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Will 12.04 changes bring Ubuntu back to prominence?

Jack Wallen looks at the rumored changes and updates for Ubuntu 12.04 and offers his perspective on how they might help or hinder Ubuntu's rise to prominence in the Linux world.

As anyone who reads my column knows, I'm still up and down on the current state of Ubuntu. One minute Canonical has done something to wake me up and say, "Hey now! That's special." The next minute, Canonical is putting me back to sleep with the likes of Unity. And it's been  quite a bumpy ride that I've stuck out. And many ask, "Why are you sticking it out when there are plenty of other distributions to choose from?" To that I would answer -- loyalty. Even though I have been bouncing around between Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, and Bodhi Linux, I have made it a point to stick with distributions based on Ubuntu. I'm funny that way.

But how is this going to continue on? What is going to happen in the future? Will the bumpy hayride continue? Or will Ubuntu finally settle back down into a distribution everyone can know and trust, release after release? To examine this question, I wanted to visit the land of future Linux and pick apart the more important bits rumored to be coming with the next release of Ubuntu. That release is 12.04, Precise Pangolin. It's still five months out, but details are already starting to come in about what is in store for the next major release. Let's go through them.

64 Bit Default: This has been a long time coming, but the new default for Ubuntu is 64 Bit. What this means is simple: When you go to download an ISO of Ubuntu, the default will be for the 64 Bit architecture. That doesn't mean Canonical is jettisoning 32 Bit architecture. You can still download the 32 bit version; you just have to manually select it. No more CD: As of 12.04, the Ubuntu release will no longer fit on a CD. That's right, stock up on DVDs, cause that ISO image exceeds the size limit for standard CDs. So long Banshee: I'm not sure why Ubuntu keeps going back and forth on this one. Actually, I have my suspicions on this issue (see the next point) But from my perspective, this is a mistake. Choosing Rhythmbox over Banshee is a step backwards. Not only does the Rhythmbox interface seem like it's a half-decade out of step, I have always found Rhythmbox far less stable than Banshee. But why I really don't like this decision is because it makes Canonical seem uncertain. It was only two releases ago that Ubuntu moved from Rhythmbox to Banshee. Now they plan on taking a step backwards. I know many might say, "It's just a media player!" Well, in today's desktop world the media player has becoming quite the important piece in the puzzle. Having a strong player in this game is crucial. Banshee is the strongest media player in the world of Linux. Closer to mono-free: This has been a battle cry for so many users and developers for a long time. But now, Ubuntu will be ever closer to becoming a Mono-free distribution. But I do believe this is why Ubuntu is switching back to Rhythmbox. Banshee depends upon Mono. The only remaining Mono-dependent apps are: Tomboy Notes and Gbrainy. I'm sure as soon as replacements for those apps are found, they'll be implemented. Improvements to the Ubuntu Software Center: This has become one of my favorite tools for installing applications -- bar none. But when 12.04 hits, the plan is to get the start up time nearly instantaneous; some features from Synaptic will be rolled over into USC, including new help and refund interfaces, and much more. No exact details for which Synaptic features are on their way have been made available as of yet. Logon manager improvements: The LightDM logon screen will have a few improvements as well. User-configured splash screens, possible notification system integration, and the login box will begin to appear and behave more like a Unity Lens. The possibility of the user being able to log into their machines using their Ubuntu One or Facebook credentials is also under discussion. Unity Improvements: There is very little information available on what is changing/improving for Unity in 12.04. So far, what is known is: No longer will the user be able to re-enable the whole systray, but only allow whitelisting specific apps. There will be better Unity integration for numerous applications. Lenses will be able to be dragged onto the Launcher. Unity 2D will use the Unity window decoration buttons for maximized windows. There will also be numerous bug fixes and performance improvements.

Here's the overriding question though: Will 12.04 bring Ubuntu back to where it was pre-Unity? I can't venture a guess on that one, but with the improvements they've made so far, 12.04 should be one heck of a promising release. What do you think? Has Ubuntu dug itself a hole they can't climb out of? Or does the rumored features/improvements for 12.04 sound like Canonical and the Ubuntu developers are onto something that could bring Ubuntu back to user-friendly prominence?

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.

39 comments
Dave.A.Townsend
Dave.A.Townsend

I originally moved to Ubuntu from windows mainly because the boot ups were faster, open source great programs and everything worked like it should -no crashes, screen freezes or blue screens of death. Now I have a slug for a machine, many of the programs load slower than the construction of the pyramids, don't work well plus I am getting the occasional freeze ups ,crashes and a black screens of death. My Ubuntu has morphed into a windows clone, should have called this release Winbuntu Vista! I will be moving to Mint or another Distro that works, thank you.

rob.pilgrim
rob.pilgrim

You are correct in your comment about the importance of a media player - it is the last sticking point for my adopting any Linux distro on my main machine. There is nothing in the Linux stable that even comes close to equalling MediaMonkey. But this has always been the problem with Linux - the OS & UI is good and getting better (or at least more stable if you don't like Unity or Gn3), but the programs that one can install are not developing as rapidly. I am willing to accept that in most cases, but not when it comes to the program that handles over a quarter of the files on my PC. ---- Oh, and whenever I point this out I always get a bunch of people saying - "You haven't tried so and so then". Don't bother, believe me when I say that I have tried them all; and MM in WINE - none of them cut it when it comes to library management; stability and shear ease of use.

lehnerus2000
lehnerus2000

My Ubuntu 11.10 didn't come with Gnome. Linux User: "Windows is crap because it doesn't have virtual desktops." Win User: "You can install a program to do that." Linux User: "It should have a useful interface by default." Me: "Unity is awful." Linux User: "You can install another desktop manger." Me: "It should have a useful interface by default." The problem is the OS makers forcing you to "drink their Kool-Aid". Linux is supposed to be about user choice. Forcing you to accept their settings and then deleting stuff is the MS way. ;) The problem with Metro and Unity is you are forced to install them and then get rid of them later. [b]Why isn't the user allowed to choose during the install process?[/b] I've used: Windows 98, XP, Vista and 7 CentOS6, Fedora 14 & 15, Mint 11 and Ubuntu 8, 9, 10 & 11. Fedora has the best installer by an unbelievable margin. You can accept the defaults, or you can fine tune as much as you like.

bni1369
bni1369

I agree completely...i.e sudo this, sudo that. It should actually be PIA this, PIA that. I always login as Administrator to do updates, add/remove, tweaks, etc., and browse as a Standard User. As to Unity..all I can say is 'no big deal'. I have a degree of visual impairment and I jumped for joy when I saw the 'launch bar' on the side of the screen. It makes my life a lot easier when I'm using the PC. NO, it's NOT out of 'love for Windows'. It really helps, at least in my case. My only complaint : stop all the complaining. If you don't like Unity, login with the classic Ubuntu desktop or go back to your old distro. All the complaints about Unity I've read in these posts seem to center on the launchbar and not much else. STOP WHINIING. Get over it. By the way, I hope Canonical keep the launchbar, if not as the default at least as an option.

jackcholt
jackcholt

Mr. Wallen; have you looked at Linux Mint? It's Ubuntu-based, has a nice look-and-feel and is very nice to use. It's Update Manager does a great job of flagging the importance of an update and you can actually install new software from the Mint Menu by searching for it. The current version is based on Ubuntu 11.04 however, because they're trying to "patch" the holes in Gnome 3 before they release a new version. And no Unity! I prefer Gnome-Do for launching by search anyway.

Regulus
Regulus

I have Ubuntu or Lubuntu loaded as a dual-boot in a separate partition on all of my XP and Sandbox units. My Netbook Acer / AspireOne runs LUbuntu and Win 8 Developers version. One issue is that you occasionally get a screen menu where the 'OK', or 'Cancel' button is under the bottom of the screen and you can't get it any higher. Definitely need more flexible screen resolution options. This also applies to (all) Ubuntu versions. As (L)Ubuntu is very ideal for a netbook, we could really use some help here. Another irritating issue is the control over the Launch Icons on the side of the screen. Which are displayed and where? Not happy with this.

melbert09
melbert09

I just recently purchased a corporate refurbished thinkpad laptop for myself. It came with Vista business and I really didnt want that, so I decided to give Ubuntu a shot cause I have heard good things about it. Loaded up easy enough and after playing with it for a few days, I like it. I am normally a Windows user and actually prefer XP, but my experience as a user has been very good. It does everything I need it to do and fast, web browsing, Office docs, Twitter, E-mail, all without having to go to the Terminal.

JohnBoyNC
JohnBoyNC

Been using Ubuntu at home for years. Work uses RedHat, HPUX, Solaris, AIX and various Windows versions, so I use many different OS's daily. I'm cmd line oriented (mostly) and have found Unity just too damned hard to find what I want/need to find/use. (To me) it's not intuitive at all. I've downgraded back to 11.04 with Gnome and will either stay here as long as Canonical keeps following the Unity yellow brick road or will find another distro. I can (sorta) see novice users liking Unity, but I have other things to do besides flail about looking for the app I need to run in Unity. Now get off my lawn!

morg
morg

I don't guess that any of you remember having to write Cobol or Fortran programs, to write and compile 8086 assembly language programs to make Epson dot matrix printers do italics etc in Wordstar which was cross assembled from CPM. You don't remember all of the keystrokes that were required in Wordperfect when running DOS. Be thankful and helpful. I hated Windows because I was command line oriented. I didn't like DOS after about 5. Compared with that, Ubuntu is fantastic.

steve
steve

I love Linux and I love Ubuntu because they push the envelope and try new things. I am not a fan of Unity (but I may be, if I change and Unity changes), but I am not still using a Win95 desktop either. If you don't like Ubuntu there are a plethora of Ubuntu based distributions and non Ubuntu based distributions you can use. This is where Linux is my OS of choice over the alternatives. Why do Americans have to be challenged to embrace innovation, competition and experimentation? I thought it was in your DNA!

rkircher
rkircher

I have already gone back to Debian to avoid Unity and it's problems. Sure, Debian is harder to configure, but it only has to be done once and there is a lot of help out there on the Internet. Unity bugs are annoying, but the real problem is that Unity is NOT a Desktop GUI. Let's face it, Ubuntu is 90% Debian, and Debian is 90% Ubuntu depending on your point of view. I can cope with a change in my point of view a lot easier than viewing a GUI that I can't stand and use effectively for my style of desktop computing. The most important feature is a great software repository and upgrade mechanism. That stays the same regardless of the name plate, be it Debian or Ubuntu. I can wait out the Unity bug fixes because I know someone else will sooner or later fix them if I can't. In a way, I rather enjoy the challenge of working out, or working around problems to improve software when it leads to something better. BUT, when the result is a bug-free constant source of irritation, and that's what an inappropriate GUI is for a Desktop computer, I'm out of there. I also know in my heart that when development of a critical computer component such as a GUI goes this far off course, there is no returning. I started using Linux because it offered me freedom of choice. Fortunately, that can't be taken away. If this sort of GUI development spreads to other Distros, then I may end up launching my applications from a Terminal running a simple bash script menu program that I can really customize and enjoy because it does what I want.

dropzhone
dropzhone

Why techies have problems at all is confusing. Being Techies, after all, means knowing how to choose another desktop environment when the current one no longer suits you. There is a minimal Ubuntu install where you can build a system from the ground up, just like Arch or should I say like Debian. Isn't Mint trying to hack Gnome3 to gradually work the masses in? Why not with Unity? Hey zefficace, tell me about those network manager scripts!

jbloxham
jbloxham

I like a lot of things about Ubuntu, but the things that prevent me from a full switche are not the OS itself; it's the other technology in my life. Synking my Blackberry, transfering my accounting packages such as quicken and quickbooks, and visio and MS Project. I have a huge investment in these and could not switch without them - even Mac is a non-starter. It Wine were more stable and improved, it might make a difference. I think a bit more effort in this secondary area would pay off.

djpbusinessinc
djpbusinessinc

... and that includes windows 3.1! My take on a UI is that I can get at what I need as quickly as possible. Hunting for applications (as I had to do with Unity) was a nightmare. Then again, maybe I'm a little biased to stuff that's proven to work ... I use windowmaker on my development system -- I don't have to worry about Cannonical changing it! :)

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

I like much of Ubuntu, but hate Unity. I've done little but struggle with it trying to figure out how to do more hi-tech tasks, and in many cases just ended up doing them from the command line. Last night I jettisoned Ubuntu and went to Kubuntu 11.10. Easy install, and back to the KDE desktop and utilities I know. Everything was fully functional in an hour or so. My only gripe was that for me, Muon was very slow installing multiple packages - after completing one install it seemed to stall out for 2-3 minutes before beginning to download the next selection.

cwarner7_11
cwarner7_11

Canonical has lost my confidence in the way they tried to force Unity down my throat rather than offering it as an optional alternative- Redmond-style. I feel the same about gnome.org and Gnome3. In the real world, once an organization loses the confidence of their clients, it is very, very hard to regain it... Actually, the distro I use is CAELinux, based on Ubuntu 10.04. The CAELinux team is very good at putting together an integrated package with the applications that are critical to me. I will stick with what I have, at least until CAELinux comes up with a viable reason for an upgrade. I do not know what the plans of CAELinux are, whether they are going to stay with Ubuntu in the future and adapt to a different user interface, or switch to a base system with a saner approach to marketing. I will follow their lead, because they have demonstrated excellent capabilities in putting together a system that just works. I trust them. I no longer trust Canonical.

zefficace
zefficace

I for one, have changed from Ubuntu to Arch, and since then, I don't care for Ubuntu or its variants. One big problem is the "hang" at shutdown if you've got a samba share mounted permanently. This problem still exists, and after sooooo many years, it's gettings ridiculous. Not to mention that the Unity UI is NOT my preferred way of working. Unity, like Gnome, gets in the way that I want to work. Arch is what I want it to be, at all times. If you're tired of one UI, it is trivial to install another. Netinstall cd means an up-to-date install without much of a need for an update right after. No re-installs needed, because some stupid upgrade process failed, since Arch is rolling release. Pacman, ABS and AUR make for a genius solution to installing what you want, when you want it. Lastly, since netfs is used, you can add scripts to networkmanager or wicd to manage shares and avoid hangs. Things are clean and simple with Arch. So in my little corner of the world, Ubuntu wil never be king of distro again. What will bring them to the top? They can fix things that have been broken for too long, then go after gadgets.

chris.reynolds
chris.reynolds

I know most of the people posting here are probably techs, but Ubuntu Unity is very nice for users coming from Windows. I really love Linux, but I did not get into until about 4 years ago when it finally became easier to transition from Windows. I would love to have all my users on Ubuntu, and Unity might be the way to do just that.

rduncan
rduncan

a cupla ruby developers I know use Ubuntu- I just don't see the point in having a clutch of Linux Dostros but I think Ubuntu will do well in the cloud as a virtual desktop for developers. I don't particularly rate it's longevity - I prefer YUM to apt-get- it's in the same vein as mandrake for me

pat
pat

I have been using Ubuntu through several releases now and the latest 11.10 has totally broken the support for multiple monitors using a Dell docking station. Worse, according to the bug list, it is not planned to be fixed until the next distribution (12.04). Since I use this for work, I will either need to reinstall the older version or move to another distribution even though I would prefer to stay with Ubuntu.

technomom_z
technomom_z

Not a big Unity fan myself but when I refurbished a 3 year old laptop with Ubuntu 11, my daughter (13) had no problem digging right into it. She's been using it without any problems for about the last 3 weeks. For users whose needs fit in the default sidebar, browser & OpenOffice, it's fine.

cjc5447
cjc5447

I too am on the "Hate Unity" bandwagon. I wanted to like it, but it frustrates me at every turn. Did Canonical do any user testing on this abomination, before foisting it upon the unsuspecting unwashed masses?? Specifically it's harder to find applications than by just selecting them from a cascading menu, but the top menu bar gets my vote for the worst UI feature of all time. Canonical is trying to mimic Mac OS X, for what end I cannot fathom, removing the menu bar and placing it at the top of the screen a la OS X. Apparently they think "simplifying" the windows makes for better eye candy. The problem with that is it may have been a good idea back in the 80s for the original Macintoshes with 12" screens, but today with large multi-monitor setups it makes zero sense. You continually have to move the mouse to the top of the screen to access the menu for a particular window, and the menu bar is not only context driven (changes for each application window), it disappears until you move the mouse over it. Unbelievable! The disappearing scroll bar, gets my nod for the second worst "feature". But here's the real problem, integration with Unity. A couple of apps, like Thunderbird, are sporting "Unity integration". Linux is about choice, sure Ubuntu is the 600 pound gorilla, but what about people who like other distros/window managers? Is the additonal code for Unity integration just "bloatware" that serves no purpose for them? Why do we need Unity Integration at all? Just so apps can place their menus at the top of the screen also? The real problem is you will _never_ get every app rewritten to do that. The result is Unity feels like a beta product, because some apps are "integrated", and some are not. Case in point - Google's Chromium browser, which still has it's menu in the browser window (thank goodness). Consistency is one of the bedrock principles of a good UI, and Unity fails miserable at this, and will never be consistent across all applications. It;s hard enough to get a consistent UI in Linux with all the disparate development tools, but Unity throws another monkey wrench into the works. Gnome 3.x has other problems but is even worse in usability. At least Gnome 2.x was usable. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. I reinstalled Unbuntu 11.04 with Gnome 2 on my laptop for the moment.

fletchoid
fletchoid

After trying Ubuntu 11.04 with Unity for a couple of weeks, I downloaded Linux Mint and said goodbye to Ubuntu 11.04. I still use Ubuntu 10.04 on some of my machines, but absolutely don't like Unity. The only good thing about Unity, is that it annoyed me so much that I tried several other Linux distributions, and found that I kinda like some of their features. Its not that I am insecure about new things; I use OSX, Windows XP, 2000, NT, and 7 on various machines at work and at home. I just don't like Unity. I don't have to justify it. I just don't like it, so I refuse to use it.

dford
dford

As a long term Fedora user FC 15 came as a bitter disappointment - Gnome3 refused to work on my old IBM T23 and left me with a fallback mode that looked like Gnome 2 but didn't work like anything at all. My wife and I share this laptop So I decided to give Ubuntu a try. First I tried Mint - but the constant need to enter some password or other (I was never sure which one as my user password seemed to work for root - or the other way round) drove me mad. I then tried Ubuntu. I installed 11.04 and it immediately upgraded to 11.10 Several things irritated me to start with (sudo this, sudo that) but now it's up and running it seems OK - of course, I don't have any previous expectations to judge it against. My wife and I are getting used to that funny stripe of clunky icons down the left and the way that it disappears whenever you want it. Meanwhile, I inherited an IBM R51 (I'm always at the bleeding edge) and installed FC15 (fallback mode only again) on that. After a lot of moaning and grumbling to Google I discovered that gnome-tweak-tool turns on some useful stuff - and Alt+Right-click gives you a menu to add an application to the panel - so fallback mode is now almost back to normal. - It may be just loyalty - but I do prefer Fedora.

johnobliskey
johnobliskey

I have been using Ubuntu on and off for about 5 or 6 years. I do not care for Unity at all. I have tried it and do not care for it. There was a bit of a similar desktop that was used in EasyPeasey linux ( a Ubuntu clone or derivative) and even that was far too cluttered and annoying to have to click around as much as you had to, to get where you wanted to get to, for my tastes Gnome and KDE may be getting a bit gray around the edges but IMHO Gnome is still the simplest interface for new users to get around in. Eye candy just bloats any software or operating system. A great many people are all too familiar with Windows iterations and how they have grown so bloated with eye candy that they are ridiculous. Old principle that still works well and applies in this situation ... K.I.S.S. (keep it simple stupid). IF i want bloatware i will use Windows

thedavidmckenzie
thedavidmckenzie

I read this article and it leaves me cold. Who uses CD to install *ubuntu now anyway, welcome to the 20th century Buck Rogers. The rest is *glitter*. There are plenty of *ubuntu distros out there. I prefer kubuntu bu to phrase an old VETLA YMMV.

phil
phil

Plenty of us have moved away from the standard ubuntu build post unity because it does not really fit in with the way we work: its just not efficient to use and it "seems" slow. This appears to have led to a rash of comments about "hating" Ubuntu. Surely this is over the top. We may not yet like unity: but Canonical is taking a bet on the future direction of the OS market and they may yet be proved right. They still support KDE and other window managers so what is the real issue? Personally I'm liking Gnome Shell quite a lot and its really no bother to staple this onto your standard distro if you want.

kumaran.pec
kumaran.pec

I think Ubuntu may do well, if they opt to remove the bloated applications and thin the distribution. I think it is bloating with every new release and it is not going to be a good thing.

emgub
emgub

just means your machine sucks that's all. either that or you just don't know how to operate a computer.

lehnerus2000
lehnerus2000

I know it's probably overkill, but why not run a Windows VM and install your favourite media player in that?

zefficace
zefficace

Nevermind prior reply... I posted the scripts for both networkmanager and wicd with limited instructions on pastebin. There is only one script for network manager and two for wcid. I hope things will be clear for you, if not try to let me know, I'll check back in a while. http://pastebin.com/AhvuqJQL

rpollard
rpollard

That's what I believe they are trying to address.. The majority of the people, not just techies. Techies will always resist change but new users just moving into Linux will want to stay longer and not go back to Windows if it's a better and smoother interface and not too technical. Yeah, I know, they will have to pry your terminal out of your cold dead hands but look at the people that will convert to Linux from Windows if they don't have to compile an application to get it installed. They have gone a long way in eliminating this compilation mess with Synaptic and apt-get but still to this day I have to re-install my nVidia drivers everytime the kernel is updated. Non-techies aren't going to put up with that for one minute. They will go back to Windows in a heartbeat. I believe Canonical is trying to address the masses with a Linux distro that will just work without them working hard to make it work. However, to be fair to us techies, we need our power as an alternative to ease of use. So, what's the problem with fixing the ease of use issues with Linux and giving us power as well. Shouldn't be any problems at all. They need a happy medium.

sehamon
sehamon

Its not something you have to justify. If they would just design the UI like the original GNOME 2, one of the things people loved most about Ubuntu, I think there would be a lot more hype about it. It would bring people back.

burt
burt

Many people use Ubuntu who don't need to use a "beginners" distro. Until recently Ubuntu had a foot in both worlds. One for the newbie and the other for the Linux-loving power user. I and others prefer to have to install Libre-office and some other stuff than go through and un-install programs we will never use. Sure, with different package managers it's almost easy and safe to remove stuff, but once in a while a dependency gets broken, and I and others tend to remove a package that we try and don't like rather than leaving it around to clutter up our installation. I now remaster with in hours of a fresh installation after adding and or removing anything that needs to be changed. This way I can install on a new computer in minutes, and update && upgrade and be good to go, or if I break something I'm working again in little more time than it takes me to make a pot of coffee and have a cup. My personalized distros usually come out between 1.2 and 1.4GB. What does the latest Ubuntu DVD weigh-in at? (and I have a couple of heavy packages that most useres would not).

beaverusiv
beaverusiv

I have used both Unity and GNOME Shell and I really don't see much that differentiates the two. I think for Ubuntu to come back to being favourite it needs to evolve Unity. Take some massive surveys and rework it. If done correctly they can have a winner. Hopefully they don't just stubbornly stick with what their vision is and remember they're making it for other people.

burt
burt

I use Vinux, a sub-distro based on Ubuntu that is optimized for blind and low vision users. We Make both CD and DVD iso images, and _sometimes change out a default program because it is not accessible with screen-reading software. That being said, andmore so on the DVD, we try and keep default Ubuntu packages where possible and just add some special bits to help accessibility or do tasks that have extra importance to blind folk. Rhythmbox is certainly easier to use for most everyone with Orca, the screen-reader for gnome and now unity desktop environments. Besides this I've found rhythmbox more stable and have heard at least some sighted folk prefer its look. The software center is cool, but not including synaptic is a cowardly way to fight. Let ppl choose which they prefer. Synaptic again works best with Orca, but makes it easier for the power-user to see what's happening. B.H.

zefficace
zefficace

The paste is public, so technically everything is fine. I guess you're right about that "connection thing". And your welcome!