I couldn´t resist. I downloaded the latest Ubuntu version, codenamed Karmic Koala, as soon as it was available, freed up one of my hard drive partitions and started installing the October version for 2009.
Because release time is always busy and frantic, I wanted to give it a few days before I shared any thoughts on this release. I have been using Karmic for about a week now, mostly applying updates, learning a bit about the latest changes, browsing and emailing intensively, and even doing some work with OpenOffice.
I want to try and share a user like experience, not so much technical details that you may or may not be interested in. As a result, let me start from the beginning, when clicking the power button.
I happen to have Karmic installed on a machine with triple boot, in which I have Ubuntu Jaunty and Ubuntu Studio 9.04. Despite my initial fears that Grub2 could create trouble when sharing booting duties with previous versions, it all went fine. As usual, right after BIOS start, I can see the typical menu showing my OS list, with three entries as expected. The only thing I can report here is that it was a bit of a letdown, as the menu is plain text as it used to be, and I was expecting more of a visual thing. In fact, it was strange not to have it, considering that other distros like Mandriva had that visual menu since 2009.1 release. I have the feeling Ubuntu developers overlooked this matter.
Anyways, no big deal, I chose the default entry, which was obviously assigned to Karmic, and off I went into Koala Land!. As soon as the loading starts, I was pleasantly surprised with the splash screens. Basically, there are no more plain text transitions, all you see are dark and very stylish graphics that give it a very professional vibe. Very, very cool.
Once the GDM screen comes, it is a simple one, but once again stylish and dark. I like the many options available at the bottom. The overall feeling is solid and professional.
After logging in, the transition is once more very smooth, no plain text screens. The first look at the desktop is impressive. There is a definite improvement over previous releases that is very obvious this time around. The new window and icon themes look very nice. There are lots of wallpapers available, all of which are very high quality. One thing I disliked, though, is that the menu has been rearranged, and I guess it took me a while to get used to the new distribution, I still like the way the menu was arranged in Jaunty (or in previous GNOME releases), but that is obviously very personal.
I could quickly realise functional improvements as well. For the first time since Intrepid (when I started using Ubuntu), Koala has fully detected my Draft N wireless card. No need for compat-wireless this time around. Other improvements that are very noticeable involve overall speed and responsiveness on pretty much everything. Even heavy applications such as Firefox and OpenOffice start faster than ever before. Nautilus is also clearly faster. The overall feeling is that of a very responsive desktop (specially when having to deal with a bloated WinXP one at work!)
Some applets, like the Sound manager have been reworked, and look much better. The network applet has been reworked as well, and looks better and simpler.
After all the noise around them, Rythmbox and empathy are the chosen ones when it comes to default audio player and IM applications. I have never been particularly attached to Pidgin or any application per se, so no big deal to me. Both do what they are supposed to do quite well, so no complaints here. In fact, I find it hard to understand why people complain about this, because it takes about a minute to have the applications of your choice installed in case you prefer others, so... The rest of the "usual suspects" are there and working fine. Evolution is handling email as usual, and as usual, it is doing it superbly.
I could also notice how some of the KDE applications have been updated in the Karmic repositories. As a result, K3B now shows its latest improvements and new QT4 face. Amarok 2.2 is also available, and working better than ever, in my opinion.
When shutdown time comes... Well, it comes and goes faster than you would expect. Startup times have been improved further for Karmic, but shutdown time is incredibly fast! Once again, transitions are very smooth and no plain text screens show up.
All in all, my Karmic experience has been very good so far. If you want to enjoy the latest from Canonical, do install/upgrade to the Koala. Having said so, it´s always wise to backup your data, as well as trying the live CD before installing. That should save you any potential unpleasant surprise!
Hope you enjoy Karmic as much as I currently am!