Mid-August is upon us, and that can only mean one thing (corn on the cob and the Saint-Napoleon notwithstanding): the next release of Ubuntu is inching ever closer to maturity. With the debut late last week of the third alpha of Ubuntu 10.10, it's time to take a look at how Maverick Meerkat is shaping up.

If you visit this site frequently, you may have noticed that our coverage of Ubuntu 10.10 thus far has been sparse. We've discussed the btrfs file system and new cloud-init features, but there haven't been many changes to report on the desktop.

With the appearance late last week of Ubuntu 10.10 alpha 3, however, some tangible new features have finally debuted for desktop users. Here's a look at a few of the most significant changes.

Social Networking

Ubuntu's "social from the start" initiative began with the release last April of Ubuntu 10.04, which introduced Gwibber into the default application stack. Maverick integrates social networking at a deeper level, embedding tools for sharing content on networking sites from directly within Rhythmbox and the Software Center:

Software Center sharing

Clicking the "Share" link launches Gwibber, from which you can post to your favorite site to tell all your friends about your favorite songs and applications.

Software Center

In addition to social-networking integration, the Software Center has received other notable updates in the form of interface changes and new features:

Software Center in Ubuntu 10.10

As the screenshot demonstrates, the "Departments" section has been split into columns. In addition, there are boxes for highlighting featured and new applications.

Also new to the Software Center is a history feature that provides an easy way of tracking updates and other changes to installed applications:

Software Center history in Ubuntu 10.10

This isn't an entirely new feature--dpkg always keeps logs accessible from the command line, and Synaptic Package Manager has a built-in graphical interface for viewing them--but the Software Center provides a simplified summary of the dpkg history, which will be more to the liking of non-geeks.

Volume Applet

In the past, I've been tough on the volume applet in Ubuntu, which has been totally redesigned for every release for no discernably good reason. Maverick sticks with tradition by ushering in a completely novel volume applet, but this time it actually offers new features:

Volume applet in Ubuntu 10.10

The applet plugs into Rhythmbox to allow users to control songs and skip to new tracks. You can even switch between playlists. Pretty cool.

Ubuntu One

Last but not least, Canonical is continuing to push Ubuntu One, with the Nautilus file browser now shipping with built-in tools for sharing folders over the service:

Ubuntu One Nautilus integration in Ubuntu 10.10

Personally, I probably won't contemplate ditching Dropbox until the long-promised Windows client for Ubuntu One actually comes to fruition, but these new features are certainly attractive. They're also worth tracking for anyone interested in Canonical's longterm business strategy.

Conclusions

These represent only the most noticeable of the changes planned for Ubuntu 10.10; there are certainly others already out there, and yet more may appear before the final development freezes are reached later this month.  We'll continue to follow Maverick as it nears its final release date of October 10.