Ubuntu 21.04 is releasing this week on April 22. Some of you might already have upgraded to Ubuntu 21.04 beta to enjoy the latest and greatest (?) version of Ubuntu.

For the rest, who are curious about what’s new in Ubuntu 21.04, I have curated a list here.

What’s new in Ubuntu 21.04 ‘Hirsute Hippo’?

First of all, this is an interim release. Don’t expect groundbreaking changes here specially when you compare it to Ubuntu 20.10. There are subtle visual changes here and there, a bit of performance improvements, newer versions of popular software and libraries in the official repository along with the addition of a couple of new features.

1. Wayland becomes the default display server

After the failed experiment with Ubuntu 17.10, Canonical is once again going with Wayland as the default display server in Ubuntu 21.04.

Wayland has been available as an alternate option for past several releases. It is just becoming the default in this release.

What does it mean to you? Wayland has a tad bit better performance specially when it comes to multiple monitors and HiDPI screen handling.

However, you’ll find that several applications do not work very well or do not work at all in Wayland. This is painful for screen capture and recording applications.

The good thing is that switching back to Xorg from Wayland is a matter of a few clicks. You just have to figure out if you cannot function well without Xorg server.

2. Darker dark theme

Yaru dark theme in Ubuntu 21.04 has a bit darker shade than the one in Ubuntu 20.10. This actually gives a nice look to the operating system, in my opinion.

You can move the slider to see the visual difference between the dark shade of the two versions.

3. Dark shell theme by default

Ubuntu 20.10 the standard Yaru theme by default and you had to opt for the dark mode. That remains as it is in 21.04 as well except the shell theme has been switched to Yaru Dark by default.

This means that even though your system will have the light theme by default, the notifications, message tray and the system tray will use dark theme.

4. Power mode option for laptops

This is a minor change in the power settings. If you are using a laptop, you can now choose a power mode from the settings.

You have the following options available:

  • Performance: Takes a lot of batter power but gives high performance (keeps bluetooth active, screen brightness high and more)
  • Balanced power: Standard performance with decent batter usage
  • Power saver: The focus is on saving battery power

5. A hybrid mix of GNOME 3.38 and some GNOME 40 applications

The much anticipated GNOME 40 with the unorthodox horizontal layout is not available in Ubuntu 21.04. Ubuntu team was not ready for the GTK 4 and the layout change. They are working to bring it to Ubuntu 21.10 in October this year.

While some core components like Nautilus file manager remain at 3.38, some other GNOME apps like Epiphany browser, Disk Utility etc have the latest versions.

6. Private home directories

So far, the home directories had the permission of 755. Fresh installation of Ubuntu 21.04 will have this changed to 750 and thus making the home directories private.

7. Recovery key option for encrypted installs

While installing Ubuntu, if you opt for disk encryption, you will also have a recovery key generated directly in the installer.

Image Credit: OMG Ubuntu

8. Minor visual changes

By no means these are groundbreaking changes. It’s just something I noticed in Ubuntu 21.04 so far.

You’ll notice that the items on the right click context menu has been divided by more contrast colored lines. I believe this is for accessibility reasons.

I also noticed that the mounted drives are displayed in the top-right corner of the desktop. If I recall correctly, it used to be under the Home and Trash icons in the previous versions.

The default Yaru icons have been refreshed for a number of software. You can clearly notice it for the LibreOffice icons.

9. Under the hood changes

Some other changes you should be aware:

  • Support for Smart Card authentication via PAM
  • Drag and Drop interaction support with software in the desktop view
  • Pipewire support enabled to handle audio in sandboxed applications and screen recording
  • nftables replaces iptables

There are newer versions of software:

  • Linux kernel 5.11
  • Python 3.9
  • gEdit 3.38.1
  • LibreOffice 7.1.2
  • Firefox 87

By now you might have realized that there are not many changes in this new release of Ubuntu. There is support for newer hardware and improvements for HiDPI and fingerprint reader but that’s not for everyone. It includes the latest Linux kernel 5.11 if that’s any consolation.

If you are using Ubuntu 20.10, you should upgrade to Ubuntu 21.04 anyway because 20.10 reaches end of life in July.

What’s your overall feeling about Ubuntu 21.04? Were you expecting more new features? What are you missing the most here?