Thursday, November 19, 2009

Brief Review of Karmic and Hopes of Lucid

Karmic Koala is out! I've been using it though the beta release, and overall I'm really impressed. There are a LOT of changes under the hood, which has given rise to some unfortunate instability, but the direction the distribution is going in seems to be good. There are the beginnings of a visual refresh going on as well - I hope for more in the future! The main annoyance I have is the large number of serious bugs that came in Karmic. For example, I couldn't burn a CD from Rhythmbox (it has subsequently been fixed, but for a couple of weeks was an annoying regression). There are also reports of data loss do to the switch to the new ext4 filesystem (bug report here) - this makes me very worried about switching to ext4.

For the rest of this post, though, I want to discuss what I hope for in the next version of Ubuntu, codenamed Lucid Lynx. Given that this is an LTS release, I think that, along with the normal package/application updates, the main foci of this release should be: (i) being as stable and as bug-free as possible, and (ii) provide a more thorough revamp of the look and feel of the desktop.

Be as stable and bug free as possible

This is essential. Application developers have come a long way in providing the necessary functionally for getting things done using free and open source software. By in large Ubuntu has done a good job of integrating these applications into the distribution in a stable, easy to access way. That said, there are plenty of bugs that plague the distribution, and it would be nice to see a concerted effort (more than usual) to eliminate as many of these as possible. I shouldn't have to wait for a subsequent update to burn CDs from Rhythmbox - it should work out of the box (and missing obvious stuff like this indicates a lack of quality control). A small bug that I find crazy annoying is that glipper dies most of the time I login. Really?? This bug was reported over a year ago, and yet never has been fixed. Is it really that hard to find a fix for an application that crashes every time I login? Annoyed, I am.

I think that the decision to sync with Debian testing rather than unstable is a good decision in that various communities can cooperate on eliminating as many of these as possible at the same time (and, as implied by the name, there will hopefully be considerably more testing as well). That said, given that this is the first time Ubuntu developers have decided to sync with testing I'm sure unanticipated issues will arise, and they should not be unwilling to change the release date from 10.04 to 10.06 to make it as stable as possible.

The main reason for this is that if Canonical is serious about partnering with the corporate world, they need releases that can be relied on for a long time to provide a stable computer platform. And Hardy was a failure in this respect - annoyingly buggy to an extreme. But to this day I have to use Hardy on my Mini 12 because this is the only version of Ubuntu that Dell supports on this netbook (I have come to hate GMA 500).

I'm also wearying of updating my computer every 6 months. I want a stable operating system that I can rely on for a year or two without problems or a need to update. This brings me to another problem I've run into. Some applications require regular updates to remain functional. Yahoo, for example, changes its IM protocol on occasion - breaking Pidgin. When this occurs, Pidgin should be automatically updated to restore the functionality before the change. I shouldn't be required to sync up with an experimental PPA to get it to work again (in fact, I don't even think I should be required to use the unsupported backports repo). And this should apply to any application that would have problems like this. Don't leave me less functional because I want to continue using a stable supported release over multiple release cycles.

Provide a more thorough revamping of the look and feel of the desktop.

If you nail down the bugs, I'll be happy. If you make the user experience more satisfying and the visuals more pleasing, then I'll be enthusiastic. I can already start seeing some of the work of the design team that Shuttleworth hired to work on the user interface (for example, i love the new icons). The colors are better, but haven't yet found a sweet spot, and the desktop feels a little to blocky rather than slick. I don't exactly have a lot of good ideas, but I'll know it when I see it. I for example really like the refreshed look of KDE 4, though I'm not really inclined to use it.

The 100 paper-cuts was an excellent idea. I hope this will be continued! It definitely improved the distribution in lots of little respects. Do it again! In fact I'd say expand the idea a little. Maybe target, say, 75 trivial fixes, 20 fairly simple (though not trivial) fixes (like this one in particular), and 5 larger fixes. If all of these were related to the user experience, then over the next couple of iterations of the release cycle, huge strides in usability will be made.

Once people see how slick, functional, and easy to use Linux is, they will realize that, with the exception of things like gaming, they have very little reason to stick with Windows and might even get hooked on Ubuntu

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