The first alpha of Ubuntu 11.04 has been released and features the biggest change yet to the OS since the stable release of Ubuntu 10.10 "Maverick" months ago.
Dubbed as "Natty Narhwal," the big addition 11.04 offers is the inclusion of the just-released Unity desktop interface which will automatically load if 3D acceleration is enabled. The drawback is that the interface is still fresh and a work in progress, reportedly remaining quite buggy and rough. However users have the option of switching back to the classic Ubuntu desktop if Unity becomes a problem.
According to the Unity website, the UI is designed to allow for multiple implementations, and currently consists of a Compiz plugin-based visual interface only (which is heavily dependent on OpenGL). Previously using Mutter, the UI is reportedly smoother thanks to Compiz but is still only partially implemented into Ubuntu 11.04.
In addition to Unity, Natty Narhwal features an updated Linux kernel (now version 2.6.37 RC3) and Firefox 4 Beta 7. The indicator menu has also received a little make-over, adding Network Manager into the notify area, a Bluetooth icon (if the hardware is present), a battery icon which must be manually turned on, plus the typical sound icon and a Me Menu broken into two parts: setting up accounts and status.
Although the Unity interface brings an optional visual change, there seems to be very little difference between this alpha build and the solid release of 10.10. Those interested in checking out Natty Narhwal should burn the OS image and boot straight from the disc rather than install it on the hard drive-- save that space for a stable release.
To download Ubuntu 11.04 Alpha 1, head here.