The first beta for the next major version of Ubuntu Linux is now available for download and testing. While it isn’t finished yet, the beta version of “Intrepid Ibex,” as this release is known, promises a number of important improvements for the popular Linux distribution.
The first beta of Ubuntu 8.10 follows in the footsteps of Ubuntu 8.04, nick-named “Hardy Heron,” with incremental upgrades that, while not necessarily flashy and obvious, make for a much nicer user experience.
Perhaps the most noticeable change in Ubuntu 8.10 is the new GNOME 2.24 desktop, which brings tabbed Nautilus windows and some new apps like Empathy, a new instant messaging client. Ubuntu, however, seems to be sticking with Pidgin as the default IM client, to enable Empathy you’ll need to install it via Add/Remove.
You’ll also notice some new applets in GNOME 2.24, including a much improved Deskbar search app which can now perform calculator operations, search Google and even update Twitter.
For more details on everything that’s new in GNOME 2.24, be sure to check out our earlier review.
Some of the less obvious, but equally nice improvements in the 8.10 beta include an upgrade for X.org, which offers better support for hot-pluggable input devices — tablets, keyboards, mice, etc — and should stop most people from needing to muck with the /etc/X11/xorg.conf file.
It’s a tiny change, and may be unique to the beta, but long time Ubuntu users will notice that the login chime has been changed — no more drumming sounds of the African Savannah.
Also new in 8.10 is the inclusion of guest accounts for the fast user switching feature. The guest account creates a temporary password-less user account with restricted privileges; guests cannot access any home directories or permanently store data, which makes it a safe way to let your friends check their e-mail without needing to worry that they’ll mess something up.
Ubuntu 8.10 also features the latest version of Network Manager, the graphical interface for setting up and tweaking both Ethernet and wireless network connections. The manager has a host of new features, including a very easy way to manage of 3G connections — good news for those hacking Ubuntu onto their GSM-enabled netbook.
As with all Ubuntu releases, the alternative distros have also released beta versions. Perhaps the most significant is the release of Kubuntu, which is based on the KDE desktop instead of GNOME, and includes the latest stable version of KDE 4. See our earlier coverage for more on what’s new in KDE 4.1.
If the new features have you wanting to upgrade, head over to the Ubuntu downloads page and grab an ISO image, but be warned: this is a beta and bugs do exist. Unless you’re looking to just do some testing, we suggest holding out for the final release, which is set to arrive later this month.