We are in the final phase of the Ubuntu 11.04, Natty Narwhal, release cycle however this is no longer called the 'release candidate' stage as Ubuntu have chosen to just term it 'Beta 2'. I prefer the old terminology, but that is neither here or there as Natty is almost upon us with no reason for the April 28th release date to be pushed back. Unity is still the source of much debate, but overall I am pleased with it and looking forward to see how the community can build upon it between now and 11.10 and, of course, the all important 12.04 Long Term Release this time next year.
There have not been many 'major' changes to Natty over the first Beta stage, we have seen the implementation of the new scroll buttons/icons (pic below) which is yet another non-to-subtle hint that Ubuntu is becoming as tablet friendly as possible. The appearance has seen various refinements, but nothing controversial, early in the release cycle, maybe at the Alpha stage, the workspace switcher would show you which workspace you were on, but this disappeared some time ago. Also our benevolent dictator has announced that the classic Ubuntu desktop (non-Unity) will not be included in the October 11.10 release. On systems that the full 3D version of Unity does not work well there is already a 2D version included for the user to choose along with the classic desktop, but I presume 11.10 will only offer the 3D and 2D Unity versions.
Finally, here are some screenshots of my current desktop:
Screenshot of my current Natty Desktop. Theme is 'Equinox Evolution Dawn' and wallpaper from Santabanta.com
Pressing the Ubuntu icon in the top left brings up this dash
Clicking the grey icon with the plus symbol in it opens the applications dash.
The icon the applications launcher is for opening your folders and recently opened items.
Clicking the workspace switcher shows all your workspaces and any running software, here you can see Banshee in the top right workspace.
A closer look at banshee and note the new scroll icon in the top right. When you hover over the traditional scrollbar a larger icon appears which you click and drag, or click the arrows.
For anyone who normally relies on the 'shipit' option to get their latest Ubuntu release, this service will only be made available to the local Ubuntu teams, so if you need a CD then get in touch with your local Ubuntu community. Overall it is a move in the right direction, Ubuntu is only as strong as the community that supports it so anything that gets users involved at this level will be better in the long run.
Excited yet? Its all change in the world of Ubuntu and come April 28th it rides in on the back of a Natty Narwhal.