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?