Canonical’s latest release of its Ubuntu Linux desktop is here and we can hear its claws clacking. Ubuntu 23.04 arrived on April 20, 2023, and we gave the Lunar Lobster a once over ahead of its release.
Ubuntu Linux 23.04 - the "Lunar Lobster"
A New Installer
System Menu and Quick Settings Buttons
Snaps With Everything
Should You Upgrade?
Ubuntu Linux 23.04 – the “Lunar Lobster”
Lunar lobster is the 38th release of Ubuntu’s desktop Linux distribution. Canonical’s numbering scheme uses the year and the month of release, and because the Lunar Lobster’s birthday is April 20, this release is 23.04.
It is an interim release, one of the three 6-monthly releases that come between each Long Term Support release. Interim releases receive nine months of support that includes bug fixes, hotfixes, updates, and upgrades. In contrast, LTS releases have five years support. The last LTS release was 22.04, and the next one will be 24.04 due in April 2024.
The Lunar Lobster adopts Canonical’s new installer, bumps GNOME up to version 44 “Kuala Lumpur”, sees Cinnamon become an official Ubuntu spin, provides a new kernel, and arrives with the expected collection of new wallpapers.
The question with point release distributions—as opposed to rolling release distributions—is whether or not an upgrade is worth it. Let’s take a look. Keep in mind we’re looking at the release candidate here, ahead of the actual release. There may be small differences in the final version.
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A New Installer
The installer is something you’ll probably only use once per computer, for each new Ubuntu release. How it looks and and how it behaves are still important, though. The first-time Ubuntu user needs the steps in the installation process to be clearly presented and simple to understand.
They need to feel comfortable about selecting options and making choices during the installation. If they back out of the installation because they’re not sure it’s going to work, the design of the installer has failed.
And worse, if the user pushes ahead even if they’re not completely sure they made the right choices and end up with a misbehaving or inoperable system, they’re likely to give up on Linux because “It’s too hard.”
The new Linux installer is built using Google’s Flutter SDK. It leverages Canonical’s existing Subiquity and Curtin server installation projects.
It carries out the same job as before, using many of the same screens in the same order, but with a crisp and modern feel.
One area where you’ll notice improvements is the slideshow you see as the operating system is installed. This has been embellished with controls that can pause, move forward, or move backward through the slides.
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The Lunar Lobster adds an official Cinnamon spin to its roster of supported desktop environments. You can also get Ubuntu with the KDE, LXQt, Budgie, UKUI, MATE, Unity, or Xfce desktops. We’re going to be looking at the default desktop version, which uses GNOME.
The GNOME desktop is updated every six months or so. The latest release is GNOME 44. GNOME 44 doesn’t break new ground, but it does have some nice touches and additions.
System Menu and Quick Settings Buttons
The quick settings buttons now support two lines of text. The name of the button is displayed in large text and, if present, the second line of additional information is shown in smaller text.
For example, the “Power Mode” button will show the current power mode on its second line, and if you’re running a Wi-Fi adapter, the “Wi-Fi” button will show the name of the connected Wi-Fi network.
The number of applications running in the background is shown at the bottom of the system menu.
Clicking on the arrow opens the “Background Apps” menu.
Clicking the “x” beside the name of an application closes that application. You can’t right-click an entry and get a context menu like you can with system tray icons. Perhaps more features will be added over time.
At the top left of the system menu, there’s a new screenshot icon.
Clicking this is exactly the same as pressing the PrtSc key, allowing you to take a screenshot of your entire screen, a portion of the screen, or of a selected window.
The file browser uses thumbnails for files if they’re of a type it recognizes and can read.
Click on the hamburger menu and select
to unlock this much-missed feature. The ability to navigate directories in List View was lost from the file browser when it was ported to GTK4.
Preferences > General > Expandable Folders in List View
Switch to List View, and you’re able to navigate the directory tree right inside the List View.
Long filenames that need to be shortened now have the ellipsis “…” in the middle of their name, not at the end. This means you can still see the file type for filenames that have been shortened.
Right-clicking a tab reveals a tab context menu.
It lets you close a tab, close all other tabs, re-open the last closed tab, move a tab left or right, or open a tab in a new file browser window.
You can now paste a copied image and create an image file. Right-click an image in a web browser and select “Copy Image” from the context menu.
Then right-click in the files browser and select “Paste” from the context menu. You’ll see a new files called “Pasted Image.”
The GNOME console (not the default terminal window) has an overview for open tabs. With two or more tabs open, pressing “Ctrl+Shift+O” opens the tab overview.
You can close tabs, reorder them by dragging, and open a new tab. Clicking a thumbnail closes the overview and makes that tab the current tab.
The “Settings” application has revamped “Mouse and Touchpad” and “Keyboard” panes. They look better, are more intuitive, and allow configuration of touchpad gestures on laptops.
Settings > Network > VPN dialog now offers Wireguard VPN as an option.
The “About” pane shows the kernel version.
The “Accessibility” pane now groups entries into logical categories. This should make it easier to locate the option you’re looking for.
Of course, a new Ubuntu wouldn’t be a new Ubuntu without a slew of new wallpapers. There are plenty here to choose from, including a disturbing Lovecraftian image of a bleached, Moon-straddling lobster.
The login screen displays a larger user avatar than before.
Mutter has better Wayland integration, something that should help make fractional scaling smoother.
The GNOME developers continue their work of unearthing and replacing GTK3 code. This is still a work in progress, but they’re making good headway.
Snaps With Everything
Canonical continues to push its Snap application packaging and deployment system as the only game in town. Snap is a distribution-agnostic way of packaging applications and their dependencies as a sort of mini-container. The application runs within its own sandboxed environment.
There are other—competing—initiatives working in this space, such as Flatpak. Canonical have decided to remove support for Flatpak, as of version 23.04. You can go ahead and install Flatpak yourself, but it won’t be there by default.
Not only that, but all of the official Ubuntu flavors are following suit. This means Flatpak, and the related packages that integrate Flatpak into the Ubuntu Software application, won’t be bundled into Lunar Lobster, in any of the official Ubuntu versions like Kubuntu, Lubuntu, or Ubuntu MATE.
For the applications we installed during testing, the Ubuntu Software application gave us a choice of installing from a DEB file—if one existed—and from a selection of Snaps.
The average user won’t know the difference. Those who do, and prefer not to use Snaps, will be able to install applications through
apt or by installing Flatpak and using that.
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The majority of software packages have been updated. Here are the versions of some of the major applications. These are either bundled with Lunar Lobster or are the versions installed from the Lunar repositories.
- Kernel: 6.2.0-18-generic
- LibreOffice: 220.127.116.11 (X86_64)
- Thunderbird: 102.9.1
- Firefox: 111.0.1
- Files: 44.0
- GCC: 12.2.0-17ubuntu1
- binutils: 2.4
- glibc: 2.37
- GNU Debugger: 13.1-2ubuntu2
Should You Upgrade?
Users with mission-critical installations will be running an LTS release, and waiting for the next LTS release. The interim releases don’t even register on their radar.
For the casual Ubuntu desktop user, it’s a different story. An updated kernel and refreshed software applications with bug fixes and security patches are always attractive. If that’s you, you can download an Ubuntu 23.04 ISO from the official release page and install it on your PC or test it in VirtualBox.
The slight tweaks to GNOME 44 continue to add polish and, refreshingly, show that the developers are listening to their users. It would be a personal call whether the GNOME tweaks alone would be justification for you to upgrade, but combined with the new kernel and refreshed software, there’s enough here to warrant an upgrade.
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