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What's New In 9.10?

Ubuntu 9.10: The Karmic Koala Benchmarked And Reviewed

Ubuntu 9.10, the “Karmic Koala,” has ushered in more changes to the OS than any other version in recent memory. Some of these changes have been promised (but undelivered) for several releases, while others were relatively recent decisions. On this page, I will go over some of the major additions and replacements for old defaults. The Ubuntu One cloud service and the new Ubuntu Software Center aren't covered here, but have their own pages later on.

Empathy Replaces Pidgin and Ekiga

Probably the most controversial change in Ubuntu 9.10 is the replacement of highly popular, cross-platform, multi-protocol instant messaging client Pidgin with the much less popular and compatible Empathy client. A firestorm of debate has been raging over this topic among developers and users alike ever since the announcement to replace Pidgin was made last year. While Empathy brings tight integration to the desktop, this also means that it is anchored to GNOME. Anyone using KDE, Mac, or Windows will need a different IM client on those installations. Though it should be noted that Empathy also handles VoIP, and therefore replaces Ekiga as well as Pidgin. The opinion polls are about dead even regarding the incorporation of Empathy into Ubuntu and that is where I'll leave it. After all, there are legitimate pros and cons to both sides of the argument.

ext4 Replaces ext3

Another major change to this release is the switch from ext3 to ext4 as the default filesystem. The previous release, 9.04, added ext4 as an option during installation, but left ext3 as the default.

There have been reports of system crashes when moving very large amounts of data due to ext4. I have been using ext4 on my primary machine since the release of 9.04 and can verify those reports. I have experienced several instances where I needed to reboot my PC due to a total lockup caused by moving many gigabytes of data from one folder to another. I have also experienced many lockups in 9.10, but none seem to have anything to do with ext4, since none have occurred when moving files. If you plan on upgrading to Ubuntu 9.10 from an earlier version that uses ext3, you will have to keep it, as only fresh installations will be able to use ext4.

Palimpsest Replaces GParted

A more surprising replacement is that of the default partition editor, GParted, by the newer Palimpsest application. It should be noted that most users won't actually see the name “Palimpsest” until the app is started, since it is simply listed as Disk Utility in the System/Administration menu. 

One upshot to Palimpsest is the nice graphical listing of devices in the left-hand pane. Partitions within a device are listed in file-tree style under the main device. This is a definite improvement for new users over GParted's drop-down menu of /dev listings of devices, which has made many a newbie accidentally erase their hard drive. I've long said that GParted is much too complicated for simple jobs like erasing a USB flash drive.

Palimpsest actually has the options to please advanced users as well. I found Palimpsest to have even more filesystem options than GParted, though the option to resize partitions is sorely missed. Even without the ability to resize partitions, Palimpsest is a good call, since GParted wasn't actually included in Ubuntu, but available as a download in the repos.


Upstart is a new addition that handles the applets and services that load when you start your machine, suspend, or resume. Upstart does not control anything during the first part of the boot process, but speeds up the last part of boot-up--that awkward moment when the desktop is visible, but still unusable (this means things like the network manager, battery indicator, volume control, and the new Ubuntu One syncing service). I've found that Upstart does its job perfectly. There is no more “unusable” desktop with the Karmic Koala. It goes straight from login to splash screen to a fully usable desktop.

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