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What’s new in Ubuntu Desktop 20.04 LTS?

This article was last updated 4 years ago.

Well, here it is!

Ubuntu is the world’s most popular open-source desktop operating system, and we think this is our best release to date. Ubuntu 20.04 LTS is an enterprise-grade, secure, cost-effective operating system for organisations and home users.

Before I summarise the changes in this release, let’s address something I’ve seen discussed in the wider desktop Linux community; there is a perception that the desktop is no longer a priority for us. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and here’s why; the people who use Ubuntu Desktop are often passionate people making huge waves in their industry. They want to build the next big thing, such as AI/ML, self-driving cars, public cloud services, and container orchestration. These have all emerged while we’ve been working on the Linux desktop, and all of these innovations have driven waves of Ubuntu Desktop adoption in the enterprise. As a consequence, Ubuntu was the first choice in these new domains.

So even though Ubuntu is a popular community story, which we still celebrate today with emerging desktop remixes of Ubuntu such as Ubuntu Cinnamon, Ubuntu Deepin and Ubuntu Lumina, it is also a significant part of how we have moved to the mainstream. By placing the very best of open-source in the hands of Ubuntu Desktop users, the Linux desktop is where all the major waves of tech innovation have come from in recent years. This is why we are committed to delivering a first-class workstation experience to fuel continued innovation and keep Ubuntu at the vanguard.

With that said, let’s take a look at what’s new in this release.

Looking sharp!

You can’t miss the refreshed Yaru theme, from boot splash to the desktop. For most operating system vendors, having a distinctive look for the operating system is important in establishing their brand. With that in mind, Canonical hosted a design sprint in January with members of the Yaru community team, Ubuntu desktop and design teams. Yaru was first introduced in Ubuntu 18.10, so if you’re upgrading from Ubuntu 18.04 LTS, this will be the first time you are going to see this bold, new, and unmistakably Ubuntu, look.

Yaru has three distinct variations and a sound theme. The design sprint also identified some UI improvements we needed to complete the integration with the desktop. The ‘Appearance’ settings panel can now switch between ‘Light’, ‘Standard’ and ‘Dark’ window colours, and the default Yaru Alert Sound can be restored.

The refreshed Yaru theme also extends to the installer slideshow and boot-splash. The Yaru team remastered and painstakingly animated the spinner from the desktop theme into the boot theme. If you choose to enable full-disk encryption, then the passphrase input boxes in the boot theme perfectly match the desktop theme.

Ubuntu now defaults to checking the integrity of the medium in use when booting into live sessions. This can be skipped by hitting Ctrl-C. We’ve enabled this because failed installs due to corrupt downloads of installation media is one of the most common error conditions that users encounter.

For some years now, each Ubuntu release has received a new animal mascot. The Canonical design team typically furnishes the theme with a freshly crafted creature, and this release is no different. However, this time, she came with a name. Meet Felicity, the Ubuntu 20.04 LTS mascot.

Felicity features in the default wallpaper, as is customary on new releases of Ubuntu desktop. However, our enthusiastic and creative users enjoy tweaking the stock experience. We provided SVG files to the community, earlier in the cycle, which gave them the opportunity to create their own remixes. Take a peek at the thread over on Ubuntu Discourse.

In addition to the mascot wallpapers, we have curated a small set of beautiful photographs to feature as additional wallpapers. Each was chosen from the royalty-free photo-sharing site, Unsplash. They’re all very…focal.

The return of Hardy Heron!

Earlier in the year, we used the Ubuntu Twitter account to organise a ‘World Cup of Wallpapers’ to celebrate 15 years of Ubuntu releases, and with them, their desktop backdrops. A crack team of experts picked some of the most iconic, popular and controversial default desktop wallpapers. 

We then pitted them against each other, with our Twitter followers deciding the results of each round. In a surprise to almost nobody, the much loved Hardy Heron wallpaper came out on top. So in celebration, we sneaked a 4K version of that wallpaper into the install too, for old times’ sake.

GNOME 3.36

Since 17.10, Ubuntu has shipped GNOME Shell as the default desktop environment. The Ubuntu Desktop team have worked closely with the upstream GNOME developers and the wider community to deliver a solid GNOME desktop experience for our users. Thereby, joining our friends in the Debian project to update packages to the latest GNOME software packages.

GNOME 3.36 features both user-visible changes, which add features & improve user workflow and under the hood changes which improve performance and stability across the board.

The new ‘do not disturb’ toggle will be a welcome addition for those looking to focus on their work. The new login and lock screens are simple and beautiful, incorporating a clean UI on top of a blurred version of the users’ desktop background. 

A suspend option is now a quick click away in the status menu. Users who like an organised app grid can take advantage of better app folder management in this new release.

While you’re upgrading or installing Ubuntu 20.04 LTS, take a look at the upstream GNOME 3.36 release highlights video. 

As has become a tradition in recent GNOME releases, there is another round of performance improvement with smoother animations and lower CPU usage for window and overview animations, JavaScript execution, mouse movement and window movement (which also has lower latency now).

Big apps

Ubuntu Desktop integrates with Google G Suite or Microsoft Exchange, and also supports open standards that allow users to avoid vendor lock-in. To that end, we’re shipping Firefox 75 as the default web browser, which continues to deliver new privacy-focused features. 

Thunderbird is a popular email application, providing fast desktop access to your email. No matter which email services you use; Microsoft Exchange, Gmail, Hotmail, POP or IMAP, email just works. You’ll find Thunderbird 68.7.0 in this release of Ubuntu.

Closing out the productivity applications is LibreOffice 6.4, a free and powerful office suite that enables you to do more – easier, quicker, smarter. Its clean interface and feature-rich tools help unleash your creativity and enhance your productivity.

Tier-1 OEM support

Ubuntu is used extensively throughout the enterprise, government, public sectors and education. To meet the demand for pre-loaded hardware from these areas, Canonical is committed to working closely with Dell, HP and Lenovo. Here are some examples of the work we do for our OEM partners that adds value to all users of Linux on the desktop.

Starting with Ubuntu Desktop 20.04 LTS, it is now possible to obtain a certified device experience by installing the general release of Ubuntu. When installed on certified hardware, the device-specific enablement will be automatically installed and configured; just as it would be in the preloaded factory images.

I mentioned the new boot splash that preserves the vendor logo during boot earlier, a change we’ve made in Ubuntu that was requested by our OEM partners. Similarly, we’re shipping BlueZ 5.53, PulseAudio 14.0 and Sound Open Firmware along with some patches to support DMIC and SoundWire which will be used in future devices from our OEM partners.

Many devices are now shipping with fingerprint readers, and this has become a natural way to unlock the user session. Together with the libfprint project, we have improved the backend and the UI (coming soon™), making it possible for the hardware vendors to support new biometric devices easily.

X11 fractional scaling has been available since Ubuntu 19.04, but not exposed via a UI to users. In Ubuntu 20.04 LTS, we’ve added a toggle so Ubuntu users can easily enable fractional scaling in the display settings, in 25% increments between 100% and 200% like the Wayland implementation that came before. This is particularly useful on class-leading HiDPI laptops available from our OEM partners.

Accelerated compute & gaming

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are a new class of data engineering, and adoption in the enterprise is exploding. Ubuntu is powering the AI ambitions for enterprises – from developer workstations to racks, to clouds and to the edge.

Ubuntu Desktop accelerates data science, on laptops and workstations, by providing the latest tools, drivers and libraries. Data scientists can develop their AI models on high-end Ubuntu workstations using Kubeflow before training on racks of bare-metal Kubernetes or public clouds with hardware acceleration. Ubuntu is the standard for enterprise machine learning, from Silicon Valley to Wall Street, for the Fortune 50 and for start-ups.

If you use your GPU for entertainment and recreation, then here are a few features that you’ll appreciate. Although i386 (32-bit Intel) is no longer a release architecture, Ubuntu preserves a collection of 32-bit Intel libraries to satisfy Steam, Wine, Lutris requirements, as well as a large back catalogue of classic games and applications. The Steam package in Ubuntu has also been updated for 20.04 LTS and now supports a broad range of controllers and VR devices.

Feral Interactive’s GameMode performance tool is installed by default. GameMode is a daemon that allows games to request a set of optimisations be temporarily applied to the host OS and/or a game process. Currently, GameMode provides optimisations for CPU governor, I/O priority, process niceness, kernel scheduler, screensaver inhibiting, GPU performance mode (NVIDIA and AMD), GPU overclocking (NVIDIA) and custom scripts.

Those of you with hybrid graphics are now able to launch applications using the discrete GPU from within GNOME Shell, via the ‘Launch on Discrete GPU’ menu item. This works both for AMD and NVIDIA GPUs.

For live streamers and video creators, you’ll find that FFmpeg supports nvenc and VA-API. These are features found in GPUs that perform decoding, encoding or filtering to offload these compute-intensive tasks from the CPU. Applications that can use nvenc, such as OBS Studio and Shotcut, are able to take advantage of these hardware encoding features too.

ZFS and zsys

In Ubuntu 19.10, we added experimental support for installing the desktop onto a ZFS formatted filesystem. Ubuntu 20.04 LTS ships with a newer ZFS which features native, hardware-enabled encryption, device removal, pool trim and improved performance. While still experimental, we’ve built upon this feature with the addition of zsys.

zsys is our own integration tool between ZFS and Ubuntu. When users install software or update their system, zsys will take an automatic snapshot, enabling users to roll back, should an update go bad. These snapshots are presented in the GRUB boot menu. This also lays the foundation for additional backup features in the future.

Coming from Ubuntu 18.04 LTS

We know many of our users are quite ‘sticky’ on the Long Term Support releases. Those who upgrade from Ubuntu 18.04 LTS to 20.04 LTS will see a bigger change, as the new LTS contains a roll-up of all the features that landed through the Ubuntu 18.10, 19.04 and 19.10 interim releases as well. Here are some highlights to look out for:

GNOME Disks supports the open-source disk encryption VeraCrypt when formatting disks. Desktop zoom and window previews are more performant. The bug reporting tool can now send crash reports automatically when applications misbehave to reduce user interruption

GNOME Settings sound panel was improved to make it easier to manage microphones and speaker devices. Tracker was added to improve desktop file search. Usability improvements were made to both Alt+Tab and dock window previews to make application switching more intuitive. ‘Safe Graphics Mode’ was added to enable debugging when unexpected errors occur.

Desktop performance has been improved with lower CPU usage, lower input latency in scrolling and output latency on most graphics cards. Users should consistently have higher and smoother frame rates now. DLNA sharing enables users to share videos to a smart TV or other supported device. The NVIDIA graphics drivers are now on the install media, so users can install them directly from the installer. The start-up time for users of the NVIDIA driver has also been improved.

The very best of open source

Ubuntu is built upon the very best of open-source, and Ubuntu Desktop puts it all at the fingertips of developers and users; everywhere. To learn what other new software, frameworks, language ecosystems and improvements are in this new release then please see the Ubuntu 20.04 LTS Release Notes.

On behalf of the Ubuntu Desktop Team, I would like to thank the GNOME developer community for making a high quality, open-source, desktop shell and a friendly environment to collaborate. I’d also like to extend my thanks to the wider Ubuntu community of developers, advocates, documentation writers, designers, translators, testers and supporters; without whom Ubuntu would not be the success it is today.

And finally, to our users, here is Ubuntu Desktop 20.04 LTS. I hope you enjoy using it as much as we all did making it.

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