So, unless you've been living under a rock for the last month or so, or you've been busy with Windows 7 launch parties, you will know that Canonical launched the latest version of Ubuntu, version 9.10 the Karmic Koala.
I spent launch day in #ubuntu-release-party along with over 1000 other people anxiously awaiting the release. I, of course, was already running 9.10, on my desktop, laptop and work desktop. I haven't had a single problem with any of them, post-beta anyway.
Still, I can't help but think that this particular release was a little rushed.
The updated boot splash is a massive improvement, and it saw a lot of work over the weeks up to the launch, but even here, there are a few niggly little issues... even now I still get an occasional worrying "Waiting to mount home" message underneath the minimalist white Ubuntu logo. The new X splash doesn't fade out properly all of the time, on my home desktop it never does. The background image showed visible banding on my highest resolution monitor, although this seems to have been rectified now. Also, I haven't seen a disk check in a little while, but the last time I saw it - it was scrolling past each percentage point. All these things show a lack of polish that I'm fairly sure an extra weeks development would have solved. Before anyone asks, yes I checked these bugs were reported.
I'm actually pretty impressed with the log on screen, of all of the artwork I'd say GDM and the white Ubuntu logo on shutdown were the parts where I actually thought to myself - yes this can compete with OSX. That said, I did feel there were better background choices on the Ubuntu wiki, and I do understand when users say it feels cold... because.. well it does, it's hardly sunshine and flowers is it?
Now, after log in is where everything falls apart. The introduction of the Humanity icon set was a step forward, but whoever decided that a bright orange background would look good with the new boot splash was frankly off their head. Why didn't they just use the same background as the GDM? Yes it's still dull and brown, but at least it would have been consistent.
The GTK theme changes were just a mess, the window borders have changed to a dark muddy brown, the previous Human colours at least would have matched the orange background slightly... the whole desktop theme seemed like a last minute rush because all the time had been spent on boot. Again, a week longer and we could have had that extra polish that Ubuntu deserves.
Still, this is just the beginning of the design work, hopefully 10.04 will get this stuff sorted once and for all.
Generally speaking, functionally Karmic is running well for me. My ATI based desktop still has slow minimising when Compiz is enabled, I really hope this is fixed soon as it makes the whole desktop feel sluggish. I've grown accustomed to the way that notifications are displayed, however I still believe that positioning them at the bottom of the screen would get in the way even less, and I stand by my feeling that the position should be configurable, because no matter where the notifications are, they will get in the way of some application that a user regularly uses.
Pulseaudio has really improved this release, I haven't had a single sound issue so far, however it does sadden me that Ubuntu still aren't paying attention to upstream (e.g. the removal of rtkit) although I've heard there is more communication going on now.
Empathy. If there was one thing I would say was a complete bloody mess in 9.10 it is the premature replacement of Pidgin with Empathy. I know that Empathy is the future, but that future is not here yet. Empathy is still buggy, it looks like a mid 90's throwback and it still lacks the many features that Pidgin offers. I don't understand why there was such a rush to replace Pidgin before Empathy was ready? Still it's easy to swap it out for Pidgin so I guess I can't complain too much.
The indicator applet is nice, although I do wonder why I can launch applications there when there is a perfectly good applications menu. I thought introducing more than one way to do something was bad from a usability POV? It makes the whole point of the applet ambiguous. Leave the launching of applications to the applications menu, and leave the indicator applet to well, indicating notifications.
The Software Centre is a massive improvement over Add/Remove, I do wonder whose idea it was to give it a blue background though. So now we have black, white, brown, orange and blue. Talk about consistency! I thought Mark employed a design team! I also still don't agree with the "Close" menu option though, it should definitely be "Quit" IMO and I don't buy the excuse I was given on the bug report. "The Ubuntu Software Store has no need to require users to know whether it is "running" or not"... what? Course they do... they opened the bloody thing.
So lots of little issues, I'll continue running 9.10 but I don't feel that this was Ubuntu's best release (9.04 was) but there have been a lot of changes (new GDM, GRUB 2, Xsplash etc.) that will hopefully mature over the next 6 months to form a solid base for 10.04, being an LTS, this is the release to watch.