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Why Ubuntu 14.10 Utopic Unicorn's humble changes are the calm before the storm

Chris Hoffman | Oct. 24, 2014
Ubuntu 14.10--or "Utopic Unicorn"--is now out. It's a standard release of Ubuntu, not a long term support release like 14.04 "Trusty Tahir," and at first glance Utopic isn't the most exciting update. It doesn't even have new wallpaper! But peer a little closer and you'll see some huge changes being worked on for Ubuntu. In fact, the alterations are such a massive undertaking that they're not yet stable enough to be part of the main Ubuntu desktop image.

Ubuntu Desktop Next and the coming convergence

Future Ubuntu releases might not be so ho-hum, however.

There's a lot of development action going on, but you won't see it in the normal Ubuntu Desktop image. Ubuntu provides "Ubuntu Desktop Next" images that contain the latest, unstable stuff they're working on. And it sure is unstable, let me tell you, so you probably don't want to try it unless you're highly curious and highly experienced with deep-level troubleshooting.

But the Desktop Next images are as interesting as they are frustrating.

These images now use systemd, a controversial new system management daemon that's being adopted by Linux distributions left and right — including Ubuntu's parent distribution, Debian. They also use the Mir display server, retiring the old Xorg server and X windows display system.

Along with Mir comes the next version of Ubuntu's Unity desktop, Unity 8. Mir and the latest version of Unity are already used on Ubuntu Phone, so this is key for Ubuntu's goal of convergent computing — Ubuntu Phone and Ubuntu desktop will use the same display server and desktop shell. Ubuntu Phone is now stable and Ubuntu phones are arriving this year, so a lot of work has gone into this stuff recently.

The road ahead looks bumpy however. Ubuntu needs to get graphics drivers supporting Mir properly. The task becomes more complicated when you consider that other Linux distributions — like Fedora — are switching to the Wayland display server instead of Mir.

When Ubuntu Desktop Next becomes the standard desktop environment, the changes will be massive indeed. But for today, Utopic Unicorn is all about subtle improvements and slow, steady iteration.


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