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Ubuntu 11.04 “Natty Narwhal” released

For the last several years, the end of April has meant another release of Ubuntu (the world’s most popular GNU/Linux distribution), and 2011 is no exception.

Yesterday, Canonical – which sponsors the development of Ubuntu – announced the release of Version 11.04, codenamed “Natty Narwhal”. Natty succeeds Maverick Meerkat, which was released back in October 2010, and brings a host of changes across Ubuntu’s many editions and derivatives.

The change that most people are talking about is the advent of Unity, which is now the default shell in the regular edition of Ubuntu. Unity is not a replacement for Gnome, which has provided Ubuntu’s desktop environment for years; rather, it is a replacement for a part of Gnome. Unity was originally developed as a shell interface for netbooks. Now it’s in the standard flavor of Ubuntu.

Reaction to Canonical’s decision to make Unity a critical component of Ubuntu has been mixed. There are those who love the change, and those who don’t like it at all. And there are a few folks in between. I’m one of them, because I don’t actually use the standard “flavor” of Ubuntu. Instead, I use Kubuntu.

That “K” prefix stands for KDE, a powerful free software compilation that has undergone a long evolution since its creation in 1996.

KDE is actually more than just a desktop environment, which is why the community that develops has begun calling it a software compilation.

Since KDE comes with its own beautiful, feature-rich graphical shell called Plasma Workspaces, Kubuntu has no need for Unity.

(Unity is technically incompatible with the rest of KDE in any case, so even if Kubuntu’s developers wanted to replace Plasma with it, they couldn’t).

Kubuntu users are thus unaffected by the changeover to Unity. But that doesn’t mean that Kubuntu 11.04 is devoid of new features. To the contrary! Kubuntu 11.04 includes KDE 4.6, the most polished incarnation of KDE 4 yet, along with Firefox 4, LibreOffice 3.3.2, and updated versions of every major KDE application (like Amarok, the music player, or KRDC, the remote desktop client).

There are a great many subtle enhancements, from the cleaner and more intuitive task manager to the improved search functions in Dolphin (the file manager). Applications using the GTK toolkit (Firefox, Inkscape) now look much nicer on Kubuntu because they make use of KDE’s Oxygen artwork.

A considerable number of bugs have also been identified and fixed.

Changes common to all Ubuntu flavors include a newer version of the Linux kernel, a newer version of the Server, support for Intel’s Intelligent Power Sharing, and improvements to many major filesystems that Ubuntu supports, including ext4.

“Ubuntu 11.04 offers exciting opportunities for businesses to improve the reliability, security and manageability of desktop, cloud and server deployments, challenging the traditional license or subscription fee model and embracing open-source technology,” said Canonical CEO Jane Silber in a statement.

In my view, Natty is very much a worthwhile upgrade. Although there was some doubt as to whether the Ubuntu developers could get Unity working well by release day, the late reviews of the standard flavor have been generally positive.

And Kubuntu Natty? Well, it rocks! 🙂 It’s faster, more reliable, more powerful… an upgrade in every sense. If you’re an Ubuntu user and you find that you don’t like Unity, consider making the jump to Kubuntu. Try out Plasma Desktop. Discover its many strengths for yourself.

Happy downloading!


  1. rweinheimer
    Posted April 30th, 2011 at 2:01 PM | Permalink

    Just upgraded to natty and am VERY disappointed and that is being VERY charitable. I can’t believe what a pile of steaming monkey dung Unity is. It is just not ready for prime time. I can’t believe they released it.

    I literally have no choice but to reinstall something else over it. Or can I just remove Unity and have Gnome in all its pristine glory. I was happy with Gnome.

  2. Andrew
    Posted April 30th, 2011 at 3:55 PM | Permalink

    Why not try Kubuntu? You might like KDE. KDE 4.6, which is what Natty ships with, is stable and mature.

    Alternatively, if you’re really attached to the Gnome you know and love, try Xubuntu, which uses the Xfce environment. Xfce is similar to Gnome in many respects – and unlike KDE, it’s built on the same toolkit as Gnome.

  3. Bruce
    Posted April 30th, 2011 at 6:43 PM | Permalink

    I can’t understand all the people whining about how they think Unity isn’t ready. It takes about two seconds to revert to the old interface and they don’t have to worry about it for another six months.

  4. Kazar
    Posted April 30th, 2011 at 7:04 PM | Permalink

    rweinheimer, I just read that you’re able to select “Classic Ubuntu” at the login screen and GNOME will be used instead of Unity. Here’s a screenshot.

  5. Charles Norrie
    Posted May 1st, 2011 at 1:41 AM | Permalink

    Personally, I’m delighted with NN, and Ubuntu justs gets better and better.

  6. Aracel
    Posted May 1st, 2011 at 2:21 PM | Permalink

    I can confirm, Kubuntu rocks. And this is coming from a long time Ubuntu/GNOME user. I also find Unity (and GNOME 3) to be utterly broken, maybe even beyond repair. So I had to check Kubuntu and KDE out and I’m very happy I did and even wish I did it before, as I now find it even better than good old GNOME. Even the apps from KDE are better. So I would say Unity was only good in a way of getting me to find out how good KDE is.

  7. Posted May 1st, 2011 at 8:41 PM | Permalink

    GNOME 3 is supposedly much more configurable if you want a Unity-type shell with more options; I’ll try it out soon. I noticed last night that Unity really fails when you have lots of stuff open at once, since my Saturday night usually involves a large amount of browsers, terminals, and text editors. Constant power users should probably stick with GNOME, although that raises the question of why you’re on Ubuntu .

  8. Posted May 4th, 2011 at 12:47 PM | Permalink

    I use the Ubuntu Classic (no effects) interface on my laptop running Natty. Unity of course is too immature and regular Ubuntu Classic causes my intel graphics card to run really hot.

    But I’ve tired of the whole UI bloatware thing.

    As soon as I can I want to run just plain Stump Window Manager with a gnome panel at first to make things a bit easier. Imagine a window manager you can dynamically program with common lisp. May also switch between awesomewm (lua-based) or xmonad (haskell-based)..

    All I want to do in the future is switch between emacs, chromium, something like skype and my window manager. Going minimal is the new hotness in my book.