After Hours

10 things I would like to see in the upcoming Ubuntu 11.04 release

The release of Ubuntu 11.04 is still a ways off -- so this is a good time to put together a list of desired features and improvements. See whether you agree that the next release should include the items listed here.

It amazes me how quickly Canonical releases Ubuntu. Every six weeks, like clockwork, a new release is out in the wild. And every new release brings with it a host of improvements, squashes bugs, and introduces new features. But there are some features and improvements I have yet to see. So I thought I would take this opportunity to spell out a few things I'd like to see come along for Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal).

Some of these features are completely possible (given the timeframe), some are improbable (given the timeframe), and some are simply impossible. Regardless, this is my personal wish list for Ubuntu 11.04.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: GNOME 3

Although I have grown fond of my own personal Frankendesktop (a combination of GNOME with RGBA support, Cairo-Dock, and Compiz), I am excited about the upcoming 3.0 release of GNOME. I have already been using it and documenting it as if it were already out and in the public hands. It was supposed to ship with 10.04... Didn't happen. It was supposed to ship with 10.10... Didn't happen. Now it might ship with 11.04... Will it happen? I certainly hope so. GNOME 3 will redefine how users approach the desktop. AND it will be as solid as GNOME 2.30, even though it is a .0 release.

UPDATE: This is sad news, but it looks like Mark Shuttleworth has opted to drop GNOME as the default desktop in favor of the Ubuntu Unity desktop. This is a NETBOOK interface! Although I can see some similarities between Unity and GNOME 3, the similarities stop at reliability. GNOME Shell already works and works well. Unity? Not so much. Unity has a LONG way to go before it's ready for a full-fledged, compositing desktop that the masses will want to use. Mr. Shuttleworth -- please rethink this. And if you refuse to go back on your decision, at least make sure users will still be able to install their desktop of choice.

2: RGBA support

I want RGBA support out of the box. Although setting it up isn't a huge hassle, it's nothing the new-to-Linux user wants to tackle. Why do I constantly beat this drum? Simple. The average user expects the desktop to look modern. Since most users' frame of reference is Windows 7, they expect a similar experience to Aero. They want transparency and effects. The combination of Compiz and RGBA Ubuntu would blow the standard desktop out of the water. Of course, GNOME 3 will need to beef up the built-in compositor if it's going to compete with Compiz.

3: Esfera

I have written about this unique UI concept before on TechRepublic. If you read about this idea, you really can see where Canonical is taking Ubuntu (and why the switch from the upper right to the upper left for window controls). Although this most likely won't make it to 11.04, I am anxiously awaiting its arrival and would love to see it sneak in sooner rather than later.

4: Synaptic retained

I knew this one was coming, and as much as I like the Ubuntu Software Center, I hate to see Synaptic go. Yes, I understand you will be able to install Synaptic from within the USC, but the removal of this tool, in my opinion, eliminates a bit of the flexibility. What happens when/if an installation doesn't work? Will USC have the option to fix a broken package like Synaptic can? I doubt it. I can see the removal of Synaptic if USC will offer a feature for feature replacement, with a much improved UI.

5: Improve UbuntuOne syncing

I hate to say this. But as much as I am for UbuntuOne (and I do use it a lot), the syncing stinks. Contacts? Never sync. Music? Sometimes syncs. This needs to be an out-of-the-box experience for users. Having to disconnect, reconnect, restart, and then ultimately just download files manually from UbuntuOne.com isn't a viable solution. UbuntuOne has been out long enough to be able to resolve such fundamental issues.

6: Chrome as default browser

I worry about where Firefox is going. Firefox 4.0 is reaching a level of bloatware that renders it unfavorable when such lightning-fast tools like Chrome are available. And since speed is always of the essence, why not go ahead and make Chrome the default browser in Ubuntu 11.04? It makes sense. Until Firefox pulls back on the bloat, I will champion the switch to Chrome (or Chromium) as the default browser.

7: Improved open source video and networking drivers

The open source versions of many proprietary hardware drivers have been out for some time-- and are still lagging WAY behind in development. I am all in favor of open source, but if given the choice between using the open source or proprietary version for the same hardware, I will be going with the proprietary version. The reason for this is simple: The open source versions are not ready. I understand why. I get that it's a huge uphill climb. But I would rather those drivers not even be released until they can at least stand toe-to-toe with their proprietary brethren.

8: Option for installation of proprietary drivers during install

This is related to number 7, but indirectly so. I would like to see any machine (specifically laptops) that might require proprietary drivers (specifically for wireless) include the installation of those drivers during installation. That way, wireless will work out of the box without the end user having to know to click System > Administration > Hardware Drivers and then enable proprietary drivers. This would end a LOT of frustration for laptop users.

9: Better built-in help and support

This one is simple. It's not so much that the built-in help files are lacking, because they aren't bad (for new users). The problem is the location. To get to the Help files, a new user has to click System > Help And Support. Why not place an icon on the desktop that makes it much more obvious for new users? Those who don't need the help can simply delete the icon. But as it stands, the documentation isn't nearly as obvious as it needs to be.

10: Removal of OpenOffice; addition of LibreOffice

This is inevitable. OpenOffice will get the boot from Linux sooner or later. I would like it to happen sooner. Ubuntu 11.04 seems to be the perfect springboard for the new de facto standard open source office suite. Besides, Oracle needs to see that the open source community will not, in any way, stand behind its business practices.

Down the road

So... 11.04 is in the planning. It's far from release, which means the developers have time to take it all in and make the right choices. I would be thrilled to see even a few of the above features included in the upcoming release. Will that happen? Probably not. But eventually, I foresee all of them making it into the Ubuntu distribution.


About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

12 comments
BasBak
BasBak

Thanks Jack for the suggestions written above. As usual, we enjoy obtaining from you new shining ideas on Linux, in general, and Ubuntu, in particular.

jbb1
jbb1

New Note 11 I've been using Ubuntu for several years and five or six iterations. It's beginning to feel as if Canonical are adding features instead of focusing on reliability. A main reason I went to Ubuntu was to escape the bugs, uncertainties, and crashes in Windows; now I'm seeing something similar surfacing in Ubuntu. I would be satisfied if the next release simply focused on killing the bug list. In my case, the "loss of keyboard access" bug is high on the list; I have to reboot Ubuntu at least twice a day to regain the ability to key in text. I agree about Unity; it isn't ready for prime time. Another item is allowing software to install from something other than deb packages; installing something that's not pre-packaged as deb is a pain in the arse at present, and impossible for non-technical users. And Ubuntu is still behind the curve on drivers. I have a couple of printers, an exceptionally good scanner, and other hardware I *MUST* use with Windows because they just aren't supported in Ubuntu. This keeps my system GRUB-y when I would rather dispense with Windows completely. The author is also right about Ubuntu One. I've been in the computer biz for 30 years and can't make it work satisfactorily; if Ubuntu expects this to be a revenue generator it should be flawless and easy, not hit or miss, as it is now. And the pricing of storage is still irrationally high; check the Google models. As for the rest of the list I'm a user interface agnostic, more interested in reliability and usability than effects, I'll settle for Gnome 3.0 and love it. But, Canonical had better watch out -- it is moving Windows-ward as regards stability and feature-itis. Time to halt the drift.

tiggsy
tiggsy

I'd like to see a replacement for gedit that doesn't freeze up - perhaps jedit, though I can't assess this, as the version provided in synaptic doesn't work

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

If so how would the go about measuring that?

teguh.umar
teguh.umar

Hi there Jack, I think you should update your blog about ubuntu time release, it's not six weeks, but six months right?

IndianArt
IndianArt

Jack, I wish Canonical starts selling ARM based inexpensive machines that will help 'regular' folks escape the drudgery (effort) and the risk of installing, tinkering & tweaking with a device. Canonical can do so in its 'Canonical store' & if they can pack even 1/2 the value of their OS in this device, it should be a best seller.

lastchip
lastchip

I've never been a fan of Ubuntu, though I bow to the amount they have done to popularise Linux. More than any other distro and probably even more than the rest put together. However, the system in my view is much too buggy and part of the problem I believe, is the very issue that Jack and on another occasions, Jason Hiner have championed; namely, six monthly releases. It is my belief, the urge to meet target dates are resulting in low quality software that is rushed out far too soon. Please don't misunderstand me, I have a huge amount of respect for what Ubuntu have achieved, but they are not doing themselves or their users any favours, just cranking out software that is just about good enough. That's the sort of thinking I associate Microsoft with, and the very reason MS are now history as far as I'm concerned. I'll stick with Debian; yes, boring, solid and dependable. Just what I need to complete the task in hand.

moebius8
moebius8

I feel in love with Ubuntu back around 6.10 and have been using it as my primary personal OS eve since. I too have been noticing the huge feature creep in the subsequent releases has if anything been intensifying since 9.10 . I'm afraid if Unity doesnt rock me out of the box ill be switching over to either Mint or one of the other xUbuntu flavors.

cavehomme1
cavehomme1

Jack, some of your wishes such as Improved video and networking drivers are already include with Mint, which is based on Ubuntu but adds all the normal things that normal users want, even proprietary drivers to make things actually work out of the box, not fiddle around for hours or days.

jlwallen
jlwallen

I do believe that Cannonical fully intends on providing a full desktop experience to ARM-based machines.

Alan Henderson
Alan Henderson

Linux Mint 10 RC is as close to the perfect OS as I've found. I can even Internet tether my laptop and netbook with my iPhone using Bluetooth - Windows 7 can't manage that! I'm impressed. Windows is a fading nightmare for me. :)