I recently downloaded Ubuntu 9.04 alpha 5, "Jaunty Jackalope," to see for myself what's in the works for the next release of Ubuntu, set to come out in stable form on April 23.  Following are some observations, with screenshots.

First, though, some quick notes regarding my testing: I used the USB creator built into Ubuntu 8.10 to make a bootable USB drive running Ubuntu 9.04 alpha 5.  My exploration of the new release was done during a live session running from the USB stick.  Admittedly, I didn't take much of a look at what's been changed behind the scenes; instead, I focused mostly on updates to the look and feel of Ubuntu.

Volume-control applet

One of the first changes new users are likely to notice is the redesigned volume-control applet.  It now features a horizontal slider, rather than the vertical one that has existed in earlier versions of Ubuntu:

volume-control.png

This probably reflects an upstream change in Gnome, not one made by Ubuntu developers.  I'm not sure that I like the horizontal volume control--the vertical variation was slimmer and took up less screen real estate--but this isn't a big deal either way, because it's only the volume control.

Janitor

Another feature introduced/resurrected for Ubuntu 9.04 is the "Janitor," formerly known as the "Cruft Remover" or "system-cleaner":

screenshot-computer-janitor.png

This had been a feature planned for Ubuntu 8.10, but it was pulled before the final release because it had a hard time distinguishing between "cruft" and vital system files.  Presumably the new version works better, but I unfortunately didn't have the opportunity during my live session to acquire any cruft for it to remove.

Notifications

The much-anticipated revamp of the notification system was also a noticeable feature of the 9.04 alpha 5 release.  Because it had failed to make it into earlier alphas (like the one reviewed for WorksWithU by Guy Thouret a couple weeks ago), there was some doubt about whether Ubuntu developers would have it ready by April at all.  But it made it, and it looks pretty nice:

screenshot.png

screenshot-1.png

My only complaints about this feature, based on my limited testing, are that some of the text gets cut off, as in the first screenshot above, and there's no way to configure why/where/how often/for how long notifications should appear (this is strange because I vaguely remember seeing a configuration utility for notifications in an older Jaunty alpha that I looked at several weeks ago).  But even with these deficiencies, the new notifications are a major improvement over the old approach, which was ugly and intrusive.

"Places" menu

Notably, the launchers for storage devices in the "Places" menu were consolidated into a pop-out "Removable Media" section for Jaunty:

removable-media.png

This is nice, as it means that Places will no longer become hugely long and difficult to navigate when I have a lot of USB drives plugged in.  On the downside, some users are likely to be confused to find internal hard disks listed under Removable Media, since few people consider hard drives "removable."  But this is a minor problem.

OpenOffice start time

My final exciting discovery was an amazing starting time for OpenOffice.  Sporting version 3.0 (rather than 2.4, the default in Ubuntu 8.10), Jaunty was able to launch the application from a cold start in under three seconds:

screenshot-ubuntuubuntu-1.png

This is pretty incredible, because OO 3.0 (which I installed using a ppa repository from Launchpad) takes more than twice as long to start after a fresh boot of my Ubuntu 8.10 system, installed to hard disk on the same machine:

screenshot-chrischris-ubuntu-linux-desktop.png

If OO starts that much faster in a live session of Jaunty, I'm excited to see what it will do on a real installation.

Conclusions

Overall, Ubuntu 9.04 is shaping up to be a promising new release.   Combined with improvements on the backend like ext4 as a file-system option, the updates to Jaunty's look will make Ubuntu a more efficient and attractive operating system.

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