Ubuntu 20.10 “Groovy Gorilla” is here! Released October 22, 2020, the Gorilla is all about minor tweaks, rather than groundbreaking new features. As an interim release, it also doesn’t have long-term support. So, is it worth the upgrade?
Evolution, Not Revolution
The Groovy Gorilla has hit the streets and, again, this is an interim build of the massively popular Linux distribution. Every two years, Canonical releases a long-term support (LTS) version of Ubuntu that’s supported for five years.
Still, Canonical releases new versions of Ubuntu every six months. Every LTS release is followed by three interim releases before the next LTS release. These collect the changes and improvements that have been made so far en route to the next LTS version.
These interim builds allow Canonical’s developers to collect feedback and conduct field testing on their work so far. Interim builds also give people a chance to play with the latest, greatest version of the software.
The April 2020 release (20.04 “Focal Fossa”) was the most recent LTS version, so six months down the development road, Groovy Gorilla doesn’t deliver any big surprises or shake-ups. The Gorilla has had its dusters out, polishing and shining here and there, but that’s about it.
That’s not to say this isn’t a slick and (throughout our testing) stable build. So far, it seems rock-solid and looks great, but is it worth leaving a long-term service release?
Installation: ZFS Becomes Less Experimental
The Ubuntu Unity installer hasn’t changed significantly. The installation process is almost the same as it was on Ubuntu 20.04, and the black disk checking screen is the same.
One notable change is tucked away in the “Advanced Features” dialog box. The ZFS file system installation option no longer has the word “Experimental” in capital letters beside it. Confidence must be building within Canonical about the durability and readiness of its ZFS implementation as a daily driver file system.
After you install Ubuntu 20.10 and sign in, you’ll see the Groovy Gorilla, positioned prominently amidst the familiar purple hues of the Ubuntu color palette.
He looks like an ape that’s got it together, but let’s see if that’s true.
An Upgraded GNOME Desktop
Groovy Gorilla uses GNOME 3.38.0, the latest version of the graphical desktop environment that powers the default Ubuntu desktop experience. There’s evidence of attention and tweaks here and there, and an effort to make applications look like they’re part of a cohesive whole.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these.
Moving Shortcuts in the Applications Grid
The “Applications” grid used to have two views: “Frequent,” which showed your most popular applications, and “All,” which listed all applications. With GNOME 3.38.0, you have a single customizable view.
You can drag and rearrange the order of the application icons however you want. An alphabetically sorted list is no longer enforced. You can mix and match to your heart’s content. If you want the Firefox icon in the first position, just click and drag it into place—it’ll stay there until you change it.
The grid is also more screen- and resolution-aware. It’s scale-sensitive and adjusts to sensible icon proportions and grid layout according to the resolution and screen mode of your monitor.
Dragging one icon on top of another forms a stack or group, just like it does on your smartphone. For example, you might want to drag all of the LibreOffice icons into a group.
If you drop more than nine icons into a group, they’ll be paginated when you scroll or page through them.
Dismantling a group isn’t as smooth as creating one, though. To drag an icon out of a group, you have to open the group, click and drag the icon out, and then “wave” it around the desktop until the group closes.
You can then drop the icon onto the application grid. Occasionally, we had to “wave” the icon around the screen for four or five seconds before the group would close. This might work more smoothly in the official release of Ubuntu 20.10, however.
The calendar tool has also been updated. You can now see notifications about your calendar entries at the bottom of the pane.
System Menu Reorganization
The System menu now has a “Restart” option. Previously, you could only get to the “Restart” option after you selected “Power Off,” which was somewhat counterintuitive.
Settings Dialog Tweaks
It’s not a big change, but the following options in the “Settings” dialog box have been renamed:
- “Universal Access” is now “Access.”
- “Screen Displays” is now “Displays.”
- “Device Color profiles” is now “Color.”
- “Language and Region” is now “Region and Language.”
Easy Wi-Fi Hotspot Configuration
The Wi-Fi tab in “Settings” allows you to use your laptop as a Wi-Fi hotspot. If you scan the QR code with a mobile device, like your smartphone or tablet, it will connect to your hotspot.
Many of the packages have been refreshed with newer versions. The version numbers of some of the major packages are below:
- Thunderbird: 78.3.1
- LibreOffice: 188.8.131.52
- Firefox: 81.0.1
- Files: 3.38.0-stable
- gcc: 10.2.0
- OpenSSL: 1.1.1f
Some applications have also been given a visual revamp. For example, the Screenshot program now looks like an integral part of the Ubuntu experience (see below).
It’s a pity it still closes after every screenshot, but the layout is much cleaner and easier to use.
Ubuntu 20.10 ships with Linux kernel version 5.8.0-20-generic. As usual, there are a variety of new features in the Linux kernel, including better support for modern hardware devices.
Here’s a short list of the improvements:
- Graphics driver and other improvements added for Qualcomm Adreno, Intel Tiger Lake, and Radeon.
- AMD GPU Trusted Memory Zone support.
- AMD Energy drivers.
- Intel Tiger Lake System Agent Geyserville (SAGV) support.
- Intel Tiger Lake Thunderbolt 4 support for Intel’s Gateway SoCs.
- Improved ARM System on a Chip (SoC) support.
- Initial support for booting with POWER10 processors.
- Fixes have been added for the EXT4 file system.
- Improvements have been added for the Btrfs file system. Some major distributions (such as Fedora 33) are going to be defaulting to Btrfs in future releases.
Should You Upgrade to Ubuntu 20.10?
We recommend that most people stick with Ubuntu 20.04 LTS for stability. Ubuntu 20.10 doesn’t offer any huge improvements. Rather, it just shows that Ubuntu is still a solid platform, making good progress toward its next LTS release in 2022.
Canonical estimates that 95% of Ubuntu installations are LTS versions. If that’s true, then plainly interim builds won’t appeal to many people who use Ubuntu. Even if Canonical’s figures are slightly off, it’s obvious the vast majority prefer stability and guaranteed long-term support over the incremental benefits of interim builds.
If you’re happily running 20.04 Focal Fossa, should you go through the hassle (and potential risk) of upgrading just to get this build? Probably not.
However, if Gorilla is your first encounter with Linux, you’ll be very pleased, indeed.