Linux is used everywhere, from supercomputers to servers and on Internet of Things (IoT) devices and the cloud. The one place where Linux isn’t everywhere is the desktop — and that’s in no small part because the major Linux commercial distributors, such as Red Hat and SUSE, don’t prioritize the desktop. Canonical, Ubuntu Linux‘s parent company, however, does focus on the desktop. And its latest release, Ubuntu 23.10, underlines this prioritization.
As my fellow ZDNet Linux desktop fan, Jack Wallen, remarked in his early review of Ubuntu 23.10, “there’s more than meets the eye” to the release. In this new version, which is a preview of the much-anticipated Long Term Supported (LTS) version, Ubuntu 24.04 LTS, there are some significant improvements.
These upgrades start with Ubuntu 23.10 being based on the brand-new Linux 6.5.0 kernel. In addition, the default desktop is GNOME 45, which comes with a new workspace indicator and full-height sidebars.
So far, so good. However, you’ll probably want to update GNOME as soon as you install Ubuntu 23.10. The reason for that update is because there’s a newly discovered and serious GNOME security bug, CVE-2023-43641. Hidden inside GNOME is an obscure library program, libcue, that’s used for CD metadata. That ‘CD’ doesn’t relate to Linux’s change directory command, but to the compact discs we use to play music and install software.
While you’ve almost certainly have never heard of libcue, it’s actually invoked all the time in GNOME. It turns out that if you download a malicious CUE file, it can be used to attack, crash, or take over your PC. I hate taking chances with my desktop, and neither should you — so use the fix.
The Ubuntu Desktop 23.10 also introduces a new App Center, replacing the previous Ubuntu Software. Developed using Flutter and snap packages, this App Center offers a seamless way to manage both old-school Linux deb and new-wave snap packages.
Additionally, a new Rust-based rating service promises dynamic ways to discover apps based on user ratings and snap metadata. You can think of it as a desktop app store, and I’m finding it quite helpful.
A related change is that the App Center will also be handling firmware updates, Previously, the process that checked firmware ran permanently in the background and ate up a lot of system resources. Now, the background process is much lighter and a single purpose will manage all your hardware-related updates.
Turning to security, besides the mouthful that is “restricted unprivileged user namespaces,” Ubuntu 23.10 comes with an experimental encryption feature: Trusted Platform Modules (TPMs)-based Full Disk Encryption (FDE). Unlike traditional FDE, which relies on passphrases, TPM-backed FDE stores the decryption key in the TPM chip — if your computer has one. This approach ensures your data’s security, even if the boot process is compromised.
Those features are all neat, but where Canonical really shows that it’s taking the desktop seriously is by improving its administrator capabilities. The new Ubuntu Pro service, which is free for up to five PCs, lets you manage multiple office or home desktops.
In addition, ADsys, the Active Directory Group Policy Object (GPO) client, can manage your networking configuration for both Ubuntu and Windows desktops. For hobbyists, this addition doesn’t really matter, but if you want to use the Ubuntu Linux desktop in a business, it’s a big deal.
Administrators can also now use Subiquity and cloud-init to customize desktop images for office installation. So, for example, you can automatically set up multiple desktops with their network configuration, user data, SSH keys, installed software programs, and you can also run scripts. This process, once again, makes setting up an office of desktops very easy.
When it comes to new systems, there’s also been a change in the default installation when you first set up Ubuntu. Instead of installing the base system — along with such Linux desktop standbys as the Firefox web browser, the LibreOffice office suite, and the Thunderbird e-mail client — you start with only the bare minimum.
The idea is to provide new users with a new, thin desktop. They can then decide which programs they want on their desktop, rather than the baker’s dozen of programs that come with the old, full installation package. Users can then use the new and improved App Center to install only the programs they want. If, however, you still want everything and the kitchen sink, you can install it that way, too.
Put it all together and the new Ubuntu looks pretty darn good. In particular, if you’re a business user who’s been thinking about using the Linux desktop in the office, kick the tires of this version. I think you’ll be impressed.