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April 3, 2017
The new Ubuntu 17.04 (dubbed Unity) beta preview was recently released, and visually speaking, you might be a
bit disappointed, or maybe not, it all depends on how you look at it.
To be sure, Unity is almost entirely the same with some minor updates for a few core apps. Most of
what's new comes from the move to GNOME 3.24 for a few apps.
However, looks are probably not as important as what’s inside, and with the 17.04 beta version, it
couldn’t be more true.
Under the hood of this software update, there's enough new things to make the final version well
worth the update.
With 17.04, Ubuntu's Software Center gains some new strenght, thanks to the underlying GNOME Software
apps' new support for Snap URLs. The URL support means that if you'd like to tell someone to install
a Snap application you can simply give them a URL.
When you click a new Snap URL, the Ubuntu Software app will open and offer to install the application,
mirroring what happens if you link to a regular Ubuntu repo app.
The only real difference is the protocol in use. For Ubuntu repos, you'll still use the apt: prefix. For
Snap packages there's a new snap: protocol.
Yes, it's a very small change, and one that comes from upstream GNOME, but it helps bring Snap packages
to near complete feature parity with the installation process Ubuntu users are accustomed to.
With 17.04, there will be no discernible difference between Snap and traditional application installs,
though of course the tightly sandboxed nature of Snap apps does mean there are other limitations in some
At the moment, Snaps seem best suited for smaller apps that don't need a lot of outside libraries
which can cause sandboxing issues, while the repos remain the best way to get bigger, more complex
For example, if you want the latest version of Firefox Developer Edition - which is updated every
night - the Snap package is the best bet. If you need LibreOffice, stick with the version in the Ubuntu
repos. It's as simple as that.
As noted, Unity 8 is still, well, not quite ready yet. That doesn't mean you can't install and try it
out though and in fact, once it's installed, Unity 8 in 17.04 is the most stable version we've tested.
That's still not saying much: application crashes are still frequent and known issues abound, but it
does seem to show that Canonical is still working on Unity 8.
While Unity 7 gets mostly bug fixes and security updates in this release, there are some noteworthy
updates from upstream. Most of the underlying GNOME apps have been updated to the GNOME 3.24 version.
The few exceptions to that are files Nautilus and Terminal, which are still stuck at GNOME 3.20.
Ubuntu will, however, get some of the updates that came along for Calendar and Maps, though the latter
is not installed by default in Ubuntu.
Another change worth noting that's coming in Ubuntu 17.04 is the disappearance of the swap partition
from the default installs. Yes, Ubuntu is dropping swap partitions in favour of swap files that generally
utilize far less disk space and depending somewhat on the use case, may be faster.
If you opt to encrypt via LVM, you'll still need a swap partition, but if you stick with the installer
defaults, you'll then get a swap file.
In most cases, this will probably be completely transparent, though there's a detailed explanation of
the change from one of the developers working on it if you'd like to learn more.
Other changes include the removal of gconf. Once the go-to means of customizing your Ubuntu/Unity experience,
it's long since been surpassed by gsettings, though until now it has been hanging around by default.
This release has the usual list of updated hardware support and compatibility, but it also has some
impressive improvements to power consumption in some laptops. We've been using 4.10 for some time (in Arch) and
have found that we get at least about 5 percent more out of our battery than we did with 4.9.
Whether or not that translates directly to a default Ubuntu install is nearly impossible to say. We've
only tested the beta in a virtual machine. Part of the reason we've only tested 17.04 in a VM is that we've
found this beta release to be a bit unstable.
That could be due to installing in a VM, but this one has been unstable enough to stop us from going
further. Unless you have a really good reason to install it, we'd suggest waiting for the bugs to get
fixed and the final version improved before taking the leap to 17.04.
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