With the April 23 release date getting ever closer, I decided to test Alpha 4 of Ubuntu 9.04 -- code-named Jaunty Jackalope --  to get a feel for the forthcoming operating system.

Canonical's promise to deliver "the absolute latest and greatest software the Open Source Community has to offer" with just a six month development cycle has seen them take some bold risks with previous releases.

One controversial example involves Ubuntu 8.04, a supposed 'Long Term Support' release that shipped with a beta version of Firefox 3.

Still Aggressive

A look at Jaunty's feature list shows the Ubuntu developers are not going conservative on us just yet.

The latest 1.6 version of the X.Org server, Ubuntu's fundamental graphics subsystem will be included. When this was added to Jaunty during the development phase, hardware vendors were yet to release compatible graphics card drivers. A driver from NVIDIA was added only a fortnight ago and a driver for ATI graphics cards is still not available, leaving ATI users unable to use desktop effects. On my test installation with the new NVIDIA graphics drivers enabled, the system hung after login so there is still a way to go before they are ready for release.

Jaunty will include Linux kernel 2.6.28, the latest stable kernel allowing Ubuntu to run on more recent hardware than before. This is the first kernel with full support for the new EXT4 filesystem, a faster and more reliable version of the EXT3 filesystem that Ubuntu uses as its default. EXT3 will still be used as the default filesystem until version 9.10 is released in October but Jaunty's installer will now allow you to select EXT4, or if you are going to upgrade to Jaunty from a previous Ubuntu version you can easily convert your existing EXT3 filesystem to EXT4 with just a few simple commands to benefit from the increased performance.

Built for Speed

The first thing that struck me after booting into Jaunty was its speed. This fresh installation of Jaunty Alpha 4 booted in just 23 seconds, that is more than twice as fast as Intrepid and remember - this is still an alpha version, so expect the final release to be quicker still.

The only other thing that indicated something had changed was that all the font sizes were too big. A search through the Ubuntu site showed this was in fact due to a new “feature” called Font Size Optimization. This feature is supposed to read the capabilities of your monitor and then set the font dot-per-inch setting to what your monitor reports. Of course, if your monitor reports the wrong dpi like mine did, you end up with huge fonts and a claustrophobic desktop.

What was wrong with leaving this setting at the default 96 dpi? The average user is not going to be able to successfully find the setting that changes this back and therefore will just assume that Ubuntu looks ugly because the fonts are too large.

One other feature touted for Jaunty (and championed by Canonical chief Mark Shuttleworth on his personal blog) is better management of notifications.

However, far from Shuttleworth's elegant mockup all I could see was a preference option that lets you specify where notifications appear on screen and an option to hide notifications when I connect to my wireless network, looks like we won't see any major changes to notifications until a future release.

As long as the issues with the graphics drivers are ironed out, I believe Jaunty Jackalope will become another must-have upgrade and if you are smart and install using EXT4, you will see some very real performance increases for very little effort. Just hope your monitor was designed properly or you will be left with an ugly desktop.


Contributing blogger Guy Thouret is a software engineer for a wireless energy management system company. He has used various GNU/Linux distributions since 2002.

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