The desktop is based on the brand new, and I mean brand new as in GNOME 2.32 desktop interface, which was released on September 29th. For once "leading edge" doesn't mean "bleeding edge". If there's anything wrong with GNOME 2.32 I didn't find it in working with Meerkat. I did notice that GNOME 2.32 comes with some minor improvements with the Empathy IM client, better PDF reading performance with the Evince document viewer and better integration between the Ubuntu One cloud-storage service to the Nautilus file manager.
I also noticed that Ubuntu 10.10 is booting up faster than ever. It still isn't quite as fast as the new Fedora 14 beta. Still, either one leaves Windows 7 in the dust, if you want a desktop that will spring to attention in a hurry when you first turn on your laptop.
Once it's up and purring along the Internet, which was no trouble at all since it immediately recognized and started using all my network hardware, I started to look at the applications. For bread and butter office work, Ubuntu is still using OpenOffice. To be exact, they're using OpenOffice 3.2.1. While Ubuntu's founder, Mark Shuttleworth, has said that Ubuntu will ship with LibreOffice, the new OpenOffice alternative, that won't happen until the next Ubuntu version, 11.04, shows up in April. By that time LibreOffice, which is still finding its way, should be offering a real alternative to OpenOffice.
It does, however, come with the new Ubuntu font set. I'm not crazy about these. If I had to choose a font set just for Linux, I'd pick Red Hat's Liberation Fonts myself. Still, it's nice to see Ubuntu, which has gained a reputation for paying attention to Linux's fit and polish working on fonts.
For Internet use, Ubuntu comes with Firefox 3.5.10. I've become more and more of a Chrome fan as time goes on for Web browsing, but Firefox 3.5.10 is decent. Besides, if you're like me and prefer Chrome, installing it on Ubuntu, or any other operating system for that matter, is a snap.