After months of waiting, the final form of Ubuntu’s long-supported stable version is finally here. How does it improve on what we’ve come to love (and hate) about Ubuntu? Check out our Ubuntu 20.04 review below.
Download and Installation
To get started, you can download Ubuntu 20.04 ISO here.
Ubuntu 20.04 has increased requirements and demands 4GBs of RAM and 25GBs of HDD space. If you’re on a 32bit version, you won’t be able to directly upgrade. From now on, Ubuntu will only support 64bit. It does contain some 32bit libraries, though, for compatibility with older apps. As you’ll find out after the installation, Python 2 and the Amazon App are also gone.
Ubuntu 20.04’s installation remains virtually unchanged. The installation media still allows you to either try Ubuntu “live” or install it on its own or beside an existing operating system.
You will be asked to select a keyboard layout and choose whether you want to download updates during the installation. You’ll also be asked if you wish to install extra third-party, probably proprietary, software.
While Ubuntu 20.04 supports both LVM and ZFS, you can only choose one from the list.
After selecting your geographical position and setting up a user account, the installation begins. After it completes, remove the installation media, reboot, and you’ll be into your new OS.
A Usable, Fast Desktop
Although Ubuntu 20.04 doesn’t stray far from the UX paradigm of the previous versions, it comes with significant improvements in speed and usability.
Ubuntu 20.04 boots much faster into a usable desktop compared to previous versions. That’s mostly thanks to the LZ4 algorithm for compressing the kernel image and initramfs, speeding up their decompression during boot.
The login screen now directly shows the password field. There’s no more annoying screen dragging over it. You can click on a little “eye” icon next to the password to make it visible. Avoid annoying typos.
You can connect Ubuntu 20.04 to a range of online accounts to bring in your cloud-based calendars, documents, photos, and files to your desktop.
The new Livepatch feature can apply critical updates without having to restart. It demands an Ubuntu One account to work.
The desktop itself feels much snappier. Some programs – like Firefox – load quicker, and some icons are slightly updated. I’m not much into the new default wallpaper, though.
By clicking on the date and time on the top center of the screen, you can access a mini calendar and the notifications panel. That’s where a new “Do Not Disturb” switch hides. One click and it suppresses all notifications until you toggle it again.
You can now group the entries in Gnome’s application menu by holding the left mouse button on an icon and dragging it onto another. Gnome is smart enough to suggest names for groups of related applications. For example, by moving Thunderbird Mail on the Transmission icon, it placed them in a new group that it automatically named “Internet.”
The main Settings panel has been rearranged to offer easier access to all of its options.
The updated desktop theme offers Light and Dark variations over its Standard appearance. For anyone wondering, they all look great.
Ubuntu 20.04 also supports fractional scaling. That can help when increasing the size of desktop elements on high-resolution displays.
The rest of the options remain unchanged, although you will now find many of them in different places.
The new kernel also supports the Wireguard protocol, which offers better security when using a VPN. Feral Interactive’s GameMode is also included, which can allocate more resources to games to increase their performance. Since I’m not gaming on Ubuntu, I’ll let others judge this specific feature’s merits.
The Same Group of Software
The list of pre-installed software in Ubuntu 20.04 is still the same as before. You will find Firefox, LibreOffice, Thunderbird, Rhythmbox, and Files (Nautilus) at the forefront. They will be accompanied by apps like Transmission, To Do, Shotwell, and Videos.
Of course, you can always extend this software selection with a visit to the Software Center.
Unfortunately for those who don’t like snaps, it seems they are here to stay. The updated Software Center prioritizes snap versions of applications and also comes in snap format. While you can still add PPAs and install third-party software, the snap store is now the preferred way of installing software in Ubuntu.
ZFS in Action
Although most people will probably not fully take advantage of all of ZFS’s features, Ubuntu 20.04 brings one of its most essential features to the surface: snapshots.
Notice that in the following screenshot of a typical package installation, extra symlinks are created. These point to different versions of files and how the GRUB menu is updated at the very end. That’s Canonical’s new tool, zsys, working its magic.
Thanks to ZFS, whenever important changes are noticed, Ubuntu 20.04 automatically creates new snapshots that save the filesystem’s state at the current time. Whenever you wish, you can return to any of those points in time through the GRUB menu during boot.
Everything boils down to Ubuntu 20.04 being a worthy upgrade but with some important caveats. A more responsive desktop and easy-to-access ZFS snapshots are among the greatest improvements compared to past versions. But an insistence on snaps and the move to strictly 64bits may make it look like a less-than-perfect choice for many users.
If you just want to try Ubuntu without physically installing it on your machine, use multipass to quick-launch a Ubuntu instance and test it out.