Hands-On With The New Features In Ubuntu 13.04 Raring Ringtail

Staying loyal to its release cycle, Canonical has recently released the latest version of the world’s most popular Linux distribution – Ubuntu 13.04. Dubbed ‘Raring Ringtail’, this release brings with it a bunch of new features, along with several significant improvements to many existing ones. Just a couple of months back, we got to take Ubuntu’s under-development mobile OS, Ubuntu Touch Preview for a spin and were left fairly impressed. While not to be considered a major revamp of the last version, the operating system’s latest desktop release hasn’t been a disappointment either, improving significantly upon its predecessor. In what follows, we will take a look at some of the new features and improvements in Ubuntu 13.04.

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Performance Enhancements

First and foremost, you will notice a significant improvement in the overall performance. Ever since Canonical introduced its Unity UI, many users complained about it being slower compared to the old Gnome UI. In 13.04, everything feels just snappy – no lag, no noticeable performance glitches, no slowdowns due to the UI. This alone can go a long way towards making several users finally embrace Unity with open arms.

New Photos & Social Lenses

One of the key features of the Unity interface are the Lenses that allow you to quickly find both local and online content without having to worry about where to look. In 13.04, two new Lenses have been added. The Photos Lens – as the name suggests – provides you with quick access to not only your local images, but also the images from your online albums as well as those shared with you by your friends over social media, provided you have connected your online accounts with the OS. There are also several handy filters available to view the images based on their source or date.

Ubuntu 13.04 - Photos Lens

Similarly, the Social Lens consolidates your social media communication in one place. At the moment, Facebook and Twitter appear to be the only two compatible services, but these should be enough for most of us. You can access your Facebook messages as well as Twitter @mentions and DMs from here.

Ubuntu 13.04 - Social Lens

Per-App Toggles For Online Accounts

The Online Accounts section is great for connecting many of your social media and other web accounts with the OS in order to make your content from these services accessible in the relevant areas of Ubuntu. However, it’s also important to have more control over what content from these service gets to be available in which particular OS features or apps in Ubuntu, and that’s been taken care of in 13.04 by providing you with toggles for enabling or disabling access to your online content on these services from individual Ubuntu features or apps. Want to keep your Picasa photos accessible for the Photos Lens but don’t want Empathy to automatically sign you in with the same Google account? You can do that now!

Ubuntu 13.04 - Online Accounts

New Window switching Methods

The heavy multitaskers among us are always on the lookout for the quickest ways to switch between all the different windows that we have open all the time. In 13.04, Ubuntu makes life easier for us by adding two new ways of switching between windows. Firstly, the application Quicklists now show you all open windows of the currently selected application, complete with a visual indicator next to the currently selected one.

Ubuntu 13.04 - Application Quicklist

Though what’s even better is that now you can cycle between multiple open windows of the same app by simply hovering your mouse pointer over that app’s icon and scrolling your mouse wheel. It works incredibly well, and you are bound to appreciate its intuitiveness as well as usefulness when you try it out for yourself.

Sync Menu

Over the past couple of years, we have seen an exponential rise in the use as well as availability of cloud service, with Ubuntu also joining in with their cloud storage and sync solution in Ubuntu One. In Ubuntu 13.04, upon signing in with your account in the Ubuntu One app, you will notice a new Sync menu in the menu bar. From here, you can quickly toggle the service on/off, open the Ubuntu One app or your synced folder, share files, open the web interface, keep track of any ongoing file transfers, and purchase more space if the 5GB free space doesn’t cut it for you.


Ubuntu 13.04 - Sync Menu

Improved Bluetooth Menu

While the Bluetooth menu has had a place in the menu bar since the old days before Unity, it has previously been quite bland, using multiple text entries for turning Bluetooth on and off, and for toggling your device’s visibility. In the latest update, both these features have been implemented in the menu in form of toggles that not only look better, but also offer a more instant visual indication of the current Bluetooth state of your device.

Ubuntu 13.04 - Bluetooth Menu

New Look For Shut Down Dialog

Most of the features we saw above were primarily about function rather than mere cosmetics, but that doesn’t mean cosmetic changes have entirely been left out in 13.04. The Shut Down dialog has been visually revamped, making it more Unity-like, and a bit similar to the Alt+Tab list too.

Ubuntu 13.04 - Shutdown Menu

Speaking of the Alt+Tab list, it has also received some subtle visual improvements that might not be noticeable at first glance, but become apparent when comparing it with the previous version.

Prettier & Smoother Animations

If you have a thing for smooth animations and stunning visual effects, you are in for a treat when you next try to snap a window to a side of the screen (or the full screen) – the new animation is both stunning and super-smooth, and it adds a nice visual enhancement to this handy window management feature.

In addition to that, you’ll also notice an improvement in the animation shown in Unity Previews when you right-click an item from any of the Unity Lenses.

Other Minor Changes

Apart from the above, there have been a few other, relatively minor changes as well. The Workspace switcher icon is no longer there on the launcher by default, but can be added back by enabling it from System Settings > Appearance > Behavior, and now indicates which workplace you’re currently on. Also, the launcher icon of removable media such as USB flash drives now shows a visual indicator in form of a different background color if you have the device open in the file manager. Speaking of the file manager, it’s icon has also been changed.

To sup it up, while Ubuntu 13.04 may not seem to be a huge upgrade in terms of features alone, its performance improvements combined with the few major new features as well as the countless minor enhancements make it worth the upgrade for every Ubuntu user out there.

What do you think of the latest version of Ubuntu, and which of its new features is your favorite? Did we end up missing out on something new that you have noticed? Don’t forget to let us know in the comments.

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  • jphnp

    Is there a way to install it to a VHD?

    • Usman Javaid

      Yes, you can. If you’re using Windows 8, you can use built-in Hyper-V virtualization software to use it as VHD on your system, but hardware compatibility issues will surely come along. If Hyper-V fails to load the OS, try Oracle Virtualbox to create VHD first, then mount the Linux ISO to install it as guest OS.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1784671510 Wass Pogoreloff

    2 major improvements for me (in addition to those mentioned above):
    – correctly identifies the graphics card driver “out of the box” ― no more generic drivers (tried on 3 notebooks)
    – support for 2-finger touchpad gestures

    • http://hqraja.com/ Haroon Q. Raja

      Ah yes, the correct identification of the right graphics card drivers is a MAJOR, MAJOR improvement indeed.

      Regarding support for two-finger touchpad gestures, two-finger scrolling didn’t work for me out-of-the-box so I assumed it’ll also take some configuration like it did on 12.10. I’ll look further into it now. Thanks for mentioning these. =)