Although Windows and macOS are the most popular desktop operating systems, they are not your only options. Ubuntu, (pronounced “oo-boon-too”), is an excellent alternative: It features a sophisticated UX and solid performance. Plus, the operating system is free to download, highly portable, and simpler than ever to get up and running. The latest version, 20.04 (Focal Fossa) doesn’t bring too many earth-shattering changes from the last release, but the move to newer versions of Linux kernel and GNOME desktop environment, combined with improvements to the interface, are welcome updates. You’ll still face the challenges inherent with Linux systems, however, including a steeper learning curve, limited third-party application support, and a dearth of first-party hardware. Although we recommend that most people stick with Windows 10 or macOS, Ubuntu is a good fit for those looking for a change of pace.
Ubuntu Basics and What’s New
You may be unfamiliar with Ubuntu, so here’s a quick rundown of what you need to know before reading further:
Ubuntu is a GNU/Linux distribution (often shortened to distro) managed by a UK-based software company called Canonical. Ubuntu itself is based on Debian (another GNU/Linux distro), which means that it “builds on the Debian architecture and infrastructure and collaborates widely with Debian developers,” per Ubuntu’s website.
Apart from the desktop version discussed in this review, Canonical also releases versions of Ubuntu for cloud, server, and IoT platforms. Ubuntu Touch, an open-source mobile OS project, is no longer managed by Ubuntu; the UBports community took over its development.
The latest release of Ubuntu is 20.04 LTS (Focal Fossa). Version numbers are always stylized as YY.MM and LTS stands for long-term support, which guarantees five years of free security and maintenance updates. Focal Fossa is the latest bi-annual (every two years) LTS release. The previous LTS release was 18.04 (Bionic Beaver).
So, what’s new in Ubuntu Focal Fossa? Ubuntu 20.04 uses a newer version of the Linux kernel (5.4) and the latest version of GNOME (3.36). It also brings a new Dark Theme, redesigned apps and visual elements, a new game mode, and improved startup performance. Though none of this may sound particularly groundbreaking, the combination of all these changes improves the OS experience considerably.
Can My PC Run Focal Fossa?
Ubuntu requires a 2GHz dual-core processor or better, 4GB of system memory (RAM), 25GB of free hard drive space, either a DVD drive or a USB port for the installer media, and internet access (in most cases). This is slightly changed from the 18.04 release, which only required 2GB of RAM. There are lighter versions of the OS (called flavors) you can try, which I discuss a bit later. In any case, these requirements are not unreasonable, and Ubuntu should run fine on even low-end machines.
When you download Ubuntu, you can add a donation, but payment is optional. You absolutely should contribute to Ubuntu if you plan to use the OS regularly. You should also sign up for an Ubuntu One online account at this time, as you will use this to access all services and sites related to Ubuntu. The Livepatch security feature I detail later requires you to sign up for an Ubuntu One account, too.
In most cases, the OS you use is tied to the hardware you pick. To get macOS, for instance, you need to buy an Apple computer. Only a few devices come with Ubuntu preinstalled compared with other mainstream OSes. One of the best options is the Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition (we reviewed the Windows version), but that still comes preloaded with the 18.04 version. Dell also sells other workstations and towers with Ubuntu preinstalled. Linux-focused manufacturer System 76 sells models with the latest version of Ubuntu preinstalled, while Think Penguin lists hardware that supports the 20.04 update. You can also just update Ubuntu to the latest version on most computer hardware. Check out Ubuntu’s full list of certified hardware for other options, including from Lenovo, HP, and Acer. There’s nothing to prevent you from installing the latest version of Ubuntu on hardware not listed there, such as the Pinebook Pro, but you might run into unexpected driver problems.
There’s certainly a benefit to having software and hardware drivers working seamlessly right out of the box. Apple’s iMac and MacBook devices, Microsoft’s Surface lineup, and Google’s Pixelbook all benefit from this close integration. Although I didn’t experience any major issues when using 20.04 on my test device, you should be prepared to troubleshoot and tinker with your system at some point in the process. For example, peripherals might not work, your hardware may not be detected correctly, or some files may not play by default. There are likely solutions for every problem you encounter, but the frustrating part is finding that solution.
Other installation options include dual-booting, running the OS on a virtual machine (VM), such as via Oracle’s VirtualBox software, or creating a bootable USB. I recommend that last method for people who want to try out the OS without installing it, since it doesn’t leave a footprint on your system. For example, this method doesn’t install the GRand Unified Bootloader (GRUB) permanently on your system. Plus, Ubuntu provides an excellent step-by-step guide on how to create a bootable USB with the OS.
Canonical also provides several more ways for developers to use Ubuntu’s command-line interface. One is Multipass, a prepackaged VM you can download for Windows, macOS, and Linux (as a Snap Package—a bundled application type which I discuss later). The other two options are specific to Windows 10 devices. You can install Ubuntu 20.04 from the Microsoft Store or enable the Windows Subsystem for Linux. All of these options give the developer crowd an easily accessible Ubuntu environment without the need to permanently commit system resources, which is impressive.
Whatever method you choose, you can sign in with a local account; there’s no need to hand over your data to a gigantic corporation. Chrome OS requires you to sign in with a Google account and Windows is making it increasingly difficult to set the OS up with a local account.
Booting Up Ubuntu
I tested Ubuntu 20.04 using a live USB drive on my Dell 5675 desktop running Windows 10. My system has an AMD Ryzen 7 1700X CPU, Radeon 580 GPU, and 32GB of RAM. To launch Ubuntu from the USB, I entered the boot menu by tapping the F12 key (the specific function key may vary based on the PC manufacturer) during a restart and selected the USB with the Ubuntu image. Then, when the GNU GRUB showed up, I highlighted and selected Ubuntu. After my system ran through a disk check of the drive (yes, the boot-up screen now shows the OEM logo), I chose the Try Ubuntu option. I arrived at Ubuntu’s 20.04 desktop shortly thereafter. Although this is a more involved process for turning on your computer than most people are used to, the steps are easy to follow. If you choose to install Ubuntu fully, starting up the system requires fewer steps, too.
I am impressed that almost everything simply worked as expected without any additional configuration. My Ethernet connection was active, my USB keyboard (and its media-function keys for volume control) worked fine, the system detected the correct resolution of my monitor, and my wired headphones played audio without a hitch. I even paired two different pairs of Bluetooth headphones with my PC without too much of a hassle. The last time I tested Ubuntu on the same system, I had to unplug and plug in my headphones again to get them working.
Not everything was perfect, however: The system detected that I was running a Radeon 480 GPU, which is incorrect, since I have a Radeon 580 graphics card. (That said, the 580 is a 480 with a higher clock speed, so maybe this isn’t so far off). My wireless Logitech MX Anywhere 2 mouse paired fine, though Logitech’s customization software is not available for the platform, so I couldn’t take advantage of its full functionality. I also noticed that Ubuntu seemed to lag and stutter when I tried using this mouse, which is odd. When I switched to a wired USB mouse, this issue disappeared.
Ubuntu Desktop and Flavors
Ubuntu’s Focal Fossa update looks and feels superb, seamlessly melding elements of Windows and macOS. The iconography of system and application icons is consistent. Elements are clear and intuitive to navigate. Subtle animations and depth effects complete the package and create a cohesive desktop environment. Microsoft’s Fluent Design System may be more polished, but it’s less consistently implemented throughout the Windows 10 interface. MacOS Catalina’s design still wins out on pure elegance, but Ubuntu is closer than ever to parity.
I did experience some UI glitches (which I mention in the next section), but no major OS-breaking bugs. Anecdotally, 20.04 feels significantly more stable than the 18.04 release. Two actions I previously had an issue with (launching applications from the app tray and resizing windows), now are lag-free.
Users of any other desktop OS should find themselves right at home with Ubuntu, especially those coming from macOS, since Ubuntu employs a similar OS organization ideology. For example, Ubuntu uses an OS-level menu rather than in-app menus. The dock is also more immediately reminiscent of macOS’s dock than the Windows taskbar (except for the fact that it is vertical and on the left). The Windows Start Menu remains unique in its design. Other elements, such as the app launcher, remind me a lot of Chrome OS’s equivalent features.
One of the most notable new features of Ubuntu 20.04 is the system-wide dark modes; both it and the light mode look cohesive and benefit from stylish orange accents. Both macOS and Windows have dark modes too, so this is a welcome addition. However, you won’t find an equivalent to macOS’s ability to switch to a light or dark mode based on the time of day or its Dynamic Desktop feature that automatically changes your background to match the system settings.
The default Ubuntu desktop is just one of many available. You can download several Ubuntu Flavors, such as Kubuntu and Ubuntu Budgie to change up the look and use other OS elements (such as different desktop environments or windowing systems). Kubuntu, for example, uses the K Desktop Environment (KDE), an alternative to GNOME, and features a Start Menu of sorts. Other flavors are specialized for particular users (Ubuntu Kylin is specifically tuned for Chinese users and Edubuntu is aimed at the education market), but most work fine as a home or work desktop environment. Lubuntu and Xubuntu are particularly lightweight versions, and thus good options for aging systems. Each flavor is effectively a separate instance of Ubuntu, you must download and install a separate .iso to use them.
A Desktop for Everyone
Ubuntu’s desktop has a clean, straightforward layout out of the box. Most people should be immediately comfortable using it, which is no small accomplishment on the part of Ubuntu. Familiarity goes a long way towards accelerating adoption, though, admittedly, Ubuntu’s adoption rate for consumers lags behind that of Windows and macOS by significant margins. Go ahead and download GNU’s Tweaks app to get all the possible customization options.
By default, Ubuntu places the dock on the left-hand side of the screen, but you can change its position (bottom, left, or right) and the size of the icons to whatever you prefer. You can also auto-hide the dock to clear up some space. Single-clicking on an app launches it, brings up the open window, or displays a preview of any open windows. A series of orange dots to the right of the application icon indicates the number of open windows (up to four), for quick reference.
Right-clicking on an application’s dock icon opens a contextual menu. You can launch a new window of the app, quit any running instances, or remove it from the dock. When you right-click on some applications, you get application-specific choices; Steam, for example, offers options for launching to specific sections of the application such as your library or the Store, while LibreOffice Writer enables you to create a new document. Ubuntu’s dock experience mostly matches the functionality of the Windows taskbar, and in some ways, is superior to the macOS taskbar, which doesn’t always show a window when you click an application or have any kind of jumplist functionality.
On the right-hand side of the interface is the Show Applications icon (the grid icon at the end of the dock). This menu lists all the applications installed on the system alphabetically. At the bottom of the screen, you can choose to show your most frequently used applications, which is a helpful touch. You also get a system-wide search bar at the top of the screen. This screen supports folders, too; just click and drag one application icon on top of another to create a folder. I did experience some glitches with this menu. Sometimes it would not let me scroll to the bottom of a folder and other times the icons got misaligned and overlapped each other.
The last interface element on the left is the Activities panel (in the top corner). Click on it and you get an overview of all your active windows, the same system-wide search bar as in the Show Applications area, and access to the virtual desktop switcher on the far right. The Activities panel does not go as far as Windows 10’s Task View with Timeline feature, but it’s an effective way to manage open apps and virtual desktops. I wish that Ubuntu would move the system-wide search out to the top menu bar to make it more easily accessible and not duplicate it in the interface.
Speaking of active windows, Ubuntu 20.04 supports helpful windowing conventions. Drag a window to the side and it will resize to half the width of the screen, just as you can in Windows. Drag it to the top and it fills the screen. Pull it back down to change it back to its windowed size. Click an edge of a window to resize it. You can also control window sizes by pressing (on a Windows keyboard) the Windows button + the left, right, up, or down arrow keys. These windowing options are superior to what macOS users get, but a little behind what Windows offers. The ability to quickly resize a window to half-width and half-height by dragging it into the corner, for example, is missing. Ubuntu also lacks equivalents to Windows’ peek (move your cursor to the end of the taskbar to preview active Windows) and shake (shake the active window back and forth to clear the desktop behind it) features.
In the middle section of the top menu bar, Ubuntu shows the date and time; click this to see a miniature calendar, a list of notifications, and media playback controls. You can toggle Ubuntu’s Do Not Disturb mode from here, which is a new feature. The upper-right-hand side of the bar is split into two areas: one includes the equivalent of notification tray icons and the other offers quick access to system, network, sound, and power settings.
Once you launch an application, the settings for it appear in the top menu, to the right of the Activities panel. As mentioned, this implementation is more like macOS (a top, OS-level menu bar controls program actions and settings), than Windows (programs each typically have their own menus).
The rest of the interface space is your desktop. You do have fewer options for organizing items on your desktop compared with Windows or macOS, however. For instance, you can’t sort items by date, type, or size, nor is there an equivalent to macOS’s Stacks feature, which combines files of the same type into a quickly browsable list.
The last major part of the desktop experience is the Files app. Much like the rest of the desktop experience, the Files app has a clean, minimal design and looks more cohesive than Microsoft’s File Explorer. On the right-hand panel, you see all your user folders, along with a Recent option, which is roughly equivalent to File Explorer’s Quick Access section. Files matches macOS’s Finder with the ability to open multiple tabs within the same window, something Windows 10 doesn’t offer. However, both File Explorer and Finder offer more-intuitive viewing and organization options for files. Ubuntu doesn’t have an equivalent of Finder’s space bar shortcut for previewing files. With Ubuntu, your options are limited to a grid and list views, with the size of icons and whether a preview appears dependent on the zoom level you select. You can add columns of information manually and sort by those parameters, though. Ubuntu 20.04 adds a new version of the ZFS file system via Ubuntu’s zsys integration tool and now supports exFAT storage (this was added to the Linux kernel).
Dragging and dropping files works fine within Files, but oddly I could not drag a file from within the Files app onto the desktop or vice versa. This has to do with how GNOME treats the desktop, which is to say you shouldn’t use it as a catch-all for all your documents and stray icons. However, you can drag and drop files into the Desktop folder within the Files app to have them appear on the desktop. You can also copy or cut and paste the same file manually. One quick note about naming conventions: file and folder names are case sensitive. Windows and macOS behave the same way.
Ubuntu’s Settings remain straightforward and have not changed since the time of the last review. I still appreciate that all preferences are in the same place. That said, I still think the Settings app could benefit from better top-level organization categories, something the equivalent apps on Windows (even though it maintains the old Control Panel, for who knows what reason) and macOS do very well.
Settings include visual customizations (such as changing the wallpaper), usability features (such as Search and Notifications sections), and hardware-related categories (including Sound, Power, and Network).
There’s also a section for online accounts, where you can sign in to your Ubuntu One, Google, Microsoft account, among others. I tried with both a Google and Microsoft account. I logged into my Google account here and gave Ubuntu permissions to access my calendar, contacts, files, and email. I had fewer syncing options with my outlook account, just mail and documents. Thunderbird, the included mail app with Ubuntu 20.04 does not integrate with these online accounts, but the Calendar app pulled events from my Google calendar. Ubuntu even mounted my Google Drive within the files app. GNU’s Evolution client syncs mail, contacts, calendars from available accounts.
Some sections of Settings, such as Devices, break down into more detailed subsections. Displays, for example, lets you turn on a blue-light-limiting feature for nighttime computing and enable fractional scaling for HiDPI screens; the Keyboard section features a handy list of programmable keyboard shortcuts.
Ubuntu Updates and Security
Keeping your system up to date is vital; on Ubuntu, this is handled via the Software and Updates application.
Here you’ll find system updates, driver downloads, the option to download prerelease updates, as well as Livepatch. Canonical’s Livepatch service (which requires you to create an Ubuntu One account) is where you go to enable automatic security updates. Ideally, this would be enabled by default and wouldn’t require you to sign in with an account. To be fair Ubuntu does prompt you to set this up during a full installation. Check out Canonical’s Ubuntu Security Notices page, which details all of the known Ubuntu vulnerabilities and their fixes.
Yes, Ubuntu users need to be diligent about installing the latest patches, even though Linux systems represent a smaller user base than Windows or macOS. The fact that users are fragmented across many distros, many of which are open-source (and thus can be audited by their respective communities), is also an advantage. However, obscurity is not a sufficient protection against security threats; those who think they can do without antivirus sometimes learn this lesson the hard way. Dedicated antivirus utilities aren’t common for the platform, but I discuss some security software options in a later section. At the very least, you should ensure that the Livepatch feature is up and running.
Accessibility, Touch, and Voice
You can find Ubuntu’s accessibility features in Settings > Universal Access. Settings categories include Seeing (high contrast, large text, screen reader), Hearing (visual alerts), Typing (screen keyboard, repeat keys), and Pointing & Clicking (mouse keys, click assist). If you want, you can even permanently pin the Universal Access tab to the system-level menu bar for easier access. There aren’t any new accessibility features since our review of the 18.04 release. Ubuntu does not offer quite as many options as Windows’ Ease of Access panel, though it covers the basics. MacOS has extensive accessibility features, too.
I tried running Ubuntu on my first-generation Surface Book and found that Ubuntu did not support the touch screen at all. When testing version 18.04, I had better luck (particularly using the Wayland windowing system), so you may be able to get it working with a bit of troubleshooting. For example, you could try using a different flavor with a different windowing system and desktop environment.
Windows 10 continues to lead the way in terms of touch compatibility. Microsoft has been at the forefront of touch-focused computing with its Surface lineup of devices, which have spawned a ton of other convertible, 2-in-1, and all-in-one systems. Google follows closely in Microsoft’s footsteps in terms of embracing touch, especially with its touch-friendly Pixelbook devices and now that Chrome OS supports Android apps. Apple desktop users are still stuck with the Touch Bar, though iPad OS has gained some desktop-like features in the meantime.
Ubuntu does not ship with any sort of voice assistant, a mainstay feature on modern operating systems. Windows has Cortana, macOS has Siri, and Chrome OS has the Google Assistant. These services allow you to search for information, launch apps, play media, and dictate text and reminders. I hardly ever use voice assistants (in no small part because of privacy concerns), but this omission could be problematic for someone who relies on a voice assistant for accessibility purposes or who otherwise finds them convenient for navigation.
Managing Applications in Ubuntu
One of the hurdles to using Ubuntu for users coming from other systems is that installing and uninstalling applications isn’t as simple or intuitive. To start, there are several ways to install and uninstall applications: via the Ubuntu Software application, via downloaded .deb packages, and via the Terminal.
Using the Ubuntu Software application is by far the simplest method. This app is equivalent to the Microsoft Store and macOS App Store in theory, but has fewer high-profile apps (I discuss the lackluster third-party application support in the next section). You can download apps here from many categories, including Art and Design; Development; Entertainment; Photo and Video; Productivity; Social; Security; and Utilities. Apps are mostly self-contained Snaps (not related to the social media platform), a package management system developed by Canonical. However, other developers contribute apps directly. Snaps are bundled software packages that work across multiple distros. The Ubuntu Multipass VM I mentioned earlier is a Snap package. The selection of apps is limited here, but you will find some recognizable ones. Occasionally, I ran into an issue where the app categories didn’t populate immediately or apps wouldn’t install, but it worked fine most of the time.
You can also download .deb packages online for applications you can’t find in the Ubuntu Software app. The software’s download page should detect your system correctly. You need to download and save these files. After that, you double-click the file and hit the install button when the Ubuntu Software application launches. If this does not work (as in one of my attempts), you need to right-click on the .deb package and Choose Open With Other Application > Software Install.
The last option is to use the Terminal to download and install a software package. To download and install an application, for example, you would enter the following lines of code (once you find the package name):
sudo apt install [package name]
Alternatively, you can install programs using gdebi, which downloads and installs any dependencies the package requires alongside the original package.
If you want to get rid of an application you installed from the Ubuntu Software application or the web, open Ubuntu Software and choose the Installed tab in the center of the page. Then, scroll down to the app you want to uninstall and hit the remove button. If you downloaded the package from the internet directly, it will likely appear in the Add-Ons section at the end.
Alternatively, you can use Terminal to uninstall applications. Just fill in the command below:
sudo apt-get –purge remove [package name]
Ubuntu’s Bundled Software and Alternatives
Support for high-profile third-party applications is a persistent problem for most GNU/Linux systems, including Ubuntu. The situation hasn’t improved much since the time of our last review, either. However, most people will find suitable alternative software that fits their needs.
Which applications are preinstalled depends on whether you choose a normal or minimal installation during setup. Booting from a live USB includes all of the apps from a normal installation. Ubuntu 20.04 comes with Firefox (web browsing), Thunderbird (email), Calendar, LibreOffice (document editing), Rhythm Box (music playback), Shotwell (photo editing), Videos (video playback), plus several Utilities (Calculator, Screenshot, Terminal) and casual games (Mahjongg, Mines, Solitaire, and Sudoku).
A web browser is probably what most people use more than any other application, since most computing needs can be accomplished via the web. Ubuntu bundles the latest version of Firefox, which is my preferred browser choice. Firefox is at least as competent (if not more so) as Microsoft’s Edge or Apple’s Safari browser in terms of performance, features, web compatibility, and privacy. You aren’t limited to Firefox either; you can install Chrome, Opera, Vivaldi, and the Tor browser. Microsoft even demoed Edge running on Linux at this year’s Build conference. Of course, once you download a browser, you can install any extensions that work with that browser, such as ad-blockers, VPNs, password managers, and whatever other ones you typically use in a browser.
Thunderbird and the Calendar app work fine, but as noted earlier, only Calendar pulls information from online accounts you link in the Settings app. Neither is as sophisticated as the Windows or macOS equivalents, but some people may just end up using Google or Microsoft web versions of these apps instead. Productivity aficionados should be glad to see an integrated To-Do list app. As for other productivity apps, you can get Slack, though its Ubuntu version is still in beta and a little light on features. ZenKit, a project management app; Tusk, an Evernote desktop client; and Twist, a business messaging app are other options.
Notably, Microsoft Office is not available natively for Linux, but the bundled Libre Office Suite includes functional alternatives to Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, with its Writer, Spreadsheets, and Presentations apps. The apps are not as sleek or full-functioned as the Office ones, but they include the majority of the same features and save files in formats that can be opened in the other apps. Again, if you prefer to work in the cloud, you could always use Microsoft’s or Google’s suite of document creation apps online. Coders can download Atom or Sublime Text, if the built-in text-editor isn’t sufficient. Visual Studio and Android Studio are also available.
Music lovers can use the built-in Rhythmbox player to play back local files. Music streaming fans are covered; Spotify is available as a download from the Ubuntu Software app. You don’t need to look any further than VLC for video playback.
Adobe Creative Cloud apps are notably unavailable on Linux. That said, there are many free and open-source alternatives for design and creation. For graphics editing, you can use Gravit Designer, GIMP (or Glimpse), Inkscape, Vectr, and Krita. Photographers can turn to darktable, RawTherapee, or Shotwell, for image editing. ShotCut is a good option for editing video. Animators, modelers, and game developers can most likely find a home with Blender and Unity, but AutoCAD users are out of luck. Again, some of these alternatives are not quite as polished or feature-rich as the ones they emulate, but they are still highly usable.
You can also install several Linux VPNs and antivirus solutions on Ubuntu. Mullvad, NordVpn, Private Internet Access, ProtonVPN, and TorGuard all offer clients. You can also manually configure a VPN in Ubuntu’s settings. Ubuntu also now supports the WireGuard VPN protocol (this was rolled into the Linux kernel recently). For antivirus, you can use Sophos or ClamAV, but many of the major players don’t offer antivirus utilities for the platform. Many password managers also offer Linux versions, including Bitwarden (in the Ubuntu Software application) and Enpass. You can alternatively install your password manager’s extension in the browser you’re using on Ubuntu.
Ubuntu does not work out of the box with non-free formats, such as DVD, MP3, QuickTime, and Windows Media Video, but you can optionally install these packages during setup or after the fact from Ubuntu’s Restricted Formats page. There you can find detailed information about support for other audio, video, and web formats.
After installing support for these formats, I transferred a variety of different file types to my Ubuntu desktop to test compatibility. MP3s and FLACs loaded into Rhythmbox without issue. I was able to open both JPEG and .NEF (Nikon’s raw format) in Shotwell. As for office documents, I opened .doc and .xlsx files in Libre Office without issue. You can develop your graphics projects with the SVG file standard, which Adobe Creative Cloud apps support, though you’ll be unable to work with PSD, EPS, or IND files natively.
If you want to stick with free formats, consider using the OGG containers developed by Xiph.org, including Ogg Vorbis (audio) and Ogg Theora (video). For alternatives to Office’s .docx, .xlsx, and .pptx files, try the OpenDocument alternatives. I don’t recommend you necessarily convert all your files to open formats, since it could make transferring back to other systems a hassle. That said on Windows, you can install the Web Media Extensions app via the Microsoft Store to play open-source files such as content in OGG containers.
Can You Game on Ubuntu?
You can absolutely play games on Ubuntu. The availability of titles for Linux systems (natively) is about the same as for macOS, but this still lags what Windows systems offer. One new feature of 20.04 is the addition of Feral Interactive’s GameMode, which is “a Linux daemon that enables games to request things like more CPU Power, I/O priority, and other optimizations.” This is similar to Windows 10’s Game Mode.
Gamers should start by downloading Steam, since other popular game distribution platforms such as Blizzard’s Battle.net, EA’s Origin, the Epic Game Store, and GOG’s Galaxy 2 do not currently run on GNU/Linux distros natively. Note that Steam has said it will no longer officially support Ubuntu going forward, due to Ubuntu’s decision to freeze its 32-bit libraries. Will that affect your games specifically? Maybe. Are there workarounds? Also maybe. In any case, I had no issues with the application when testing Steam with Ubuntu 20.04.
Steam’s library of native Linux titles includes AAA entries such as Borderlands 2, Black Mesa, Bioshock Infinite, Deux Ex: Mankind Divided, GRID Autosport, Sid Meier’s Civilization VI, XCOM: 2; as well as indie hits such as Dead Cells, Firewatch, Kerbal Space Program, Night in the Woods, Stardew Valley, Tabletop Simulator, and Terraria. Rocket League’s multiplayer features are no longer supported on Linux platforms, so fans of that game should look at other operating systems.
Many of Valve’s first-party games, such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2, Half-Life: 2, Portal 2, and Team Fortress 2 are available for Linux systems. I installed and play through a couple Half-Life: 2 levels on my test setup without any issues. Valve even announced that it’s newest VR game, Half-Life: Alyx, would get a native Linux release.
If you want to play a game that’s not officially supported, you might have luck with the emulator software, Wine or Lutris, but neither is a perfect solution. Steam’s Proton tool, which enables you to run Windows games on Linux via Wine emulation, is a better choice. To enable Proton, you first need to opt into the latest beta version of Steam from your Account settings and then head to Settings > Steam Play > Advanced. Here, check both options under the Advanced header and make sure at least one version of Proton is selected from the Compatibility tool drop-down menu. At the time of my last review, I tried playing Mirror’s Edge and The Flame in the Flood using this tool, with only the first title working. This time around, both games worked.
The Ubuntu Software application has a Games section, but most entries are casual titles. The one standout is SuperTuxKart, the cross-platform answer to Nintendo’s popular Mario Kart series.
If gaming is important to you and you want to use Ubuntu, it’s best to just dual-boot it alongside Windows or buy a standalone console or handheld system, such as the Nintendo Switch. If you are dead-set on using Ubuntu and nothing else, you could always install Oracle’s VirtualBox, buy a Windows license and run Windows virtually.
Closing the Gaps
Ubuntu 20.04 (Focal Fossa) feels stable, cohesive, and familiar, which is not surprising given the changes since the 18.04 release, such as the move to to newer versions of the Linux Kernel and GNOME. As a result, the user interface looks excellent and feels smoother in operation than the previous LTS version. Ubuntu remains a lightweight, portable, OS for home users, students, and developers alike. Anyone looking to embrace the open-source lifestyle or who wants a break from the world of Microsoft, Apple, and Google should try it out.
Ubuntu does admittedly require more of a learning curve than Windows, macOS, or Chrome OS, but I wouldn’t describe Ubuntu as difficult to use. Although Ubuntu’s bundled apps are functional and work fine, one of Ubuntu’s biggest hurdles remains third-party application support and management. The lack of broad first-party device support is problematic, too. The random software and hardware compatibility issues that crop up may also annoy users. However, for a free OS, those are not show-stopping issues given the solid platform you get. Our Editors’ Choices for the category go to Windows 10 and macOS Catalina because they are more polished, support far more hardware and software options, and include more assistive features.