It's All In The Looks
Canonical is sticking with the tangerine and aubergine (orange and purple) color scheme first introduced in Ubuntu 10.04 LTS. Some like it, and some don't. But most can agree it's certainly better than the brown themes of past releases. There was no big switch to GNOME 3 in Ubuntu 10.10 as planned, so the GTK2 Ambiance/Radiance themes remain.
Reports from all corners of the blogosphere call the Maverick Meerkat default system themes a minor tweak to those of 10.04 LTS. This just might be the understatement of the year. There are tons of small changes to Ambiance/Radiance in 10.10, that altogether add up to a very substantial overhaul. Let's run through the changes in pictures one by one, starting with the major and obvious, and continuing on to the overlooked details on the next page.
Same Old Boot Splash
Pretty much the only theming element of Ubuntu 10.10 that remains totally unchanged from 10.04 LTS is the boot splash. Unfortunately, so does its tendency to distort with proprietary graphics card drivers. We first noticed this behavior in Lucid using an Nvidia card, and this behavior continues in Maverick on an AMD card. Just as in 10.04 LTS, the 10.10 boot splash remains intact when using the default open source graphics drivers.
Ubuntu 10.04 LTS brought a shocking change to the Ubuntu color palette, replacing brown and orange with purple and orange. Though the two new colors were prominent, they felt separated and disjointed. Some elements were orange, while others were purple. In Ubuntu 10.10, there exists a much more natural blending of the two colors. Beginning with the new default wallpaper, orange highlights shine throughout Meerkat's mostly purple backdrop. Whereas Lucid's wallpaper was essentially purple with abrupt splotches of orange thrown in. In fact, the default wallpapers of these two versions are a perfect metaphor for the graphical difference between Lucid Lynx and Maverick Meerkat.
While most of the Home directory icons remain unchanged from Lucid, the Home icon itself has changed from a folder with a house on it to a simple outline of a house. But that wasn't the only icon to undergo a transformation. Navigation buttons like back, forward, reload, and so on now have a softer, rounded, cartoon-like look as opposed to the clean angles in Lucid and earlier versions.
Yes, the much maligned left-hand side window buttons remain, but they've gotten larger and simpler. The buttons in Lucid appear curved, and set into the window title border. The Maverick window buttons drop the rounded look in exchange for more pronounced, flatter buttons. The inset is now barely noticeable, leaving more room for the actual buttons, though the space between them has decreased.
Until now, Ubuntu has always used some form of generic Sans font found on most other Linux distributions. The new font, aptly named Ubuntu, is a full-alphabet version of the lettering used for the new logo introduced in Lucid Lynx. It's clean, clear, and crisp, with a little bit of Star Trek twang thrown in. Below is a screenshot of the 10.04 LTS System Monitor with the old font, next to the 10.10 System Monitor with the new Ubuntu font.