What’s New in Ubuntu 20.04 LTS “Focal Fossa”

Ubuntu's Focal Fossa logo from its background.

Canonical is out Ubuntu 20.04 LTS April 23, 2020. This long-term support version includes a new bright desktop theme and a dark mode. Under the hood, you’ll find an upgraded Linux kernel and a new way to install applications.

Meet the Focal Fossa

It’s spring, so it means a new Ubuntu is in the air. This time it’s Ubuntu 20.04, named Focal Fossa after the feline creature of Madagascar. This is a long term support (LTS) version, which means that it will come with software patches and security patches for the next 5 years. Non-LTS versions are only supported for 9 months.

If 2025 seems far away, it is. That’s the point. There are a multitude of users who only move from one LTS version to the next, using them as springboards to avoid getting their feet wet with the short-term support versions in between. Since Focal is an LTS version, people who only upgrade their Ubuntu systems every few years will be just as interested in this version as upgrade enthusiasts. And there are many here that should appeal to both sides.

Let’s see some of the remarkable changes.

RELATED: 8 fun facts about Fossa

New storage options during installation

Even during installation, you will notice differences. There is a new graphical hard drive verification routine with a progress bar and full percentages.

Ubuntu 20.04 hard drive verification screen, showing progress bar and percentage complete

The “Installation type” dialog box includes an “Advanced functions” button.

Ubuntu 20.04 installation type dialog box with the Advanced Features button highlighted

Clicking on the “Advanced functions” button brings up another dialog box which offers you two options. The first is to use Logical volume management (LVM). LVM allows you to combine physical disks into a single logical disk.

The second option is to use the ZFS file system. This is labeled as “experimental” in all capitals, no less, and should not be used in anger against large systems. It is becoming more and more stable. Previously, these options were found in the main window of the “Installation Type” dialog box. Putting them away slightly is a reasonable decision.

Ubuntu 20.04 advanced features dialog allowing users to select LVM or ZFS features

GNOME 3.36, a new theme and a dark mode

Each version of Ubuntu sees some refinement applied to the visuals, and with the inclusion of GNOME 3.36.0, the combination is fantastic. Let’s not beat around the bush. It sounds very good.

The default wallpaper – inevitably – presents the mascot of this version, the Focal Fossa itself.

Ubuntu 20.04 standard desktop

You can choose from impressive graphics and photos if you want to change the wallpaper.

Selecting the Ubuntu 20.04 desktop background

Purple is obviously in this season. When you select an item, it is highlighted in orange as before, but the accent color is now purple. The color of a selected check box and the color revealed when a slide switch is set to “On” is purple. Other interactive interface elements echo this subtle purple pattern, such as the cursor value controls.

Example of Ubuntu 20.04 user interface of purpole lights in sliders and toggle buttons

The default theme is a modified Yaru theme. Yaru was first introduced in Ubuntu 18.10, so it will be completely new for people upgrading from Ubuntu 18.04 LTS.

The folder icons also have the purple pattern in a gradient from fade to orange at the top of the folder icons.

Ubuntu 20.04 file icons in the file browser showing the new color highlights

A new “Appearance” parameter in the “Parameters” dialog box allows you to switch from the default “Standard” theme to a “Light” theme or a “Dark” theme. The “Light” theme uses a light gray title bar for windows, and the “Dark” theme darkens menus, side panes, and main panel areas of windows, dialog boxes, and applications.

Ubuntu 20.04 theme selection options in the Settings dialog box

Lock screen and login screen

The lock screen and login screens have received a facelift. Your wallpaper is blurred and used as the background for these screens. If you have added an image to your user profile, that image is displayed on the login screen.

Ubuntu 20.04 login screen with user image and blurred desktop background, displaying the eye icon in the password field

The password field now has an eye icon. Click on it to reveal your password. Opinions on this will vary. On the security side, it’s not great. At home, it’s probably not too bad, and, if you’re having trouble typing your password, it can help. But if your password is too complicated to enter accurately, you might consider changing it to memorable passphrase instead.

You can choose to enable and disable notifications for the lock screen from the “Settings” dialog. You can choose from two places. The first is in the “Notifications” settings area.

Configuring Ubuntu 20.04 lock screen notifications

The second is in the “lock screen” settings.

Ubuntu 20.04 Lock Screen Settings Dialog Box

Global Do not disturb

A global “Do not disturb” setting for notifications has been added to the notification area, which appears when you click on the clock in the top panel.

Ubuntu 20.04 notification area showing the global toggle notification on / off

Fractional scaling

Another welcome addition to the Settings dialog is a control for fractional scaling. This was present in Ubuntu 19.10 but was hidden and was not considered ready for prime time. It was put in the spotlight and now has a simple rocker control.

If you have a screen where the 100% standard scale makes your office objects too small to be easily visible and the 200% scale is too large, this setting will make your use of Ubuntu much more pleasant.

Ubuntu 20.04 fractional scaling

Activating the “Fractional Scaling” option brings up new scale options in the “Scale” parameter.

Ubuntu 20.04 fractional scaling enabled

The exact choice of additional scaling options depends on the resolution and geometry of your screen. You will likely see different options on a laptop than on a desktop computer, for example.

System menu

The panel system menu has been updated. It now has a “Suspend” option, and the “Settings”, Lock “and” Power “buttons have been moved from the bottom row to their own rows in the menu.

Ubuntu 20.04 system menu, extended

Ubuntu now installs applications from snaps

The big change with the applications in Ubuntu 20.04 is the software application itself. Aside from a few packages, this graphics application now installs software Snap Store. You can still use apt-get or apt to install regular versions from the command line.

Main window of the Ubuntu 20.04 hanging software application

The interface has been updated to allow you to select a channel from which to install the snap. You can choose from “Stable”, “Candidate”, “Beta” or “Edge”.

Ubuntu 20.04 snap store application with channel selection highlghited

RELATED: How to work with Snap packages on Linux

Here is the updated version of some of the big name apps included in this version:

Thunderbird: 68.6.0. Thunderbird should have the Lightning calendar extension provided, but in the latest beta version of Focal Fossa on which this article was studied, Lightning was absent.
LibreOffice: 6.4.2.2
Firefox: 75.0
Files: 3.36.1.1-stable
gcc: 9.3.0
OpenSSL: 1.1.1d

A brand new addition is an application to control GNOME desktop extensions. Previously, you had to do this through a browser window. The installation of the extensions will remain unchanged, carried out via the GNOME extensions website, but the management of installed extensions can now be done in a native application.

A global switch to disable extensions is a good idea. If an extension starts to behave badly and affects your productivity, you can deactivate all of them and continue working. You can troubleshoot later, less under pressure.

Main window of the Ubuntu 20.04 Extensions application

An upgraded Linux kernel (version 5.2.0-21)

Focal Fossa includes the Linux kernel 5.4.0-21. It’s the first kernel to come with the long awaited “lock function”Linux security module. It is disabled by default for fear that it will break existing systems. However, this is an exciting development to watch.

There are two locking modes. Confidentiality mode prevents user-to-ground processes from extracting confidential information from the kernel. The other mode, Integrity, allows the kernel to disable features that would allow user processes to modify the running kernel. These two modes even prevent processes launched by the root user or anyone with sudo privileges from modifying the kernel.

There are improvements in the way file system cryptographic keys are generated, stored and disposed of by fscrypt, the Encryption API and routines used in ext4 and some other file systems.

Support ARM processors, has been extended and now includes Snapdragon 835 System on chip (SoC), which is used in several notebook series by Asus, HP and Lenovo. Other processors now supported include Intel Ice Lake Thunderbolt and AMD Dali and 2020 Accelerated processing units (COULD.)

The list of hardware devices joining the list of items that should “work properly” includes:

Support for WireGuard a virtual private network (VPN) was added, with the WireGuard protocol added to the kernel. On the late beta version of Focal Fossa that we used to search for this article, wireguard binaries were not preinstalled, although they are available for installation. If they are not supplied with the final version, installation is simple.

sudo apt-get install wireguard
sudo apt-get install wireguard-tools

Ubuntu 20.04 is an excellent version

It is a polished, elegant and fast version of Canonical.

The animations seem more fluid and we found no trace of “lagginess” anywhere. The theme of the modified Yaru desk is beautiful and polite. And, with the addition of the new fractional scaling feature, it should be fantastic regardless of the type of display configured.

The switch to Snaps for software installation can be controversial, but as always, you have a choice. If you have a problem with Snaps, just use the command line tools to manage the software. At least the Amazon app is crazy.

Should you upgrade? The most careful 18.04 LTS “Bionic Beaver” users will wait a while until the anomalies are identified, characterized and corrected in the patches. 18.04 LTS will receive maintenance updates until 2023, so there is no rush for anyone already using an LTS version. Once this version is installed, nothing should prevent users of version 18.04 from accessing it.

Casual home users can get started and get faster boot times, modern software, better viewing experience, and hardware, security, and maintenance fixes for the next 5 years, or until they jump on an intermediate version.

We will not be surprised if many people adopt the feline beast and keep it until 2025.

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