Ubuntu 13.04 is out and Canonical says its new version of the GNU/Linux open-source operating system is the "fastest and most visually polished" yet.

A key emphasis for the new release, which has been code-named Raging Ringtail, is performance in lightweight systems, such as faster response times and a reduced memory footprint. Version 13.10, scheduled for release in October of this year, will be designed for use on tablets and smartphones as well as desktops and laptops, and 13.04 is setting the stage. An updated version of Ubuntu is usually released twice annually, one in April and one in October.

The new version 13.04 includes the Developer Preview Software Development Kit for building native apps, which enables one app for different device form factors. Canonical has also released its next-gen display server Relevant Products/Services, MIR, which is available for developer testing.

Performance Improvements

Enhancements in 13.04 are largely focused on performance improvements and small user interface tweaks. The release notes point out that these include typo-tolerance "when searching for an application, using the mouse scroll wheel on a launcher icon to switch between applications or better available third party devices handling." A variety of more substantial, planned feature improvements have been pushed back to version 13.10.

Ubuntu's Unity interface has received some positive reviews for ease of use, although many members of the Linux community are still voicing complaints about Canonical's move from the GNOME 2.x desktop to Unity.

Unity, which is based around GNOME, was first deployed in version 11.04 in April of 2011. At that time, the announcement of Unity as the default desktop interface by Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth was received as something of a shock among many Linux users.

Unity has been seen as an attempt by Shuttleworth to position Ubuntu as an OS not only for desktops, laptops or netbooks, but also tablets and smartphones, with the same interface across devices. Shuttleworth has told news media that Unity has gotten buy-in from users, developers and OEMs, such as Dell, Lenovo and Acer.

Privacy Flap

Complaints from hard-core Linux users also include the observation that Unity puts too much of a shell around Linux controls. Better access to OS controls is available through such other desktop interfaces as MATE, KDE or Cinnamon. But, more recently, some Linux users have noted that the Unity interface has become more stable, faster and easier to use.

Ubuntu also experienced a privacy controversy last fall, in which it was revealed that desktop search queries in Ubuntu were sent, unencrypted, to Amazon via Canonical so that Amazon products could be shown in the search results. Instructions were later provided on how to disable that function, but that also eliminated all online results in the search. Better privacy controls were promised, but the new privacy controls have also been pushed back to a future release beyond 13.04.