On March 26 Ubuntu 9.04 Beta was released. I installed it on my main desktop system as soon as it was available, so I’ve been running it for a few days now.

If you’re interested in trying out this beta release, remember that it’s intended for testing and not mission-critical systems. The release candidate is coming on April 16, and the final on April 23. Use the Bittorrent downloads to get your disk ISO the fastest!

Ubuntu 9.04 Beta desktop

I always perform a clean install of new Ubuntu releases to completely remove old software and configuration files that have built up over the last six months. I use separate home and Ubuntu system partitions so it’s easy to install Ubuntu without wiping out my files. However, once I’ve booted the live CD I use the file browser to archive all the hidden application configuration files in my home directory so I get the new default desktop.

The new ext4 filesystem is now stable and included in Ubuntu but will not be the default for this release. After reading about the problems with ext4 wiping out files, I decided to play it safe and stick with ext3 for now.

The first problem I ran into is one I’m familiar with from past Ubuntu installations. The software repository mirror for Canada is so slow to respond that updating the package listings takes longer than the actual installation. I just browsed the Internet from the live CD and waited for this step to finally complete.

After logging in to the new system I tried to enable the proprietary Nvidia driver with the hardware drivers utility. I forgot about the unusably slow repository, so the driver download would not progress. I had to kill the driver utility to stop it from trying forever to download the driver, and then kill the backend process separately. After selecting a faster repository mirror I was able to install the drivers and download updates.

Since installing Ubuntu 8.10 I’ve never been able to work out the audio glitches. Things don’t look much better in 9.04 so far. Firefox will randomly stop playing sound, and then hang when I close it to restart. Also, the first time I logged in I got crackling and static sounds and restarting PulseAudio fixed it. I’ve never had this particular issue before, and it hasn’t happened again, so I’m hopeful that it was a one-time problem.

Ubuntu doesn’t crash often for me, but when it does it’s usually caused by a 3D application. I’ve played Civilization 4 via Wine on Ubuntu 8.10 for a long time without a problem, but the first time I started playing in 9.04 ended with a crash. My monitor actually lost it’s signal after the crash, which would suggest that the Nvidia driver is to blame. The magic SysRq key combo, Alt+SysRq+REISUB, allowed me to safely reboot. I hope that the newer Nvidia driver isn’t less stable than the old one.

Minor tweaks that I like:

  • The Transmission Bittorrent client’s interface has been tweaked in a few places. It’s now easier to select which individual files to download and set their priority.
  • gedit has controls in its status bar for selecting a highlighting mode and tab mode. These two controls mean I don’t have to dive into the preferences to change the tab mode to spaces for working with Python files, and I can turn on syntax highlighting before I save my file.
  • The default version of Compiz now recognizes GIMP’s toolbox windows and keeps them floated above the image window like Metacity.
  • Synaptic includes a Get Screenshot button in package descriptions. This could be useful, but the button is shown even when no screenshot is available (which seems to be the case for most packages right now). It seems to me that this should be something built into the Add/Remove application rather than Synaptic.
  • Multiple monitor support has supposedly been improved. I haven’t tested this but was impressed that the display preferences utility offered to open Nvidia’s utility:

    It appears that your graphics driver does not support the necessary extensions to use this tool. Do you want to use your graphics driver vendor’s tool instead?

  • Ubuntu chooses font settings automatically depending on your display hardware. For me, this meant that subpixel smoothing was turned on for my LCD like it should be. Previously I’ve used a custom font configuration, but the defaults look acceptable now. [update] Mackenzie has pointed out in the comments that these font DPI adjustments are now back to their defaults.

If you’ve tried the beta, how’s it been for you? Any new features in particular you like?

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