Ubuntu received a major update today. The developers behind the popular Linux distribution released version 11.10, codenamed Oneiric Ocelot. The update brings a wide range of improvements, including some much-needed enhancements to Ubuntu's Unity Shell.
New Ubuntu releases are issued every six months in conformance with the distribution's time-based development cycle. The agenda for version 11.10 was announced back in March, shortly before the release of version 11.04. Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth chose the codename Oneiric Ocelot to reflect the 11.10 cycle's dual emphasis on daydreams and discipline.
The 11.04 release was a major milestone because it introduced some radical changes to the Ubuntu desktop experience. Like you should know, Unity exhibited enormous potential but fell short of expectations due to some weak areas. During the past six months, the developers have been working hard to close key gaps in the shell implementation.
As a result of their efforts, the Unity environment feels more robust in Ubuntu 11.10. The solid support for a work-alike 2D fallback for the shell is a particularly big step forward, ensuring that users can still get the Unity experience even if their graphics hardware doesn't support compositing.
The Unity dash is a bit cleaner in 11.10 and gained a new panel for music search and playback that is designed to integrate with the Banshee audio player. The menus in the top right-hand corner of the screen have been streamlined and reorganized so that they are easier to navigate.
Although Unity has come a long way, there are still some areas where mediocre design compromises Unity's intended usability advantages. The eccentric application launcher, for example, is still a sore spot in an otherwise elegant desktop.