Ubuntu 23.04 welcomes three more flavors, but hamburger menus leave a bad taste
Official Cinnamon, Edubuntu reborn, and an updated Kylin
The "Lunar Lobster" release of Ubuntu has welcomed two new official remixes, as well as the first updated Ubuntu Kylin in a year or so.
The 38th release of Ubuntu debuted late last month, and while this is an interim release which goes end-of-life next January, there are some significant changes to make it notable. The most visible are two new official flavors: Ubuntu Cinnamon and Edubuntu.
All use the new Flutter-based "Subiquity" installer, which is a little prettier than the old "Ubiquity." However, it's not really much more functional. Like the old one, the new installer's window still can't be resized – so, for example, if you have lots of disk partitions, you can't make the window big enough to see them all at once without scrolling. To use an existing partition, you must first choose the existing format – a redundant extra step. We'd hoped that the final version of the new installer would fix these minor issues, but we were disappointed.
The Reg FOSS desk took a look at Ubuntu Cinnamon when the current LTS came out a year ago. It sticks fairly close to the default edition, but replaces the GNOME desktop with the Cinnamon fork which came out of the Linux Mint project. Ubuntu Cinnamon 23.04 includes version 5.6.7 of the desktop, which at the time of writing is just one minor release behind the current 5.6.8, which came out in mid-March.
Ubuntu Cinnamon uses GNOME accessories, such as GEdit and GNOME Terminal, and the result is a very inconsistent UI in places
Ubuntu Cinnamon has a few additions over normal Ubuntu. For instance, it bundles a few extra accessories: some games (2048, Chess, Mahjong, and Sudoku), the Zutty terminal emulator (as well as the standard GNOME Terminal), and the Synaptic package manager. Otherwise, though, most of the bundled apps are the usual GNOME suspects.
This means there's a mixture of appearances. A few apps have traditional menu bars, such as Synaptic and the Nemo file manager. Others mostly have GNOME's CSD: instead of a traditional separate title bar, they have a combined title and control bar, with some buttons in there plus a mobile-phone style "hamburger menu." This is a button with three horizontal lines which holds a minimal main menu.
As an additional complication, the default theme also styles Cinnamon's window-control menu with three horizontal bars – so it too looks like a hamburger menu. This is inconsistent and confusing. Just to add to the fun, a few apps, such as GNOME Disks, style their hamburger menu with a vertical column of three dots instead of lines. In general, hamburger menus have a very limited set of options, are slower for fast readers, and they're less accessible for screen-reader users. In the opinion of this jaded old vulture, the entire hamburger menu idea was a bad one in the first place, and they should have stayed on mobile phones – not that they're good UI even there.
Some apps, like GNOME Disks here, have not one but two different hamburger menus. It's not Cinnamon's fault, but it's not obvious or easy to use
Saying that, though, Cinnamon is a pleasant enough desktop to use. We still prefer it to GNOME, although the case against "GNOME Flashback," as the optional GNOME Classic is now called, is less clear. In Lunar, Cinnamon's fractional scaling works perfectly and in testing on a HiDPI Thinkpad, we found a scale of 125 per cent to give a good balance between screen space and comfortably sized text, while remaining sharp.
Of the other now official flavors, Edubuntu is not so much a new remix as a welcome return. The original Edubuntu, based on the Unity desktop, disappeared soon after we mentioned it back in 2013. Now, nearly a decade after the last version, Edubuntu 23.04 returns under new management. It has the same name and logo (Ubuntu's "circle of friends" but with a raised hand), but now sports the same GNOME 44 desktop environment as official Ubuntu.
The most important change is a wide selection of bundled educational apps for children, which are split across four metapackages. For completeness's sake, and because several online lists refer to the original Edubuntu of a decade ago, we list the packages and their contents in a bootnote at the bottom.
If you study the list, you will probably notice that there's some overlap between the metapackages. That's without the additional components that we've omitted because they're standard Ubuntu components, such as LibreOffice. All the same, it's quite a broad collection.
There's not a great deal in Edubuntu that you couldn't assemble for yourself, but it looks to us like a well-curated collection which could be a considerable time-saver for a harried parent – or perhaps even more so, a time-pressed teacher trying to provision a roomful of old PCs on a budget of zero.
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As far as we can see, by default, the whole assortment are installed, but it's also possible to tailor the installation and just pick the desired educational level.
Ubuntu Kylin 23.04 looks much like 22.04, but all the same it's pretty – and you'll only see Chinese in a few places
The last remix to reappear is Ubuntu Kylin, which is Canonical's distro aimed at the booming Chinese market. We looked at Ubuntu Kylin 22.04 last year, and little has changed in this new release – which may be why there was no Ubuntu Kylin 22.10 release. Version 23.04 still uses the UKUI desktop version 3, although a new version, UKUI 4.0, is in development.
Kylin looks more daunting than it is: it boots in Chinese by default, but even if you don't read Chinese, it's easy to install. As usual, there are two options, "try Ubuntu" and "install Ubuntu." Click the second, and the list of languages appears. Choose "English" and you're in business.
After that point, some Chinese text occasionally appears but you can just ignore it. There's a Chinese app store, and the Fcitx tool to allow Chinese text to be entered, and that's about it. Both can be removed without breaking anything. The Chinese app store has a category for Android apps, but this doesn't work on the international edition because no Android runtime is provided. The international version also supplies ordinary LibreOffice rather than the proprietary-freeware WPS Office we found in the Chinese download of Ubuntu Kylin 22.04.
We like Kylin and UKUI. It's polished and colorful, with an animated boot screen and a bit more bling than most Western desktops. The Chinese government's 3-5-2 program to eliminate foreign tech – including Windows and macOS – is due to complete this year. In the West, there are just two well-known desktop Chinese distros. One family is Linux Deepin, and its domestic parent distro UOS. The other is the Kylin family – which, as we reported last year, is based on Ubuntu. There are estimated to be some 350 million PCs in China, and the government's goal was to completely replace Windows with Kylin or UOS. As such, it could be that UKUI is in fact one of the world's most widely used Linux desktops, alongside the cosmetically similar Deepin Desktop Environment.
Even after the COVID pandemic, Chromebook vendors were still shifting six million units a quarter last year, and over 100 million of the things sold in the last four years or so. It's likely that more people use Deepin and Kylin than ChromeOS.
Here in the Western world, though, it's fair to say that Ubuntu Cinnamon is a safer choice than Ubuntu Kylin. If you have a HiDPI screen, the latest version's now working fractional scaling support puts it ahead of Xubuntu, Lubuntu, and Ubuntu Kylin – and in our humble opinion, Ubuntu Cinnamon is better looking than Kubuntu. ®
The additional applications that are installed in Edubuntu compared to ordinary Ubuntu are grouped into four metapackages: