A friendly squirrel this way comes

IN just a few days, Ubuntu 16.0also known as Xenial Xerus—will be available as a free download from The latest version, named after a sociable African squirrel, will offer more new features than the last few releases of the popular Linux distribution.

The long awaited (or dreaded, depending on your point of view) shift to the new Mir display server and the Unity 8 interface won’t happen in 16.04—that will have to wait at least six more months when 16.10 is released. For now, Ubuntu users will get the more mature and stable 7 pairing.

That’s not to say, however, that there are no significant changes in store.

As strange as it may seem, the biggest news to many Ubuntu users is that 16.04 will finally enable them to move the Unity launcher from its default position on the left side of the screen to the bottom. This might seem strange to folks who use desktops that let them to move their application launchers or docks anywhere they want—but Unity has locked its launcher on the left ever since it was introduced in 2010.

Since I use the XFCE desktop as a replacement for Unity and run Cairo Dock as my launcher, this isn’t a big deal to me. But to Unity users who pine for the days when their launchers were at the bottom of the screen, this new feature is a godsend.

Another important change, especially for newcomers, is that Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, has turned off online searches by default, thereby addressing vexing questions about privacy that have hounded it since 2012.

Canonical had come under fire from groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Privacy International because Ubuntu collected data and passed these on to third party services every time a user performed a search.

The latest release fixes this by turning off online search by default.

“This means that out-of-the-box none of your search terms will leave your computer,” writes Will Cooke, Ubuntu desktop manager.

You can, however, choose to turn it on through Ubuntu’s privacy settings.

Another major change in 16.04 is that Ubuntu Software Center will be replaced by Gnome Software, which is supposed to be sleeker and snappier. This is a welcome change because I have never been a fan of Ubuntu Software Center, which I found to be slow and sluggish—and created in the mold of the Mac’s App Store, which I also despise. I disliked Ubuntu Software Center so much, in fact, that I installed Ubuntu’s previous software manager, Synaptic, and use it regularly to install applications. It will be interesting to see if Gnome Software will be an improvement.

Other changes:

Ubuntu 16.04 will use the Linux Kernel 4.4 (up from 4.2 in 15.10)

Newer versions of Mozilla Thunderbird, LibreOffice, Python and Docker.

Command line users will now be encouraged to use APT instead of APT-GET when installing software. There is not much difference between the two commands, but APT gives you a progress bar in terminal.

16.04, which is a long-term support (LTS) version, is expected to come with support for the new Snap packaging format, which will make it easier for users to get the latest versions of their favorite applications.

The upgrade will also support the ZFS file system that continually checks on stored data to make sure it has not been corrupted.

There are a few caveats.

As with any OS upgrade, it’s a good idea to back up your data before proceeding.

Also, if you are an AMD Radeon user, it’s probably best to stay away for now. Ubuntu 16.04 drops support for the proprietary graphics driver known as fglrx, and uses an open source driver being developed by AMD called AMDGPU. The new driver isn’t ready yet, however, and it may not work with older cards.

To upgrade to 16.04, you can download the .ISO file from the Ubuntu website and burn it onto a CD or create a USB boot drive, and do a fresh install. Or, if you are already on 15.10, you can opt to upgrade through Software & Updates.

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Topics: A friendly squirrel this way comes
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