1. Distributions

Hands on Ubuntu 20.04: The Long-Awaited LTS

.
Ubuntu 20.04
  • Available software
  • Creativity & Inventing
  • Daily Use Purposes
  • Stability & Bugs
  • Customizability
4.3

Summary

The Ubuntu 20.04 is a great release overall. And with it being supported for 5 years and shipped with GNOME 3.36 & Snap applications support, you can install it on your machine and forget about switching your operating system for the next five years.

Around 2 weeks ago Canonical announced the availability of Ubuntu 20.04 LTS.

An LTS that has been awaited for a very long time since Ubuntu switched into the GNOME desktop by default. It is true that 18.04LTS was there, but it was still a new user experience at the time and many users were hesitant in switching to it.

Ubuntu 20.04 Features & Flavors, Upgrade Information

But not anymore. Today, Ubuntu 20.04 LTS is more solid and stable than ever, with GNOME 3.36 by default and tons of performance improvements and fixed bugs, the Ubuntu desktop is becoming better than it ever was.

The Linux kernel (5.4) finally gained Wireguard VPN support. For those of you who don’t know; Wireguard is a VPN protocol built inside the Linux kernel to allow a client and a server to exchange data securely in a VPN tunnel without any need to install extra software or 3rd-party tools. So instead of wasting a lot of time and effort in trying to setup OpenVPN, and also having to deal with licensing & other issues, you can now setup your own VPN on your own DigitalOcean/Other Provider’s servers in few minutes. Ubuntu 20.04 now supports it out-of-the-box.

The legendary Python 2 was finally dropped by default from Ubuntu, along with all the programs that depend on it. It is still there in the official repositories for those who need it, but it’s just not there by default. Python 3 is queen now.

Another major change was Ubuntu’s switching into using the Snap store by default instead of the DEB-package based version, beside prioritizing Snaps over traditional DEB packages from repositories. We’ll get into that change in details.

An experimental support for the ZFS filesystem is added during the installation, but most users would shy away from that option for now. ZFS is a filesystem similar to what you know about Btrfs but with more focus on data replication, distribution and retention by default.

And of course, you have the typical appearance changes in each Ubuntu release. This time the Yaru theme was redesigned to give a better look and feel for the OS, with a new set of wallpapers as usual.

Another note to remind you with is that Ubuntu 20.04 LTS is supported for 5 years, and possibly for 10 years for paying customers. So as a normal user, you can enjoy your desktop for 5 years straight without having to do any further upgrades.

Ubuntu 20.04 LTS flavors, such as Ubuntu MATE, Xubuntu, Ubuntu Budgie and Lubuntu have shipped newer versions of their desktop environments with many additional features too. We’ll put all of them under separate reviews, but for now it’s worthy to note that Ubuntu MATE and Xubuntu were the most updated ones yet.

We do not recommend upgrading to the new 20.04 release from older releases at the moment, neither for desktops nor for servers. If you are going for a fresh install then go for it, but an upgrade process could be risky as things are still new and upgrade bugs are still being cleaned out. You may also face some issues in switching to Snap applications (E.g your Chromium browser will become a Snap). It would be a better option to wait for the 20.04.1 release.

You can go ahead in downloading Ubuntu 20.04 LTS and its flavors while reading our review:

Ubuntu 20.04 LTS Review

“Snapful” Software

1 ubuntu 20.04

A major controversial decision in Ubuntu 20.04 was switching into using the Snap store by default instead of the traditional Ubuntu Software Center, which was focusing more on DEB packages from repositories.

The new software center takes a few seconds to start, and prioritizes the Snap versions of applications over the traditional DEB packages. So if you search for “Inkscape” for example, you would see the Snap version before the DEB version, with no distinct difference between the two unless you open their pages and see the possible sources:

3 ubuntu 20.04
Snap Version
5 ubuntu 20.04
DEB Package Version

Some users mentioned that the new software center does not support installing Flatpak applications, which honestly does make sense, because the parent company of anything would always prioritize its in-house solution over something coming from a 3rd-party rival. In addition to that, Flatpak apps require you to install runtimes for each type of application you are downloading for the first time, so installing Telegram, VSCode and Atom for example would cost you 3GB of download traffic and around 10GB of disk space usage, rendering them broken by design. It’s hard to imagine users who are bothered by the 5 seconds delay in starting Snap applications capable of waiting for 30minutes-1hour just for some programs to install, which shouldn’t normally take 1-2 minutes. I can’t even install Flatpaks on my Thinkpad because it only comes with 128GB of SSD, and there’s no way I spend 10GB of that just on “runtimes” for 3 apps.

But people have been yelling about that all over the Internet and why they can’t install Flatpaks, as if the major dominant percentage of Ubuntu’s users give a dime about it. And as a kind reminder, Fedora 32 does not support installing Snaps by default too, but for some reason, people think that Ubuntu needs to fully support Flatpaks out-of-the-box.

However, there are some issues with the approach Canonical is using:

  • The Snap store is a proprietary centralized software. But doing this on the right way requires opening the source code of the server instance too, so that other people can either deploy their own instances or check the source code when needed. In addition to that, there are some cases where publishers wouldn’t want to depend on Canonical’s centralized store for distributing there Snap applications.
  • Forced Updates: Snaps force updates on users, and there’s no way to turn them off. This means that your Snaps will always be continuously updated in the background without you even knowing. The Ubuntu’s developers answer to this issue was that this is an important step to prevent leaving any machines running on old code, and to guarantee that all users are using the latest software. As a software developer, though, I don’t think that this is the right approach, as many companies and organizations may need to turn them off for a variety of reasons (Internal security, compatibility or simply the company’s policy). There’s also the issue of causing your Internet connection to be slow without you knowing why, or consuming huge amounts of your mobile data transfer package if you were using a 3G/4G connection. A better option would be to allow anyone who doesn’t want them to turn them off (it is OK to let people handle their responsibilities), beside displaying an update indicator for users keeping them on.
  • The slow starting time of each Snap application really needs to be fixed.
  • Switching Chromium into being a Snap instead of a DEB package rendered it useless. It can’t access files outside its home and it can’t import data/passwords from Firefox and it can’t install extensions from GNOME’s website, and its takes 10 seconds to start. Workarounds are not suitable for average Ubuntu users. No user should lookup in the Internet on how to connect Chromium to the password service in Snap. Chromium should be provided as a DEB package until all of these issues are solved.

Also, as a general information, there’s only 1 significant Snap application installed by default in Ubuntu 20.04, which is the Snap store itself (and snapd). So any user who doesn’t like Snaps can just remove them and switch into using Synaptic:

mhsabbagh@fosspost:~$ snap list
Name Version Rev Tracking Publisher Notes
core18 20200427 1754 latest/stable canonical✓ base
gnome-3-34-1804 0+git.2c86692 27 latest/stable/… canonical✓ -
gtk-common-themes 0.1-36-gc75f853 1506 latest/stable/… canonical✓ -
snap-store 3.36.0-74-ga164ec9 433 latest/stable/… canonical✓ -
snapd 2.44.3 7264 latest/stable canonical✓ snapd

People also seem to forget that Ubuntu 20.04 LTS will be supported for 5 years (until 2025). And normally, any previous LTS would contain very outdated set of desktop software over such period, but thanks for Snap applications, you can now as a user get the latest versions of Firefox or LibreOffice or any other application you need, without having to worry about updates or 3rd-party repositories.

This is a huge deal for many folks out there who would like to recommend Ubuntu for their family members who are not tech-geeky. They can leave them with a continuously-updating operating system for 5 years straight!

GNOME 3.36 Desktop

The first thing that catches the eye in the new release is GNOME 3.36. Built with many performance improvements over the years, the GNOME desktop is quite smooth and responsive at the moment. The lagging that you had when you opened the application drawer disappeared, and other memory leaks are reduced too muched comparing to previous versions.

A special patch for Ubuntu was applied on the GNOME Control Center to allow users to switch between light, normal and dark themes:

7 ubuntu 20.04
Light, normal and dark themes in Ubuntu 20.04

What’s interesting about this option is that it somehow can affect websites too! If you open Twitter while you are on the light theme, and then switch into the desktop’s dark theme, you’ll see that Twitter will also switch its theme into the dark theme:

9 ubuntu 20.04
Normal Ubuntu theme on Twitter
11 ubuntu 20.04
Dark Ubuntu theme on Twitter

Here are the available Ubuntu wallpapers by default:

13 ubuntu 20.04

You would notice that the Ubuntu 8.04 LTS wallpaper is there too, which was chosen on Ubuntu’s Twitter account (via a user poll) as the “most beautiful default Ubuntu wallpaper”, and hence included in 20.04 LTS by default too:

Ubuntu 20.04 LTS
Ubuntu 20.04 LTS

You can now get fractional scaling in the control center:

16 ubuntu 20.04

Performance

Ubuntu 20.04 uses 950MB of RAM after a fresh startup:

mhsabbagh@fosspost:~$ free -m
              total        used        free      shared  buff/cache   available
Mem:           7952         958        6119           2         873        6741
Swap:          1768           0        1768

And takes less than 5 seconds to reach the login screen:

mhsabbagh@fosspost:~$ systemd-analyze
Startup finished in 4.996s (kernel) + 4.311s (userspace) = 9.307s 
graphical.target reached after 4.304s in userspace

There’s one note to take, however, about the increasing size of Ubuntu’s ISO image. Ubuntu 20.04’s ISO image size is 2.7GB at the moment. Here’s a graph for a comparison with previous releases:

18 ubuntu 20.04

Looks like the next 22.04 LTS release would be way more than 3GB in size.

The Bottom Line

The Ubuntu 20.04 is a great release overall. And with it being supported for 5 years and shipped with GNOME 3.36 & Snap applications support, you can install it on your machine and forget about switching your operating system for the next five years.

No system is perfect, but comparing with the previous Ubuntu releases, Ubuntu 20.04 stands out as one of the best releases ever made by Canonical so far.

If you have any comments or notes about the new release, we’d love to have them in the comments below.

Ubuntu 20.04
  • Available software
  • Creativity & Inventing
  • Daily Use Purposes
  • Stability & Bugs
  • Customizability
4.3

Summary

The Ubuntu 20.04 is a great release overall. And with it being supported for 5 years and shipped with GNOME 3.36 & Snap applications support, you can install it on your machine and forget about switching your operating system for the next five years.

.