The next Ubuntu – 15.10, nicknamed Wily Werewolf – is beginning to take shape but, as before, the first beta code out of the gate doesn’t belong to the main desktop.
Rather, that honour belongs to the familiar clutch of Ubuntu fellow travellers – Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Ubuntu GNOME, Ubuntu MATE and Lubuntu.
The amount of new features varies by spin from Kubuntu, which offers some major updates for the KDE platform that serves as its base, to Lubuntu, which consists primarily of a few bug fixes.
With that in mind, here’s what you’ll find in the code.
The biggest news in the Ubuntu universe right now is that Kubuntu 15.10 uses the hot-off-the-presses KDE Plasma 5.4 desktop. Plasma 5.4 is a huge update for KDE, bringing everything from preliminary Wayland support to smaller, but more noticeable changes like a nice new set of Plasma Widgets and improvements to KRunner, the revamped, extendible launcher in Plasma 5.
The KDE team has also been finishing up work on the new "flat" look of Plasma 5. In my initial review of KDE 5 I said it was a bit rough around the edges, with some missing icons and the fact that the search field in the Kickoff app launcher was hard to discover among a range of problems.
As of 5.4 all that stuff has been fixed. There are some 1,400 new icons, all consistent with the brighter, flatter design aesthetic the characterises Plasma 5.
The default Kubuntu desktop showing new Network Widget
The other area that is much improved in this release is KDE's support for HiDPI screens. In previous Kubuntu releases I had trouble getting the HiDPI support to work in virtual machines, but as of Kubuntu 15.10 that's no longer an issue.
The various widgets which KDE offers have also been improved. There's a new one for volume and a slick new network applet that offers a nice graphical view of your network traffic (it also now supports SSH connections via a plugin).
Ubuntu MATE 15.10
The Wily Werewolf release of Ubuntu MATE ships with an interesting combination of MATE 1.8 and 1.10 – depending on which component of the system you're talking about. Somehow it manages to do this without being too buggy, but it can make troubleshooting a little more time-consuming, since you first need to know which version of any problem component you've actually got.
Among the MATE 1.10 elements is Caja, the default file manager. It gains an extension manager for handling plugins that means it's much easier to install and enable plugins (no need to restart). There's also the much-improved multi-monitor support I covered in my Mint 17.2 review.
Ubuntu MATE 15.10, buggy enough that this is all you're likely to see
There are, however, plenty of MATE 1.8 elements still hanging around. Elements like the main panel, the power manager, applets and icon theme all remain at their 1.8 versions.
Perhaps related, perhaps not, Ubuntu MATE was the least stable of the betas I tested. In fact, it would never really run at all in a virtual machine and didn't fare any better on actual hardware.