Yes the age of operation systems is coming to an end, as it is more and more irrelevant which one you use. You’re storing your documents on the web, you’re using Facebook to communicate, something browser-based Google Talk for phone calls, an RSS reader to get your news and you’ve replaced your email client with a webmail account from a provider starting with M, Y or G most likely. But most people still use an operation system and for most of them it still matters, for various reasons. I use Ubuntu Linux, for various reasons which I don’t want to get into right now. What I want to write about today are 5 things I believe Ubuntu is doing right and 5 other things they are doing wrong, with the hope that someone will read this :)
5 Things Ubuntu is doing wrong
– They just can’t seem to fix hibernate on laptops. I am using the 10th or so Ubuntu now, and every 6 months I am hoping that the new update will finally allow me to properly hibernate my machine and wake it up again painless, as it’s been possible on other systems for the last 10 or so years. Suspend has always worked, and while still a little glitchy, it is mostly reliable. Why not hibernate? It is hard to believe that this is such a touch nut to crack. Ubuntu just can’t properly replace other OSs on mobile devices if power management doesn’t work as expected, and currently, it just doesn’t.
– Treating KDE like a community off-shoot certainly is not a good way to unite the community. As long as they treat Kubuntu as the unwanted step brother, resources will go wasted and potential unharnessed. Kubuntu needs an integration into the Ubuntu corporate design and strategy, and it needs to be (at least on the DVD-based installer) an installation option. The same goes for other „flavors“ of Ubuntu in as far as they are mature enough. If I put an Ubuntu DVD into my computer the installation process should show me a short animated introduction about the Gnome-based and the KDE-based interface and then let me chose which one the default should be while letting me know that both will be installed and I can switch at any time.
– Ubuntu Brainstorm has been the long neglected ideation platform where Ubuntu users (the much-touted „human beings“) lament about things they miss and post ideas for what could be done better, and for the most part, all that has gone unnoticed (similar to e-participation in politics) unless these ideas have been in the pipeline anyway. This seems to be changing a bit but in general the „devs“ need to orient their process more towards what users want, as Linux Mint shows, an Ubuntu-based distribution that mostly implements what the users want, not what the Ubuntu development process stipulates. It’s listening to demand that will bring success. It would save lots of resources and increase happiness and adaptation. The same goes for Ubuntu forums which mostly seem like places completely free of developers, with frustrated users mostly among themselves. Bread and games? Perhaps not, but it wouldn’t hurt if developers and users would work more closely together. Linux has been in the niche for too long, mostly because it was an OS for geeks, by geeks. That has to stop.
– Sticking to antiquated gnome-packaged software for too long will in the end hurt Ubuntu more than Gnome. I have no idea what Evolution is still doing pre-installed in Ubuntu. That application has not changed notably since it was first invented probably. It is a pain in the ass to use, offers no extensions ecosystem and just has no place in a contemporary system targeted at „human being“ users. Poll after poll shows its decline, and people use web based email or Thunderbird, or innovative tools like Zimbra. Similar to that, why on earth was Pidgin replaced by Empathy? True, empathy seems to have a more open and compatible code base and framework and it has better gnome integration, but it isn’t half the messaging client pidgin is, and what stopped them from improving Pidgin’s Gnome integration? Lacking integration is precisely what stops Thunderbird from fully replacing Evolution (aside from the beta status of the calendar/tasks plugin that would put it on par with Evolution in terms of PIN functionality). And there’s a whole list of other little apps that just come with Gnome that either nobody uses or uses because there’s no real alternative. All these little panel apps (where is the plugin installation platform for that?) or the themes (80% of all the Gnome themes in the appearance dialogue have been there since 1995, at least that’s how it looks like, and why has that installation method not been modernized?).
– The gnome control panel has been around for quite a while now and been improved gradually, but it has never seen much love from Ubuntu and to date it has not replaced a redundant menu structure that people have just learned to live with. There are so many default settings/admin menu entries that nobody ever uses as a basic user, and so many other things missing, that it’s questionable why a central control panel (with zeitgeist integration so popular entries are on top for example) has not been made the cut yet. That frustrates.
5 Things Ubuntu is doing right
– They have a commercial backer who at the same time acts as the benevolent dictator giving the project leadership and the ability to make tough decisions. Mr Shuttleworth’s motives may be opaque but he’s managed to turn a Debian-based distro among many into the most-used Linux-based operating system. A vision and leadership is what it takes to steer a huge community and that has worked well for Ubuntu so far. The usability and paper cuts project is an example for really great quality assurance initiatives.
– Going along with that first point, another thing they are doing well right now is focusing on a strong brand, a corporate identity so to say, and visual polish. Ubuntu received its own font, a style manual, a color scheme, has usability guidelines for the UI and tries to have a wholesome appearance and feel. This will make it easier to identify Ubuntu as Ubuntu and not as stock Gnome, and the prettier it gets, the easier it will be to get started with it and to feel at home.
– Being open to saying goodbye. Ubuntu has started to be very daring and has gradually begun saying goodbye to established, almost never questioned, technologies. Currently it looks like the whole metacity and gnome panels will be a thing of the past very soon as Gnome 3 evolves and a more advanced user interface concept will take over. It is not entirely clear if that will be the much touted Gnome Shell or the netbook-borne Unity interface, but the next or maybe the release after that, will probably no longer offer old-fashioned panels, a concept most people are familiar with but has been with us since the invention of, I don’t know, the first OS X.
– The Software Center. Previously, Ubuntu had a menu entry to edit software sources, it had the update manager, and synaptic and the „add/remove software“ dialogue. The separate entry for software sources has disappeared and the Software Center has all but replaced the rest. It is still not clear why the update manager is not integrated into the SC yet, but I am hoping this will only be a matter of time. If Ubuntu is to be for the human beings it prides itself to be for, a central place to manage software, software sources, and updates, is the way to go. And as it looks now, it will not be the terrible confusing mess that is YaST.
– Ubuntu is also, as with the user interface point I made above, trying to change the whole technical base it runs on, from changing the technologies used for booting the computer to managing graphics drivers, they are looking for which tough changes will in the long term ensure higher compatibility, sustainability and performance. They hinted at saying goodbye to the X-Server, and from what I’ve read, it’s about time to drop this dinosaur into the trash bin of history. The fact that boot (and all the nice boot splash images and animations) is still a pain in the ass for must users out there shows that there’s still lots of work to be done and I can imagine that aside from proprietary drivers what stands in the way of progress is a conservative attitude towards the technologies underlying the Linux desktop. Questioning established tools it the right thing to do I think.
Thanks for reading. That list is by no means exhaustive but I think I’ve outlined some things that have been bugging me personally and since I frequent the Planet and the forums quite a bit I don’t think I’m very alone with this. Ubuntu is improving every month, but there are still many things to sort out, most of all more user-driven development and more radical breaks with old established things. There are colossal failures that have become default, like the „me menu“ (does anyone really use that?) and really useful things such as the different timezone clocks, but neither are seeing much improvement or change….