Of the 32 benchmarks we ran, Maverick Meerkat beat Lucid Lynx in 16, while Lucid beat Maverick in 14. The HandBrake and tar.gz decompression scores are identical in both OSes. Going by the numbers, Ubuntu 10.10 is the winner. However, Maverick Meerkat is not without issues. We managed to narrow down the hibernate/wake problem to a combination of our test system motherboard and the 64-bit version of UDE. The fact that our old test system hibernates/wakes just fine with 10.10 UDE (64-bit), as does our new test system with 10.04 LTS UDE (64-bit), indicates that a regression exists from Lucid to Maverick. But this is specific to one piece of hardware, and is most likely not widespread. It's also entirely reasonable that this issue could be fixed in a future upgrade.
Maverick Meerkat also had a problem with the file operations status bar when copying to a USB device. While Maverick's original actual time is faster than that of Lucid, the status bar was way off. After updates, the 10.10 times are much slower than 10.04 LTS. The more troubling result is the HDD to HDD copy time. Ubuntu 10.10 takes a very long time to copy files from one location on an HDD to another versus Ubuntu 10.04 LTS, consistently.
These issues essentially negate the wins Maverick holds over Lucid, and the rest of the scores are very, very close. In this case, the benchmarks alone do not indicate which release is the definitive winner.
Experience: Ubuntu Desktop Edition 64-bit
Test system issues aside, Maverick Meerkat provides a snappy and polished experience. In fact, the 64-bit version of UDE 10.10 exceeds our expectations as an October release, and as a 64-bit Linux OS. Some of the benchmarking tools that require lib dependencies gave us no hassle in this release, games in particular. 10.10 was a dream on the older Athlon 64 test system, having none of the issues experienced on the newer model.
Experience: Ubuntu Desktop Edition 32-bit
While the 64-bit version of UDE received most of our attention, we spent some time getting to know the 32-bit version as well. UDE 32-bit gave us no problems whatsoever on either the modern desktop machine or netbook. The installations were a breeze and no serious kernel errors were reported. There were no lockups, random restarts, or any other wonky behavior indicating instability during our time with it. All and all, a pretty solid OS.
Experience: UDE Live 32-bit
We also ran the 32-bit version of Ubuntu 10.10 as a live USB. This was a disaster. The initial boot time, as well as the time between selecting Try Ubuntu and getting to a usable desktop was pretty extreme. While running either Lucid or Jaunty live takes much longer than an actual installation, it's a reasonable couple of minutes. Maverick is painfully slow. Time to make a sandwich and start a load of laundry slow. And although the persistent file system seemed to work for files and such, proprietary Wi-Fi drivers failed to install. This makes running Maverick Meerkat as a live USB essentially useless on systems without wired Internet access.
The live experience provided by Lucid Lynx is a world apart from the newer Maverick Meerkat. If you want to run Ubuntu live, stick with the LTS. However, other Linux distros like Puppy are much better suited for a live environment than any Ubuntu offering.
Experience: Ubuntu Netbook Edition
Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Edition is also a mess. As a netbook operating system intended for actual people to use in a production environment, I have to say that UNE 10.10 should be avoided. From our experience on the Dell Mini 10v, UNE Meerkat is in no way ready for general consumption. Its many bugs and poor performance are just not acceptable or at all realistic for the average end-user. Loading almost anything on UNE 10.10 was clearly sluggish. While the first-generation Dell Mini 10v might not be the best-performing piece of hardware in the world, wait times in Jaunty UDE, Lucid UDE, Lucid UNE and even Windows 7 aren't anywhere near this irritating. If you like netbook-tailored OSes, UNE 10.04 LTS Lucid Lynx is probably still the best bet. If you've come to your senses and opted for a regular desktop OS on your netbook, than UDE 10.10 may just be the best Linux distro for that purpose.
Besides still being in the teething stage, Unity was released in a very awkward position. It's essentially a desktop OS that has undergone massive UI customizations with slates in mind, but is marketed for netbooks. Despite debuting on Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Edition, make no mistake, Unity has slate written all over it.
Canonical is really onto something here. Unity is possibly the best concept of a mobile touchscreen UI on top of a traditional PC desktop OS we've seen thus far. Anyone interested in taking a look at how full PC operating systems will one day work with touch-based tablets, needs to download UNE 10.10. When taken strictly as a preview of the Unity interface, it's not to be missed. Just keep in mind that the experience is far from flawless. There is still a lot of work left to do in order for Unity to be a viable option in a production environment. But even as a developing platform, Unity is certainly more useful and usable than current builds of Moblin or ChomeOS.
With the appearance of Windows 7 on slate devices in perpetual limbo, Canonical still has a chance to beat Microsoft in releasing a PC operating system on this new form factor--just as it did with netbooks two years ago. As a full PC OS, Unity by default also has the foundation and potential to hit the iPad where it hurts: content creation. We can't wait until Ubuntu 11.04 to see how Unity progresses. Hopefully, there will be a decent slate on the market to install it on. Fortunately, there is also a desktop version of Unity in the works for Ubuntu 11.04 as well.
The Straight Dope
We were beginning to wonder when we'd see Canonical pull off a successful .10 release; the past few Octobers have been pretty rough. When looking solely at the Desktop Editions, Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick Meerkat is a mild success. Instead of using this October to experiment with half-baked software components, Canonical concentrated on refining the experience introduced in 10.04 LTS. On the other hand, this also means there aren't any killer reasons to upgrade to 10.10 if you're already happy with 10.04 LTS.
This really is a tough call. After all of the benchmarks and hands-on experience with Maverick Meerkat, we expected a concise thumbs up or thumbs down versus Lucid Lynx. Instead, what we have here is a mixed bag. Ubuntu 10.10 excels and falls short in an equal number of areas as 10.04 LTS. Therefore, our recommendation must also be a mixed bag.
If you're currently using Ubuntu 10.04 LTS Lucid Lynx and everything works, it might be a good idea to leave your install alone. After running it for six months, we can tell you that Lucid is rock-solid. Only time will tell if 10.10 is as good, and we only had a week with it. So, if reliability is ranked highly on your OS wish list, go with the LTS. But if you're experienced with Linux, or just the type who must have the very latest, there is nothing wrong with choosing Ubuntu 10.10, either. It all comes down to the type of user you are.