The other day I downloaded the alpha 5 release of the upcoming Ubuntu 9.04 (which is curiously codenamed Jaunty Jackalope) just to see how things were progressing in the Ubuntu world. What surprised me was that there was very little to get excited about (OpenOffice.org 3.0 ... woohoo ... yawn). In fact, even the next release (9.10, or Karmic Koala) which is over six months away, has nothing that really gets my blood moving. Sure, there's dedicated netbook support, but I don't see myself getting all that enthusiastic about that.
Has Ubuntu development plateaued? Is the best that we can expect the from now on evolutionary changes rather as opposed to revolutionary ones?
Don't get me wrong, I like Ubuntu. Of all the Linux distros that I've tried, it's the one that seems to show the most promise of being able to go mainstream. Like every other Linux distro, it's fast, reliable and secure, but Ubuntu manages to add a few cherries on top of all that in the form of a slick interface and a good selection of software applications. Another compelling feature of the Ubuntu distro is the six monthly update cycle - as regular as clockwork, a new version of Ubuntu (complete with daft code name) is released. Unlike Apple and Microsoft, both of which are coy about release dates until what feels like the final hour, with Ubuntu, users get plenty of notice of a new release, as well as a clear idea of what will be in that new version. Problem now though is that it seems like the next few updates feel like service packs rather than full-blown releases. It's almost like the dev team have a final product in mind and are now working to make that vision a reality.
Here's an example of what I mean, from the 9.10 announcement:
First impressions count. We’re eagerly following the development of kernel mode setting, which promises a smooth and flicker-free startup. We’ll consider options like Red Hat’s Plymouth, for graphical boot on all the cards that support it. We made a splash years ago with Usplash, but it’s time to move to something newer and shinier. So the good news is, boot will be beautiful.
In case you're thinking that I've deliberately chosen a boring bit, the only other improvements mentioned to the desktop is better netbook integration and something about the "desktop will have a designer’s fingerprints" all over it ...
I'm left with a few random thoughts ...
- Maybe there really isn't enough you can do to an OS to warrant a release every six months (after all, both Windows 7 and Mac OS X "Snow Leopard" also seem more evolutionary than revolutionary).
- Developing a new operating system relies on shaking things up and redefining the wheel periodically (new interface, different ways of doing what you've been doing for years, a few tweaks here and there).
- The OS is slowly becoming irrelevant, and it's the applications that matter.