK applications works fine, although they may not integrate into the desktop smoothly, which mostly affects window decorations, icons and theme colours.

Like Ubuntu, Kubuntu no longer comes with a default CD/DVD burning application installed. Basically optical dives are obsolete technology and computers have not come with them for many years. If you do still have an optical drive that you use to burn CDs or DVDs on, then it is easy to install a burner application from the repositories. The KDE, Qt-based K3B application is the most obvious choice.

Kubuntu also does not come with an image editor or video editor. There is no obvious Qt-based image editor (GIMP and mtPaint are both GTK-based), but the excellent Kdenlive video editor is Qt-based.

The Kubuntu 20.10 version of LibreOffice 7.0.2 is complete, lacking only LibreOffice Base, the office suite's database application. If needed it can easily be installed, though.

The Kate text editor has syntax highlighting and, this being Kubuntu, it is highly customizable, with many highlight colour schemes. Kate's spell-checking automatically underlines spelling errors, but it does not offer corrections, so remains of limited use, compared to better text editors like gedit or FeatherPad.

KDE Applications 20.08 brings some changes to the core KDE applications. For example the Dolphin file manager includes new previews, creating thumbnails for more types of files. Dolphin also re-opens showing the same folder it was closed from.

Conclusions

Kubuntu 20.10 is a very solid release, with incremental improvements over 20.04 LTS. This bodes well for development during this cycle as we can expect a stream of steady refinements in the Plasma desktop, all destined for the next LTS release, Kubuntu 22.04 LTS, due out in April, 2022.

External links

Xubuntu 20.10

By Adam Hunt

Xubuntu 20.10 was released on and is the distribution's 30th release. It is a "standard" release and is supported for nine months, until .

As with Lubuntu 20.10 and Ubuntu 20.10, I was curious to see which direction the development team has decided on for Xubuntu, as this first release in the new cycle that will lead to Xubuntu 22.04 LTS. The initial release after a long term support (LTS) release usually shows the developers' priorities in the cycle, with the biggest changes introduced in the first release after the last LTS, which then get refined in the next two releases before the next LTS.

Installation

I did not install Xubuntu 20.10 on my hard drive, but instead tested it as a live session on a USB stick, written using the Startup Disk Creator.

System requirements

The recommended minimum system requirements for Xubuntu 20.10 are higher than were specified for 20.04 LTS and are now:

When run from a USB stick the operating system runs quite quickly.

New

This is something I have not seen before in a release of Xubuntu, or any other distribution: according to the official release notes there are no changes introduced in Xubuntu 20.10. The notes explain that the developers have been moving their file system from LaunchPad to GitHub and, as a result, didn't change anything in this release, not even the wallpaper.

To be fair, though this release is not identical to 20.04 LTS, as the Ubuntu back end provides a new Linux kernel, version 5.8, with the wider hardware support that brings and the repositories have been updated with new versions of some of the default applications.

Settings

This version of Xubuntu still uses "Greybird" as the default window colour scheme, as the last few releases have done. I still don't like it, as it is very hard to differentiate "active" and "inactive" windows, as they are both grey. This release also has the recently introduced dark theme, "Greybird-dark" but it suffers from the same issue as regular Greybird: poor active/inactive window differentiation. It is actually worse than Greybird, as the window titles are almost unreadable, due to being dark grey on grey and shadowed. As in Xubuntu 20.04 LTS, there are four other window themes included, but none of them provide very good differentiation between active and inactive windows. This is a continuing failing with Xubuntu.

Just like all Xubuntu releases since 14.04 LTS, this one employs the Whisker Menu as its menu system. Whisker is the main feature that makes Xubuntu distinctive from the other Ubuntu flavours. It is highly customizable and can even be resized, which is unique among Linux menus. Most users will usually pick applications right from the "favourites" list, which is the first menu shown, although the other menus, like "Graphics", "Internet" and "Office" make it quick to find needed applications. Whisker also has the shutdown controls, a configuration button, screen locking and an application search box, so everything is in one place. The only thing it lacks is a button to minimize all open windows at once, although there is a keyboard shortcut for this: "Super+D", while "Super+L" locks the screen.

As with every version of Xubuntu since 19.10, I had a repeat issue with the touchpad not working right. In the past I was able to at least make adjustments to it in the settings and make it usable, but this time I could not get it working at all and had to plug in a USB mouse and it worked fine then. I assume that this is just an issue with the old touch pad on my 2011 vintage laptop, but it is odd that it works fine in all the other Ubuntu flavours.

Applications

Some of the applications included with Xubuntu 20.10 are:

* indicates same application version as used in Xubuntu 20.04 LTS.

As with recent Xubuntu releases, by default there is no webcam or video editing application, although there are several in the repositories that can be installed, if needed.

The default inclusion of Xfburn, a CD/DVD burning application, is really starting to feel like a bit of an anachronism, since laptops haven't come with optical drives for a decade and desktops for almost that long, now.

Xubuntu 20.04 LTS includes LibreOffice 7.0.2, lacking only LibreOffice Base, the database application. If needed it can easily be installed, though.

Conclusions

Xubuntu 20.10 LTS seems like a solid, mature release. Maybe the developers think that it has reached perfection now and needs no changes at all, but this is the first time I have seen an Ubuntu-based distribution put out a release with no changes. I guess there is no need for anyone to ask if I recommend upgrading to 20.10 from 20.04 LTS.

External links

Lubuntu 20.10 LTS

By Adam Hunt

Lubuntu 20.10 was released on . This is the fifth LXQt release for Lubuntu and the 22nd overall Lubuntu release. This is a "standard" release, the first of three standard releases before the develpment cycle culminates with the release of the next long term support version, 22.04 LTS, in April 2022.

As a standard release, Lubuntu 20.10 is supported for nine months, until .

Installation

I did not intend to to switch from using Lubuntu 20.04 LTS, so I did my testing of Lubuntu 20.10 in live sessions, from a USB drive that I made up using the Startup Disk Creator.

System requirements

The Lubuntu developers stopped recommending minimum system requirements, with the introduction of LXQt in Lubuntu 18.10, but Lubuntu 20.10 ran fine on on my 2011 vintage System76 Pangolin Performance laptop with:

New

There is surprisingly little new in this release. The first standard release after an LTS is usually where new features are introduced, tested and then perfected before the next LTS release. If the changes incorporated in Lubuntu 20.10 are any indication of the developers' direction then it seems that this development cycle will only include some small tweaks and no big changes. Overall I see that as a good thing. Lubuntu 20.04 LTS is the best operating system I have ever used and any big changes would probably not be improvements, but would make it worse. No one wants to go through the Gnome 3 debacle again, where a great interface, Gnome 2, was replaced by a bad one, just because the developers want to "try something new".

The two changes in Lubuntu 20.10 are a new Plymouth boot-up splash screen, which does look nice and the addition of a "tree format" list of updates for the lubuntu-update-notifier, so you can see in advance what you are updating. These are, however, very minor changes.

Even the Lubuntu 20.10 default wallpaper is not new, but is recycled from the Lubuntu 20.04 LTS wallpaper design competition and was included as an alternate 20.04 wallpaper. The other included wallpapers are the same ones from 20.04 LTS, too. That is not to criticize those offerings, as they are all quite nice.

Settings

Configuring Lubuntu 20.10 is exactly the same as 20.04 LTS. The LXQt configuration menus continue to be easy to navigate and easy to use use, making customizing Lubuntu LXQt actually an enjoyable experience.

Like all the previous LXQt versions of Lubuntu, 20.10 LTS comes with a dark default theme, Lubuntu Arc, which I am not a big fan of. The good news is that it is easily changed and Lubuntu 20.10 has the same wide range of colour schemes and window themes available as past versions, so most users should be able to quickly find a happy colour scheme.

Applications

Some of the applications included with Lubuntu 20.10 are:

* Indicates the same version as used in Lubuntu 20.04 LTS

It is a bit odd that the FeatherPad text editor has not been updated from the previous version of 0.12.1. As of the Lubuntu 20.10 release on it was four releases out of date. Version 0.15.0, released on , is the current version and it could have easily been included.

Like the earlier LXQt releases, Lubuntu 20.10 LTS does not come with a webcam application, photo editing or video editing software, although these can be easily added from the repositories, if needed.

Conclusions

Lubuntu 20.10 introduces very minimal changes over 20.04 LTS. I actually think this is a good sign, as 20.04 LTS is a superb operating system. If this all leads to the next LTS, 22.04, having just a few minor tweaks over 20.04, then I will be very happy with it. An updated version of FeatherPad would be nice, however.

External links

Ubuntu 20.10

By Adam Hunt

Ubuntu 20.10 was released on . This is the distribution's 33rd release and the seventh with the Gnome 3 desktop. This is a "standard" release, supported for nine months, until .

Being the first release since the last long term support (LTS) release, Ubuntu 20.10 begins the development cycle of three standard releases leading to the next LTS release, which will be Ubuntu 22.04 LTS, due out in April 2022.

Often the first post-LTS release is where new features are added, which are then refined over the next two releases, before the final product, the next LTS. For this reason there is often quite a bit of interest in the first post-LTS release, to see what new priorities are included.

Installation

I did not install Ubuntu 20.10 on my hard drive, but instead tested it from a USB stick, written using the Startup Disk Creator.

When run from a USB Ubuntu 20.10 runs very quickly, just like it would do on an installed hard drive, nothing like a DVD live session, which can be quite slow.

The only disadvantage of the USB live session is that Startup Disk Creator writes the USB partition in ISO format and thus, when you are done with it, you need to use Gparted to erase the stick it and return the partition to FAT32 for regular use again. I have come up with a solution for this: I use one 4 GB USB drive that I have as a permanent "ISO test USB" and just overwrite it with new ISO files with the Startup Disk Creator each time I test a new Linux distribution, thus negating the need to return it to FAT32 at all.

System requirements

The recommended minimum system requirements for Ubuntu 20.10 have not changed since 20.04 LTS and remain:

New

Other than new wallpaper, this version of Ubuntu does not introduce many new user interface changes. It instead focuses on hardware support through a new version of the Linux kernel, version 5.8.

Linux 5.8 includes support for USB 4 (Thunderbolt 3), AMD Zen 3 CPUs, Intel Ice Lake and Tiger Lake graphics, and initial support for POWER10 processors. There are also desktop images for the Raspberry Pi 4, 4 GB and 8 GB versions.

Ubuntu 20.10 includes Gnome 3.38, which has an enhanced Activities Overview, some small menu tweaks and provides better performance over earlier Gnome versions as well. This version of Gnome brings improvements to the applications menu (grid) that eliminates the use of two menus, for "all" or "frequent" applications, replacing them with one menu that allows more customization, including manually rearranging or even stacking icons, so they don't have to be just in alphabetical order. Frequently used applications can be placed at the top of the menu, for instance. Application folders can also be created and managed. Overall this is an improvement.

Most applications in the repositories have been updated and there is also a new firewall backend, as nftables replaces iptables. Support for fingerprint login has also been improved.

Ubuntu 20.10 has updated developer tools, too, including glibc 2.32, OpenJDK 11, rustc 1.41, GCC 10, LLVM 11, Python 3.8.6, ruby 2.7.0, php 7.4.9, perl 5.30 and golang 1.13. Of note, the ZFS file system installation option is no long marked "experimental" in 20.10.

Overall these are all features that most users will not notice much in daily desktop use.

Settings

Ubuntu is not known for its wide range of user settings compared to some Linux other distributions, like Kubuntu, and 20.10 LTS is no exception. However Ubuntu's singular settings menu is perhaps the best control panel available in any operating system today. It has everything in one place and that makes setting up your Ubuntu installation really quick and simple.

The new default wallpaper predictably is dark purple with a gorilla wearing sunglasses on it, the latest in a long line of release codename-themed wallpapers. There are a total of seven wallpapers provided, all new designs.

Ubuntu continues to use a modified version of the Gnome Shell that looks and works generally similarly to the old Unity interface. They have also restored the window control buttons, so that Gnome's "close only" button is supplemented by the traditional minimize and maximize buttons. There is also a top bar with the date and time, plus key controls. These are all useful design choices, as Unity was quite a good interface. The tweaked "Unity-like" Gnome Shell used in Ubuntu these days is better than the stock Gnome Shell, at least. The application launcher can be set to the left, right or at the bottom of the screen for a real "Mac-like" feel. As in past releases, it cannot be set at the top, as it would conflict with menus there.The icon size can also be adjusted.

There are only three window colour themes to choose from: light, standard and dark, since every distribution has to have a dark theme available these days. The "dark" and "standard" themes don't provide much active/inactive window differentiation, but the "light" theme, is fairly good in that regard. It renders the active window tops in a medium grey and the inactive ones a much lighter grey, almost white, which does the trick.

Applications

Some of the applications included with Ubuntu 20.10 are:

* indicates same application version as used in Ubuntu 20.04 LTS.

As can be seen from the lack of asterisks, most of the applications included are fresh versions, with very few hold-overs from Ubuntu 20.04 LTS.

Unlike both Lubuntu and Xubuntu, Ubuntu includes a webcam application, in this case Cheese. This makes sense since most modern laptops and desktops come with a built-in camera.

Also unlike both Lubuntu and Xubuntu, Ubuntu omits a default CD/DVD burning application. This actually makes sense, too, as laptops have not included optical drives for a decade now and desktops for almost that long. If you do have an optical drive, still have any CDs or DVDs left and plan to do some burning, then it is easy to install one from the Ubuntu repositories, Gnome's Brasero being the obvious choice, although K3b and Xfburn are good, too.

The inclusion of a webcam application and the omission of a CD/DVD burner makes Ubuntu feel more up-to-date and intended for modern hardware.

The Ubuntu 20.10 version of LibreOffice is lacking only LibreOffice Base, the database application and Math, the math formula writer, both of which are rarely used by most users. If needed they can easily be installed, though.

The Nautilus file manager does have some useful features, but since the interface was simplified a few years ago it has really been lacking overall. It is missing basic functionality, like the "up one level" arrow to move higher in the file system. Nautilus is probably Ubuntu's weakest point these days. The good news that there are better file managers, like Nemo, that can be installed and which integrate nicely with the Ubuntu desktop.

As in recent releases, the gedit 3.38.0 text editor has syntax highlighting, with a choice of seven different highlight colour schemes, three of which are the obligatory dark themes. Of note gedit includes spellchecking and correction by default (at Shift+F7), perhaps the only Linux text editor to do so. It actually requires no set-up at all for tasks such as writing web pages.

As in Ubuntu 20.04 LTS, the Ubuntu Software application installer for 20.10 is really the snap-store, as it just installs Snaps. This Dave Mackay article provides a very good primer about what is going on here, while this article by Jatan Mehta has some much more serious concerns about how Snaps work and how they can or can not be avoided on Ubuntu. This article shows how to remove all snaps and disable them.

Conclusions

Ubuntu 20.10 is a really solid release, with surprisingly few new features introduced for this development cycle. In many ways this is probably a good sign. After 33 releases over 16 years, Ubuntu a very mature distribution and does pretty much everything right. There really isn't a lot that needs changing, beyond updating hardware support for the next generation of computers and updating applications, both of which this release offers.

Most Ubuntu users these days stick to LTS releases and this standard release has little to entice anyone to switch, especially since it offers only nine months of support. Most Ubuntu users will probably treat it as an early developmental release and stick with 20.04 LTS until the next LTS is out in April 2022.

External links