I bet you’re looking at that title with a “wtf” expression smeared across your face. Why am I talking about Ubuntu 10.04 when the 9.04 release (Jaunty Jackalope) is less than a month away and 9.10 (Karmic Koala) is still on the distant horizon?
I’ve picked 10.04 because there’s still time for us, as the Ubuntu community, to have some say on what happens to it. 9.04 is just about frozen (and the Alpha 6 review from Softpedia is excellent, btw) and the feature set for 9.10 has already been mostly laid out (see Mark’s comments here), but 10.04 is still an open slate.
And I think two significant things need to happen between 9.10 and 10.04 if Ubuntu wants to stay relevant.
1) No New Ubuntu-Specific Features in 10.04
I say Ubuntu-specific because it’s fine for Canonical to include any kernel updates, Gnome updates, etc – but I hope to see ZERO new Ubuntu-specific features in 10.4. Why? Because of reason #2:
2) Make Ubuntu 10.04 a Fix-Only Release
Here’s my point.
Ubuntu is an excellent distribution, possibly the best general-purpose distribution of them all. More than any other distro in recent memory, Ubuntu has the opportunity – and the financial backing – to carve out a real place for the Linux Desktop.
But there is one major, significant barrier standing in its path. No, I’m not talking about the brown interface (which should improve in 9.10, see link above) – I’m talking about the perception that Linux doesn’t “just work.”
Yes, us lxers we know that it’s remarkably close to “just working.” We know that if something doesn’t work there are a hundred different sites we can go to for help. We know that driver issues are rarely Ubuntu’s fault – they’re the fault of lazy hardware vendors.
But everyday users don’t know this, and they arguably don’t care. For them there are no excuses, only “it all works” or “it doesn’t work.”
And the sad fact of the matter is that it only takes one piece of hardware or one peripheral that DOESN’T work for the average user to throw Linux out the window.
But here’s the thing – it doesn’t have to be this way. The reason the Ubuntu forums are so useful is because there are known solutions to 95+% of hardware and peripheral problems. Sometimes these solutions are simple, sometimes they are not, but there are known ways to fix almost any hardware incompatibility in Ubuntu.
So why does Canonical ignore these known fixes? What keeps them from integrating every one of these solutions into Ubuntu itself?
I imagine there are many reasons, but ultimately it comes down to a lack of personnel and a lack of time. A 6-month release schedule is brutal, and since Canonical is constantly looking to pack a couple slam-bang features into each release, there just isn’t time to comb the forums in search of user-generated solutions.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
I’m typing this entry from my Ubuntu 8.10 desktop, and I can tell you this – 8.10 is a fine operating system. 9.04 looks even better, but if I had to stick with 8.10 for another year it would be fine by me.
8.10 does everything I need and more, and it’s light-years ahead of the current market leader (XP). Most traditional consumers will probably be using XP in April 2010, so it’s not like Canonical is disappointing anybody by NOT adding a host of new features. And, new features in the kernel, Gnome, and other components will still provide a bunch of new toys for existing users.
But imagine if in those 6 months between 9.10 and 10.04, Canonical could work a couple thousand user-generated fixes into Ubuntu itself. Imagine if they doubled the amount of modern hardware that works “out of the box.” Imagine if half of the Ubuntu forum entries became useless because all those random tweaks and fixes were suddenly built directly into Ubuntu.
Canonical and the Ubuntu user base have absolutely nothing to lose with a “featureless release” – but there is a tremendous amount to gain.
Netbook vendors will be thrilled by a release like this. Think Linux netbooks are a threat to MS now? Wait until a 10.04 like this happens. Imagine setting up a Linux and Win7 netbook side-by-side inside Best Buy, then inviting customers to bring over any peripheral – an iPod, a webcam, a USB device – and see which netbook plays it flawlessly. Imagine the additional leverage us lxers would have over those damn MS fanboys.
Makes me smile just thinking about it.
Obviously, 6 months isn’t enough to fix every problem (or maybe even a majority of problems). But it would go a long way toward making Ubuntu a viable desktop OS – much further than a couple new features or a shiny new wallpaper.
What do you think? Should we start a petition? As a dedicated Ubuntu user, I am very interested in having this proposal taken seriously.
Drop a comment or two. I’d love to hear what others have to say.