As scheduled on October 21, 2021, Canonical has released version 21.10, nicknamed “Impish Indri”, of Ubuntu. This is the first time the popular Linux distribution brings the heavily revised version 40 of the Gnome desktop to the screen. This Gnome version already appeared in March 2021, but did not make it into Ubuntu 21.04.
The reason: the Gnome developers made great layout changes; among other things, the launcher (“Dash”) was moved from the left to the bottom of the screen. In Ubuntu, however, it was and still is on the left – one of the few remnants from the Unity desktop era. To make it work, the Ubuntu developers first had to adapt their own Gnome extension “Ubuntu Dock”.
Speaking of extensions. Their management has moved from the tool gnome-tweaks, which is still available, to an new app called – you gessed it – extensions.
Those who do not appreciate Gnome can of course still choose from other Ubuntu flavors with desktops like KDE, Xfce, Mate or Lxqt, which all benefit from the innovations in the Ubuntu core as well as in the applications.
Ubuntu 21.10 comes with the 5.13 kernel released in June 2021, which Canonical has to maintain independently because the Linux developers have already dropped support in favour of kernel 5.14. Another innovation is Pulseaudio 15, which supports the AptX codec, promising better sound quality for Bluetooth headphones.
For comparison: Fedora 35, which will be released shortly after Ubuntu, already comes with kernel 5.14, Gnome 41 and improves the integration of the new sound server PipeWire, which replaces Pulseaudio since Fedora 34.
Firefox: Transition from classic package to snap
The most controversial innovation in Ubuntu 21.10 might be the first-time deployment of the Firefox browser as a Snap. Being security-critical applications, browsers need frequent updates. However, these updates have to be compiled and provided separately for long-term and short-term releases of Ubuntu. With a snap, only one version has to be provided, which saves a lot of work for the developers. With the Chromium browser, Ubuntu has already taken this path in October 2019.
The Firefox snaps are provided directly by Mozilla. For the transition period until the release of Ubuntu 22.04, Firefox will still be delivered in parallel via deb packages in the classic way.
When to upgrade
Ubuntu releases new versions every six months – every two years it is the turn of a version with long-term maintenance (LTS). Ubuntu 21.10 is supplied by Canonical for nine months with updates. Those who have Ubuntu 21.04 installed should upgrade to 21.10 soon, as the predecessor will only be supported for three more months. The next version 22.04 will then be an LTS version again.