Ubuntu 19.10 Eoan Ermine's default desktop wallpaper background.

Ubuntu 19.10 “Eoan Ermine” boasts an upgraded Linux kernel along with faster boot times, updated themes, and experimental ZFS file system support. Whether or not you upgrade, Ermine shows what to expect from Ubuntu’s next LTS release, due April 2020.

Should You Upgrade?

Ubuntu 19.10 is available for download today, October 17, 2019. Upgrading isn’t mandatory—in fact, most people stick with the long-term service (LTS) releases and upgrade just once every two years when the next one comes out. The last LTS release was Ubuntu 18.04 LTS “Bionic Beaver.”

For some people, if the latest release isn’t a Long Term Support (LTS) release, the question “should I upgrade?” is a no-brainer.  Canonical estimates that 95 percent of Ubuntu installations are running LTS versions. Ubuntu 19.10 isn’t an LTS release; it is an interim release. The next LTS is due out in April 2020, when Ubuntu 20.04 is going to be delivered.

If 95 percent stick with LTS releases, those who do upgrade to interim releases are very much in the minority. But there’s always going to be users who want the newest shiny things. They’re going to upgrade. Period. The fact that there’s a new version is reason enough.

So we’ve got the LTS-only users in the “definitely won’t upgrade” camp, and the give-me-the-new-version-now users in the “definitely will upgrade” camp. If neither of those is you, you must be in the “I might upgrade if there’s something compelling about this new release” camp. Here’s our quick run-down so you can make up your mind.

Updated Software

Of course, there is a lot of updated software. Here’s a summary of what’s been refreshed. The version numbers are given for each package. The version numbers in parentheses are the versions that were shipped with 18.04.

  • GNOME 3.34.1 (3.32.1)
  • Kernel 5.3.0.-13 (5.0.0-8)
  • Thunderbird 68.1.1 (60.6.1)
  • LibreOffice 6.3.2.2 (6.2.2.2)
  • Firefox 69.0.1 (66.0.3)
  • Ubuntu Software 33.0.6-2 (33.0.6)
  • Files 3.34.0 (3.32.0)
  • GCC 9.2.1 (8.3.0)
  • glibc 2.30 (2.29)
  • OpenSSL 1.1.1.c (1.1.1b)

GNOME

As soon as you boot up a computer with 19.10 on it, you’ll see some of the cosmetic changes. The user selection highlight bar is now a light shade of purple, instead of the orange color of previous versions.

user selection screen with purple highlight bar

The “Cancel” and “Sign” In buttons on the password entry screen have also been touched up. The “Cancel” button is a sort of pinky-magenta, and the “Sign In” button is green.

Password entry screen with the Wayland or Xorg menu displayed

The “Options” cog remains grey, with the two familiar options in it. You can start Ubuntu using either the Xorg or Wayland display server.

The Yaru theme has been updated, and there are many fresh icons. It’s not a massive departure from the visuals of 19.04, but users coming from earlier versions of Ubuntu will see quite a change from the Ubuntu Ambiance default theme.

Updated Yaru icon set in the file window and dock toolbar

Wallpaper Settings

There’s a suite of new wallpapers, as expected, but the wallpaper settings have been improved as well. When you select a wallpaper, you are prompted to change the desktop background wallpaper, the lock screen wallpaper, or both at once.

Previously, you had to indicate whether you were setting the desktop wallpaper or the lock screen wallpaper in advance of choosing the wallpaper. If you wanted the same wallpaper on both, you had to go through the selection process twice.

wallpaper selection screen with menu displayed

You can choose one of your own images as your wallpaper. Click on the “Add Picture” button, and you can use a file selector to select an image.

wallpaper image chooser dialog

Once you’ve added an image to the selection of wallpapers, it will always be available even if you remove the image from your computer. GNOME keeps a copy in the wallpapers folder.

Wallpaper selction dialog with custom wallpaper inserted

Night Light

The Night Light settings have been moved to their own tab in the “Devices” section of the Settings dialog.

Night Light tab in the settings dialog

The functionality remains the same. You can turn the night light on and off manually, and choose a “warmth” for the tinge that is applied to your monitor when the night light is on. You can also set a schedule to have the night light turned on and off automatically.

Dark Theme

If you install the GNOME Tweaks application, you can select a dark version of the Yaru theme. This seems to work very well. Some application windows and screen elements are beyond its control, but it should satisfy fans of the dark side.

Dark theme selected in GNOME Tweaks

Grouping Applications

In the application overview, you can drag application icons and drop them onto other icons. This will group the icons in the same way as you can with your iPhone or Android phone.

Separate icons for LibreOffice applications inthe application overview

For example, dragging the LibreOffice icons and dropping them on the same icon creates an Office group. We couldn’t see a way to rename that group, however.

LibreOffice icons grouped together in the application overview

ToDo Application

There is a new ToDo application. It allows you to create lists of tasks that you can tick off as you perform them. You can also set due-by dates for tasks that have deadlines.

ToDo Application main window with calendar displayed

Document Scanner

Simple Scan has been updated and renamed. It is now called Document Scanner.

It contains bug fixes, better translations, and a new appearance.

Document Scanner application with menu displayed

LZ4 Compression for Faster Start-Ups

The initramfs file system is loaded when Ubuntu boots up. This temporary root file system’s job is to initialize things far enough so that your real root file system—and the rest of the operating system—can start to boot up. The initramfs file system is compressed.

The faster the decompression can take place, the faster the boot time. A set of performance tests were carried out to see which compression./decompression algorithm performed best.

LZ4 compression came out the winner and is going to be the method used in Ubuntu for the foreseeable future.

Closed-Source NVIDIA Drivers in the ISO Image

Hold onto your hats. NVIDIA and Linux just got a bit cozier. Dealing with NVIDIA graphics cards could be a bit of a pain in the past, especially if you were stuck installing Ubuntu without an internet connection.

The NVIDIA drivers are now included within the install images so that they can be installed straight out of the Live CD. The Nouveau graphics drivers are still the default, but this will make the end-user experience a lot smoother for a vast number of Ubuntu users and–importantly—newcomers.

An End to Flickers for Intel and UEFI Users

A particular group of users used to see a couple of flickers or screen “blinks” when booting into Ubuntu. If your computer uses Intel graphics and you’ve got it booting with UEFI enabled, you’ve probably experienced this.

As long as your Intel graphics are reasonably modern, new code added to Ubuntu 19.10 should fix that for you.

Experimental Support for the ZFS File System

The ZFS file system is an advanced file system that originated at Sun Microsystems. It is exceptionally fault-tolerant and combines features that deliver file system pooling, cloning and copying, and RAID-like functionality, natively.

ZFS originally stood for “Zettabyte File System,” but it can currently store up to 256 Zebibytes.

Warning: You must treat this as alpha software. The Ubuntu implementation isn’t even at beta yet. It is included in 19.10 to allow testing to be carried out by the curious, the intrepid, and the fearless. In no circumstances should you put in on production computers. We recommend that you don’t even put it on home computers without a robust backup system in place. This really is something for “it’s spare, I don’t care” hardware, and virtual machines only.

The opportunity to use the ZFS file system appears when you are on the partition options screen. Note that Canonical has put the word “EXPERIMENTAL” in capital letters, and the word “Warning” in red. And they’re not kidding.

This option only appears on the desktop install. It isn’t even in the server install yet.

ZFS option on the partition choices screen

That’s you’re only chance to use it.

File system selection menu

If you select the “Something Else” option and opt to create your own partitions, you don’t get the option to choose ZFS in the file system menu.

The version of mkfs provided in 19.10 doesn’t offer ZFS as an option, either. ZFS became available in Ubuntu’s repositories back in Ubuntu 16.04, but it’s never been integrated into the installer like this before.

RELATED: Which Linux File System Should You Use?

What Didn’t Make the Cut?

The power management utility TLP was initially slated to be included, but it didn’t make it. TLP provides a wide range of settings for your computer’s subsystems. You can tweak them to maximize battery life on laptops and to minimize power consumption on desktops.

You can install TLP with this command:

sudo apt install tlp

sudo apt install tlp in a terminal window

Also, GSConnect didn’t make it. GSConnect allows you to integrate your Android phone with your GNOME desktop. With it, you can transfer files, control your phone from your desktop, see phone notifications on your desktop, and much more.

RELATED: How to Wirelessly Transfer Android Files to a Linux Desktop

To Upgrade or Not?

You might find some of the above attractive enough to warrant performing an upgrade. Or you can’t wait to be free of a shortcoming or bug in the version of Ubuntu you’re currently on.

Whether you upgrade or not, it is interesting to view Ubuntu 19.10 as a stepping-stone to the next LTS version, 20.04, and to see the direction that Canonical is moving in.

Despite the scary warnings this time around for the ZFS file system, it would be great to eventually see it as a viable default file system in future iterations of Ubuntu, and out in the wider Linux-sphere.

Dave McKay Dave McKay
Dave McKay first used computers when punched paper tape was in vogue, and he has been programming ever since. He is now a Data Protection Officer and has worked as a freelance programmer, manager of an international software development team, and an IT services project manager. Dave is a Linux evangelist and open source advocate.
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