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.

By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....