Ladies and gentlemen - Ubuntu is back!
A long time ago Ubuntu (Canonical, Ltd.) made an peculiar choice and decided to abandon Gnome as their default desktop and replace it with in-house developed Unity. It took them years to stabilize and finalize their very own desktop, but in the end it offered no benefits over the alternatives - arguably the Unity had some odd design decisions just to differentiate from the masses. In addition they invested a lot of development effort in developing their own back-end components in order to support their mobile endeavors and digital convergence vision. On the 5th of April 2017 they came back to their senses:
I am typing this on a freshly installed Ubuntu 17.10 (Artful Aardvark), which is built on the Gnome desktop. It is only five days to the release (19th Oct 2017), so this is feature complete perhaps only waiting for some last minute bug fixes. And there is how it looks like:
The new Gnome based Ubuntu looks slick and modern. It is a major visual upgrade to the Unity desktop, which was already showing it's age. Canonical has chosen to customize Gnome to resemble Unity, with the large dash on the left. They have also disabled the default Gnome hot corner from the top left and the user has to click on the Activities to open the dashboard view. Another strange decision is to place the application button to the bottom left, instead of top left like in Unity. The user can choose in between left, right and bottom dash positions and window controls can be shown on the left or right.
The second screenshot shows the new settings menu which also looks modern and slick - one can see a hint of Windows 10 here.
Performance and responsiveness feels good. I run my distro tests on an ancient Thinkpad 410 and it has no issues running the latest Ubuntu. The system is responsive and somewhat smooth. The 17.10 uses Wayland session as default which should contribute to Gnome smoothness.
Canonical has done amazing job considering that the Artful release date is just 6 months after the announcement to switch their desktop strategy. My initial expression is that Ubuntu 17.10 is perfectly good for daily use, but there are reports around the web for Wayland causing some issues, which I am yet to encounter. The raeason for the rapid turn around is that the next Ubuntu version (18.04) should be a Long Term Supported release, so they only have another 6 months to stabilize the new software stack. Therefore I highly recommend for everyone to install the new Ubuntu and report any bugs found.
Overall the 17.10 Artful Aardvark is a show of development force and ability of Canonical staff and contributors. In just six months they managed to put together a distribution that already challenges any distro out there who have been using Gnome Shell all this time. Ubuntu's decision to go back to Gnome and Wayland will also massively benefit the upstream development, which has been suffering from the fact that the most popular desktop distribution has not been using the common software components. Better late than never.
You can download the final beta 2 build right away and update to the final release in a couple of days or wait a few days more for the actual release on the 19th of October.