After all the controversy that followed the release of Ubuntu 11.04 "Natty Narwhal," it's hard not to anticipate with at least some anxiety the upcoming debut of version 11.10, also known as "Oneiric Ocelot."
Today, however, is the official feature freeze on the release, meaning that by now--three alpha versions in--we should be able to get a decent sense of what Oneiric Ocelot will look like when it's ultimately released on October 13.
Ready for an update? Here's how things have most recently shaped up.
1. Linux Kernel 3.0
Perhaps most central to Oneiric Ocelot is its inclusion in Alpha 3 of the 3.0.0-7.9 Ubuntu kernel, which is based on version 3.0 of the mainline Linux kernel. This is an update even just from the Alpha 2 release, which used a version based on the mainline v3.0-rc5 kernel.
What will that mean? Enhanced wireless chipset and wifi driver support as well as numerous config updates, to name just a few improvements since the previous alpha version.
2. A New Desktop
Also notable about the third alpha version of Ubuntu 11.10 is that a new and experimental release of Compiz and Unity has been included, based on GTK3. Among the key features associated with that change are a new alt+tab switcher and better launcher and panel performance.
GNOME, meanwhile, has been updated to the currently unstable version 3.1.4 as a step along the way to GNOME 3.2.
3. Thunderbird for Email
Causing great joy in many quarters of the Linux world is the fact that Mozilla's Thunderbird will be shipped by default in Oneiric Ocelot instead of Evolution, which was long the Ubuntu email standard. Thunderbird has been in there for a while for testing purposes, but Canonical has now reportedly decided to make it official. I'm a Thunderbird fan myself, so I agree that this is good news.
4. Ubuntu Software Center
One big improvement to the Ubuntu Software Center in this new release is the addition of a "top rated" view of both the main category page and all subcategory pages. This is going to make it a lot easier to zero in on the best software.
The Software Center will now also allow you to edit or delete your own reviews, and it's gotten significantly faster for standalone ".deb" file installations.
Along with a newly updated Gwibber microblogging client comes improved performance and a new interface using the most recent GNOME technologies, the Ubuntu developers say.
The next big milestone will be the first beta version, which is due on Sept. 1, followed by a second one on Sept. 22. Then, at last, will be the day we're all waiting for: Oct. 13.