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Ubuntu 13.10 Beta Review

by Rob Zwetsloot

The distro before the LTS comes with some new toys in the shape of Canonical’s display server Mir. Is it a sign of good things to come?

(Ed’s note – This review is based on the dailies leading up to, and including, yesterday’s Beta release)

Saucy Salamander is somewhat of an unfortunate entry in the Ubuntu line of distros, coming at the slightly awkward time before an Ubuntu Long Term Service release. This usually means two things for an Ubuntu distro at this stage of development – it’s testing out experimental features ahead of their inclusion in the LTS, yet it still doesn’t seem like a big leap forward over the previous release. On the surface, this also seems to be the case for 13.10, with a lot of features that were not even concretely going to appear in the distro.

One of the major new features being added to 13.10 is a first look of Mir, Canonical’s display server that they’re planning to replace X in the Ubuntu line of products. This has been placed as a competitor to Wayland, a more traditional display server replacement that is slowly gaining steam. There are some caveats though for the Mir integration in Ubuntu 13.10 – it only works with Unity, and only with hardware that uses standard Linux display drivers.

Linux Mint
Unity 7 doesn’t really change up the Unity workflow, and there are very additions or improvements to it

Mir to come

We had some serious graphical issues on the test set-ups we used. Regular graphical glitches and artifacting would occur when moving windows or scrolling through text – especially with dynamic objects that would change with mouse hover or mouse click, such as on webpages. Newly installed apps would attach themselves to the Unity dock bar automatically, however you wouldn’t be able to launch them from the new icon until restarting. These Unity and Mir problems, although perhaps separate from each other, are unacceptable for a mature desktop environment, or something as core as a display server.

As we’ve been testing the dailies, these issues have got slightly better as time goes on – and hopefully they will be a lot more serviceable for the stable release, although it doesn’t inspire much confidence for 14.04 right now. Aside from the graphical issues, how is the rest of the distro shaping up though?

First of all, there’s a nice little addition to the installer – you can now set up your Ubuntu One account during the installation process. While not everyone uses it, it’s an interesting idea to not only have a decent selection of apps installed, but also have automatic access to all your important files. The way Ubuntu One is set-up as well, it may also allow you in the future to save your package configuration.

Smart Scopes, Dumb Privacy

The new Smart Scopes are both a very interesting and extremely worrying feature. The idea is that it expands the amount of online services Unity can search in, such as your own Google Drive account, Facebook, deviantArt, GitHub, etc. These work the same as the Amazon search function though, and it’s easy enough to disable them and online search altogether. As always, these search results are not only just incredibly intruding on some of your searches, there’s also the fact that your data is fairly unsecure during these searches. Sensitive documents from Google Drive may be easily discovered even if you’re looking for something unrelated.

Linux Mint
You can now make in-dash purchases for paid content without having to go to the actual website.

Otherwise, Unity is the same as it’s always been – there are no new customisation options, and generally goes against a normal desktop workflow. Apparently, touch optimisations are coming in Ubuntu 14.04, which is somewhat surprising as Unity always seemed like it was created with touch in mind.

Speaking of touch though, there’s now support for the kind of apps we’ll be eventually seeing in Ubuntu Touch for mobile devices, called Click Packages. This is similar to old Debian tech that allows packages to not require dependencies between applications, and each app is installed to its own directory. This may prove useful in the future, but with no actual Ubuntu Touch devices coming any time soon, it’s currently a bit pointless.

By the numbers

So yet again, we’re left with an Ubuntu release that feels like Canonical are ignoring feedback and concerns to continue with their own agenda. Privacy concerns, the Unity interface and now Mir all seem to be poising the distro as its own entity, and not part of the Linux community as a whole, while still benefiting from its ties to it.

If this is a taste of what’s to come in the LTS, we’re not very inspired by what we’re currently seeing. To be acceptably stable, there still needs to be a lot of work done on the new technologies they’re trying to use, and at this stage of the process, we’re not very confident in that.



The beta for the next Ubuntu is not looking good right now – there are some issues with the new technologies Canonical are trying to use that shouldn’t be occurring this late in the game. Hopefully, 14.04 does not suffer as a result

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    • seb24

      Mir is not currently activated in this Beta… So speaking about problem with Mir it’s little strange.

    • Dennis Shimer

      Here is one of the things I like about Linux in general. The opinion…

      “there are no new customisation options, and generally goes against a
      normal desktop workflow. Apparently, touch optimisations are coming in
      Ubuntu 14.04, which is somewhat surprising as Unity always seemed like
      it was created with touch in mind.”

      can be found easily enough as it is shared by a lot of people. BACKGROUND: I’m not a developer, or designer, just a heavy user who loves tech, uses the command line for about a third of the tasks I need and has migrated 4 families and a couple individuals to Linux.

      I love Unity, the dash, I think if I lost the HUD it would feel like losing one hand. It just suits my flow of docs, calculations, image and audio editing and file management. Coming into a windows office just hurts. The people I switch from Microsoft to Ubuntu get along fine have all stuck with it for a couple of years.

      The thing I love…. Every one can have the desktop and workflow that they want, all wrapped up into distributions that are maintained, updated, and kept shiny. Linux itself is a personal preference but wow I love it (and in my case even more so Ubuntu’s version)

    • This is a horribly one-sided, inaccurate ‘review’. It’s perfectly fair to dislike the direction, but this is not a fair, balanced review but rather an article intended to cater to those who already dislike Ubuntu.

    • Mateusz Stachowski

      Exactly you have to enable universe repo and then install unity-system-campositor package. Then you have to reboot or restart LightDM.

      sudo restart lightdm

      XMir will probably be enabled as default shortly before FinalFreeze October 10th.

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    • jon_downfromthetrees

      What is ‘incredibly intruding’ about telling Unity to search your ‘Sensitive documents’ on Google Drive only to discover that, lo and behold, it does exactly that?

      Telling us what you like or don’t like about search and scopes in Unity, and why, is fair game for a review. You didn’t do that, You joined all the other anti-Ubuntu fanboys in producing an unreasoned and inaccurate rant.

      Meanwhile, blaming Mir for problems without knowing if Mir was running simply destroys your credibility. You’ve decided Mir=Bad so you’re just piling on.

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    • Mark Rich

      LinuxUser magazine staff do tend to have a general negative attitude to Ubuntu. It’s becoming very unhealthy in the printed version compared to the other linux magzines available which offer more balanced views. It’s not enough to include one or two positive comments now and then and claim to be impartial. It’s all becoming a bit well…. Daily Mail isn’t it? :-(

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