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Mozilla FireFox is still the default Web browser in Karmic Koala, though its performance has been greatly sped up by including the cutting-edge version 3.5 over Jaunty's 3.0. Check out the FutureMark PeaceKeeper scores on the Synthetic Benchmarks page to really see what an improvement 3.5 is over 3.0.
The GRUB boot loader has received a nice update, finally hitting version 2.0 after many years with 1.xx. GRUB 2 is actually a complete rewrite, and not simply an upgrade. Pre-2.0 GRUB is now known as GRUB Legacy. The new boot loader has the ability to boot directly from ISO files and use graphical selection screens, though neither feature is yet utilized by Ubuntu 9.10. The updated GRUB, along with the updated ext4 filesystem, will not be available to users performing an upgrade from an older version of Ubuntu.
The latest version of Ubuntu's default Graphical User Interface (GUI), GNOME is included in the Karmic Koala. Ubuntu does six month releases to stay in sync with the release cycle of GNOME, and this release is actually following the lead of the GUI developer closer than usual. Both Empathy and some of the graphical tweaks were GNOME decisions that Canonical decided to keep.
As usual, the new version of Ubuntu has a newer version of the Linux Kernel than the last. With the kernel being perpetually updated, it's no surprise that Karmic ships with the latest version as of its launch date, version 2.6.31.
One of the most exciting updates brings major graphical improvements to users running the most mainstream graphics processors. With the new architecture of Intel graphics drivers, non-Ion netbooks can now run the ultra-popular Compiz Fusion desktop effects. The performance on these drivers is amazing in comparison to what they replace. I loaded down Dell's Mini 10v with the same eye-candy as my desktop PC, and the little notebook didn't even flinch.
Even though these are the same effects you've probably already seen many times before, try to keep in mind that this is running on an Atom with 1GB of RAM and Intel's unpopular integrated graphics processor.