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Ubuntu 19.10 Has Two Outstanding New Features For Linux Users

Ubuntu 19.10 officially launches today, and if this release is any indication, next year’s Ubuntu 20.04 LTS “Focal Fossa” is going to be one outstanding desktop Linux distribution. But let’s not dismiss the OS you can actually install today. What makes 19.10 so special to me personally? ZFS and vastly improved hardware support.

#1: GPU + Hardware Support

Ubuntu 19.10 delivers a pair of welcome advancements for anyone using an Nvidia GPU, and anyone rocking newer 7nm Navi graphics cards from AMD, such as the Radeon 5700 XT.

First is something I’ve been calling for due to the more performant nature of the proprietary Nvidia graphics driver: it’s right on the Ubuntu 19.10 ISO now, and you can choose to install it over the open source Nouveau driver, which is particularly useful if you want to play games.

Open source is always preferred, but the reality is that Nvidia users looking for well-rounded graphics acceleration are forced to choose the proprietary route. Having this driver on the ISO reduces user friction, and makes onboarding new Linux users much easier!

Read more about the open source versus proprietary driver situation in my extensive Linux Gaming Report:

The Linux Mint 19.2 Gaming Report: Promising But Room For Improvement

Forbes Jason Evangelho

Second is the inclusion of Linux Kernel 5.3 which introduces compatibility for a ton of new hardware, including 2nd-generation Ryzen CPU motherboards and associated Intel Wireless devices, and the latest 7nm GPUs from AMD.

While not as bleeding edge as a rolling release distro like Arch, Ubuntu 19.10 will solve a lot of issues for early adopters.

#2: ZFS File System Support

Ubuntu 19.10 ships with experimental (i.e. “don’t run this on your production machine unless you like to live dangerously”) ZFS file system support, and it’s a precursor to a more mature implementation we’ll see in Ubuntu 20.04 LTS and eventually Ubuntu Server.

To the best of my knowledge, Ubuntu is the first mainstream Linux distribution to ship ZFS right on the installer, and it looks promising. Why? Obviously there’s the perk of preventing data loss (or simply reversing something that borked your system), but the way it handles system snapshots is brilliant.

Imagine that your current installation consumes 800GB of space and you’re using a 1TB drive. When you take your initial system snapshot, you’ll still have that ~200GB free. But as you make changes, (let’s say you remove an app or accidentally delete a local Github repo), the snapshot itself will now use up only the space that was carved out for that app or that repo folder.

The process of taking snapshots and executing rollbacks is a command-line driven affair for now. And since ZFS is new on my radar, I’m still wrapping my head around it. But Ars Technica has a wonderfully detailed deep-dive on it using today’s Ubuntu 19.10 release as an example. It’s an enlightening read.

One other thing to call out is that – at least for the time being – ZFS I/O performance isn’t going to be as snappy as the Ext4 file system most of us are used to. To illustrate that point, take a look at these test results over at Phoronix.

Through a battery of benchmarks Ext4 comes out largely ahead, although ZFS does exceptionally well in isolated cases such as sequential drive reads. Random reads and writes are much faster in Ext4, as are most use-cases including kernel compilation and database access.

In any case, it’s a tantalizing glimpse into the benefits of a next-generation file system for everyday users, server admins, and everyone in between.

Bonus Points: GNOME 3.34

Ubuntu 19.10 also ships with GNOME 3.34, and while I can’t yet quantify this with hard data, it definitely feels more responsive than Ubuntu 19.04. For a fun experiment, try comparing the overall desktop responsiveness on Live USBs of both Ubuntu 19.04 and Ubuntu 19.10!

There’s a lot to dig into with this release, so have fun!


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