Roadmap Analysis For Ubuntu Hardy Heron 8.04 LTS Revisited

Five months ago, I wrote an article about the next version of Ubuntu’s roadmap for Hardy Heron 8.04 LTS, with my own personal ideas of ideas were most interesting that had been proposed.

Let me itterate something important: these are just my ideas, I’m just a spectator. Nobody called me up and said, “Hey Wayne, thanks for the heads up on dual monitor support, we’ll get right on that!” I’m pretty sure Ubuntu developers know that dual monitor support is pretty important for those who have two monitors.

That article generated over 60 thousand unique visitors since it was published, which means roughly 450 people per day on average have been looking at my thoughts on the roadmap. With approximately one more month to go in the Hardy development cycle, I’m extremely curious – of the 28 items on that list, what has been accomplished, and what hasn’t? We’re about 10 days away from the Beta release, which should be feature complete.

Now for a little background: Many of the items scheduled on the Ubuntu roadmap were discussed at the Boston Ubuntu Developer Summit (UDS), and it seems at least a few of the Blueprints were scribbled on napkins. According to the Ubuntu Wiki, the summits are “an opportunity for Ubuntu developers — who usually collaborate online — to work together in person on specific tasks.”

The most interesting improvements I noted at the time were in three key groups: User Experience, Networking/Security and Support. A grand total of 28 ideas that had been proposed that I thought were worth mentioning.

So let’s get to it, shall we?

User Experience
1. Human Theme: Received a minor touch up. Less brown, more white. Nice abstract penguin desktop background. The major overhaul for the Ubuntu Human Theme has been delayed for 8.10.

2. Make Adding Third Party Apt Repository Easier: GUI still in the Software Sources application, but no .APT file format has been finalized or work started other than a guideline. I guess it will still remain difficult (if you call adding a line to sources.list difficult) to add third party software repositories like WINE to get the latest releases.

3. Upgrade to 7.3: Done. We’ve got bullet-proof X, compositing by default, “themed” unlock screen, and a disabled CTRL+ALT+Backspace? Ugg… I liked the ability to kill X when it crashes.

4. Automatix Collaboration: Not sure on this, there isn’t a package available for Hardy Heron on their website yet, but it’s marked as being “started” on the blueprint. Your guess is a good as mine.

5. Dual Monitor Suport: Untested (I don’t have two monitors), and as of yesterday, was marked as deferred on the Blueprint. However, the developer of this posted on his blog in late February that he had uploaded a new GUI for Xrandr. And there’s been an update today on the blueprint, it’s now marked as Beta Available, if you’re interested, hit the link above. Great progress! This recent progress is a indicator that this update is a bit premature in the Alpha stage, but I think it’s a good thing to update people on what’s happening so far.

6. Super-Slick-Boot: “Pending Approval” status on Launchpad, not implemented. This is one of the cooler things that I thought would add some flair and polish to Ubuntu – but there are some underlying issues that need to be addressed first. It would be fantastic to have a smooth transition from BIOS into window manager, kinda like how Macs boot up – you turn on the system, get a nice loading sound and splash, and then everything smoothly loads up in the background. We’re not getting that just yet for Ubuntu.

7. Don’t Overwrite the /home partition during new installation: This appears to be superseded by a new spec called “Ubiquity Preserve Home” which is linked above, and there is a beta available. Didn’t see it in action when I installed Alpha 6.

8. Warn About Impending DOOM Full Disks: Also linked to a blueprint regarding Making Free Space Wizard, does not appear to be implemented, yet.

9. Prefetch: There has been a beta available for quite some time, this has been worked on since April 2007. Deferred until 8.10.

10. Easy File Sharing: Appears like this will be merged with Easy File Sending, marked as low priority. I don’t know about most of you, but I’ve got more than two computers in my house, and this is highly desired. OpenSUSE uses Giver, which looks like a good option.

11. Single Click Install: Still being discussed at this point, nothing appears to have been coded yet – this is in the same boat as 3rd Part Apt repositories, and I would imagine at some point would be merged.

12. Add/Remove Programs “Storefront” with featured applications: Not implemented. The main point is that Add/Remove programs is not nearly as robust as Synaptic (which is a little bit “kludgey” in my opinion). The idea is to add in a ratings system (votes up/down), and use some sort of web front-end to create a “Featured Applications” screen when loading up the Add/Remove application. Sure would be nice!

13. Simple Samba: Reports of Shared Folders upgrades have been greatly exaggerated! Not gonna happen this release.

14. Redesign of “About Ubuntu” Menu: This has been superceeded twice by newer blueprints. This is currently in a beta stage, and I would imagine this is going to be included in Hardy unless something goes terribly wrong. It doesn’t seem like a difficult proposition to create a screen that displays information about the computer and distribution version.

15. Modular /etc/network/interfaces: Splitting the interfaces file into multiple directories or files has been throughly shot down, dragged behind a car for a few miles, burned at the stake, and ashes spread at a landfill. I do genuinely appreciate the input provided by Soren Hansen on this idea, but I’m not surprised on the outcome.

16. Dialup/ASDL Support: I’m confused – only a medium priority for people to get on the internet and manage their connections easily in Network Manager? Same with NDISwrapper – it should be included in the distribution by default. At least 3400 people voted on this idea at Ubuntu brainstorm, and is the 2nd most popular idea on the website.

17. Encrypted FS: Not started, low priority, not going to see it. 🙁

18. Live-CD Share This: Manual scripts have been created and floating around for awhile, but as of yet no integration into Hardy. I don’t think we’ll see this.

19. Stop running GKSUDO for Administrative Tasks: Not implemented. “The process of requiring the user to enter a password before they even open the dialog is a bit disruptive.” Agreed! Why can’t this be fixed? It’s not gonna happen.

20: Measure Install Success: Not approved. This was semi-interesting for me since we would have a better idea of how many Ubuntu users are using the latest version. Right now the numbers in the millions keep getting floated around, but how accurate can they be?

21: Locate Local User Groups Upon Installation: I’m really disappointed this was not approved. What should happen is after a successful installation, your local user groups would be displayed to you in an application, or a website – instead of the current About Ubuntu page that nobody actually reads. Poor form. And to top it off, someone decided to add in some horrible “map zooming” function in the time zone selection step during the installer… to explain it better, just think of using a telescope without a tripod to locate your city on a world map from about a foot away. It is difficult to click on the correct city/area since the sensitivity is set very high.

22: Make Use of “hidden” Packaging Forum: This nook of the Ubuntu forums seems like a good place to expand, but it’s not going to happen before Hardy Heron.

23: Screencasts in the Help Menu: Help>Tutorial Videos – Not approved.

24: Forum Content Certification: To date, no team has been created to police forum content and keep original forums posts with how-to instructions updated, however, a “Thank you” system has been implemented – which is a fair compromise for the time being. This is the kind of thing that is taken care of on an as-needed basis.

25: Teacher Input on Edubuntu: You might think that someone asked a teacher about what they needed in Edubuntu before it was created, but apparently that is not the case! Surprised? I was. The blueprint hasn’t been updated, but it’s plausible that it happened at some point.

26: Automatic Bug Reporting: Privacy concerns stopped this idea from becoming the next big brother feature.

27: Ubuntu Mobile Browser: Ubuntu Mobile announced instead. Good judgement call, I say.

28: Install Ubuntu from within Windows: I am very pleased to announce that Wubi installer is included on the installation ISO image now – I’m not sure if it’s integrated into the autorun menu that popped up before, but it’s certainly there.

By my count, there are 9 out of 28 “important” ideas that are at the very least partially implemented. Everything else is deferred or never started. Does this mean that Ubuntu is loosing momentum? I don’t think so. Does it mean people are going to look elsewhere for their Linux fix? Perhaps.

As time goes on, I am of the opinion that Ubuntu needs to buckle down after 8.04 is released and really focus on getting the big features mentioned here implemented as soon as possible. I know that some issues exist upstream, that they have no control over. However, things like the updated Human theme that get delayed are extremely visible to users, especially after being so heavily touted as being a major feature – until 8.10 you get to enjoy a small palette change.

It’s not like I have much to complain about, I’m colorblind. That’s the luxury of being an “armchair critic” – I can sit back and enjoy the show and comment on things as I see it. Am I going to switch anytime soon? Probably not.

Tiny little bit of website news here, I’m going to start twittering more often about upcoming articles I’m working on here, my RSS feed is pointed at it, so you’ll get updates on twitter when there are new articles posted, feel free to follow me. 🙂


In-Depth Roadmap Analysis For Ubuntu Hardy Heron 8.04

Update: Read the new version of this article revisiting all the ideas and current progress!

The Hardy Heron Roadmap has over 130 new ideas that have been proposed thus far. I’ve examined each one of these ideas in detail, threw out the ones that weren’t interesting to me, wrote an explanation for each, and sorted the list into three categories:

  1. User Experience,
  2. Networking and Security,
  3. Support

Of course, the juiciest items have already made headlines, such as the new theme that is being planned… “I for one, welcome our new hopefully non-brown themed overlords!”

What about the proposed changes that don’t deserve their own headline? Either you have to muck through that entire list, or you can simply read about it here. You can get more information about specific items by clicking on the name of the proposal, which will take you to a page that has a little bit more information about it. Without more from me, here we go.

User Experience

Ubuntu Theme for 8.04
We’re getting a new theme in the next release? Ubuntu has used close to the same theme since Warty Warthog – about 3 years, The REALLY interesting bit about this is how far this reaches… proposed changes include changes to the installer, bootup screen, wallpaper, application splash screens like Gimp and, Compiz effects, cursors, and even skinning WINE! This is going to be quite a bit of work, but in the end, well worth it.

Third Party Apt
Adding a 3rd party apt repository is more difficult than needed. Editing sources.list, or adding it to the software repository via GUI is a pain. This proposal focuses on creating a standardized file format (let’s call it .install file) which would allow a user to double click on the .install file, then apt would automatically install the program, add the 3rd party repository to the sources.list and automatically manage updates, etc. Very slick idea.

X.Org 7.3
This is something that SHOULD have been included in Gutsy Gibbon, but wasn’t quite ready… ah well, I guess we need to wait 6 months for this. The biggest feature of 7.3 are: Bullet Proof X – The driving force for this is to never boot up into text-mode if something is screwed up with the xorg.conf file. Very nifty. The direction this is headed is to make xorg.conf obsolete, and eventually run without it, which would be fantastic for new users.

Automatix-Ubuntu Team Collaboration
This is certainly a little bit controversial, since Automatix was raked over the coals for breaking upgrades to Feisty Fawn, and now they want to collaborate? Automatix makes stupid easy to install things that are in legal grey areas, such as codecs for playing commercial DVDs, or other proprietary software like Skype, Google Earth, etc. This idea would make it so that Canonical/Ubuntu does not have legal repercussions for including proprietary codecs or other software that isn’t redistributable.

Dual/Multi Monitor Gnome Configuration
Along with 7.3, multiple monitor configuration within a GUI is going to be pretty awesome.

This proposed change will give the distribution an improved user experience when booting up and shutting down. If you’ve ever seen a Mac boot up, you know exactly what this is trying to emulate. Transitions from the three graphical modes (text, SVGA, and high-resolution) are not really bad at the moment, but if Ubuntu can emulate how a Mac boots up, that would be pretty damn terrific.

Install on an existing filesystem without overwriting /home
This is by far one of the most annoying things that I have to deal with on a regular basis. Personally, I reinstall quite often to test out new distributions. Since getting an external 320GB drive it hasn’t been quite as painful, but for most people, they might need to backup the /home directory to avoid data loss when given the chance to upgrade every 6 months.

Improve Handling of Full Disks
Have you ever run out of hard drive space in Linux? Let me tell you, it is NOT pretty! In some cases, you can end up booting into text mode, with a read-only root partition. It is a royal pain in the ass, to say the least. This proposal is in the early stages, but suggests adding a notification that the disk is almost full, prompting you to run a cleanup wizard, and other ideas that make the problem less likely to happen in the first place, as well as (hopefully) making it easier to recover from if it does happen.

Integrate Prefetch into Bootup
Google’s 2007 Summer of Code is adding hard disk prefetching and optimization resulting in faster bootup times for Hardy Heron.

Easy File Sharing
Make sharing files between Ubuntu machines on a LAN/WLAN easier. Duh!

Single Click Install
Enable easier installation of software from the internet.

Add Remove Software Improvements
This proposes an update to the add/remove software program, which changes it into a sort of “online storefront” where the initial screen shows screenshots, top-rated or brand new applications, etc. If this is approved and pulled off properly, could be a HUGE improvement.

Simple Samba Integration
The Shared Folders utility is getting some upgrades. It will prompt the user to install Samba, no more adding users from the command line, and a simple checkbox will share all home directories on the computer.

Redesign About Ubuntu
“People are used to “About Name of Program” showing a window that gives the software version details, and copyright info. […] Ubuntu should be just as polished.” uname –r always worked just fine for me, but I can see why it’s important.

Networking / Security

Modular /etc/network/interfaces
“Split out the configuration from /etc/network/interfaces into one file per (logical) interface.” This is not a great idea, it’s a pain in the ass already to edit this and maintain correct syntax, why make it so that there are multiple files?

Dial Up Support
This will make setting up and managing Dialup and ASDL out-of-the-box, using Network Manager, very easy.

Improve support for encrypted file systems
Starting with Gutsy Gibbon, you can now install Ubuntu to an encrypted disk. The problem this addresses is adding support to install to a disk which would be auto-partitioned as an encrypted file system from the GUI, instead of using the text-mode alternate installer. Other ideas are to look for key files on USB sticks and other media, instead of just using a password.

Live CD- share this
Direct from the wiki: “Netboot server for easy setup of thin clients and machines which don’t have a CD drive.” Nice idea!

killall gksudo: Stop running GTK as root!
gksudo runs hundreds of thousands of lines of code just to show that that little box that asks for a password when trying to change administrative settings… and it is a little confusing to ask for the password before any changes are committed – why not stop asking for the password until the configuration tool tries to write to a file, then do it in a manner that doesn’t need to utilize as much code to speed things up a little bit.


Measuring Download/Installation Success
In the next release, there may be some big-brother-ish ideas being included. It’s more accurate reporting that can give developers solid numbers for things like how many people download, install, and are able to run Ubuntu. The reason is to find faults in the existing procedures for acquiring Ubuntu, and address where problems arise. Hopefully these numbers will be shared with the community. One area I can already say is a significant problem is the lack of an integrated CD burner for Windows. I’ve heard many users say they’ve burned a copy of a distribution and then it didn’t boot. The primary reason for this is that they simply burned the ISO file itself to the CD, instead of burning the image properly. Now that Ubuntu is targeting a larger audience, it would be neat to have a Windows user simply download an EXE file, open it up, and it prompts to insert a new CD and then provides some additional instructions for getting it installed and setup, perhaps even give an option to print out a PDF of those instructions? The executable would also provide additional information that this proposal is suggesting be recorded.

Identifying Local Users and Groups
This would be really slick. After you put in your location( integrated into the Time Zone selection), during the installation (or post-install) you would be presented with information regarding your local LoCo team and other local resources, such as a Linux User Group in your area. I’ve never been to a LUG or LoCo meeting, perhaps because I needed to seek them out… getting a prompt every reinstall might be annoying, but it would be a good reminder that they exist.

Packaging Section On The Forum
There’s a hidden packaging section ( on the Ubuntu forums that needs to be better utilized. It is not a very active section in the forum, it either needs to be added to the main list of forums and promoted, or simply deleted.

Make screencasts available on the desktop
A Help->Tutorial Videos browser menu? This is a fantastic idea!

Forum Content Certification
Sometimes instructions provided in the forums just don’t work. Often, I’ll find a howto on installing some software for an old version of Ubuntu, and this would create a new forum team that would check the validity of instructions, approve the post, promote the information in the forums, wiki, and elsewhere, and finally involve re-checking the posts after new releases.

Getting teacher input to shape our education offering
This one implies that Edubuntu does not specifically solicit input from teachers, nor do users have a mailing list, forum, etc to voice their complaints. If this is the case, definitely a good idea to reach out and get feedback and suggestions from the people who actually use the OS, right?

Automatic bug reporting
This is certainly an interesting idea, but due to privacy concerns I don’t really want to see this make it into the release. Why emulate Windows here? It can be REALLY annoying to get MORE error popups when things crash.

Ubuntu Mobile Browser
The Ubuntu Mobile and Embedded Project proposes to add a Firefox-based browser which would be completely reworked from the ground up. I’m personally very interested in this, the following quote gave me chills: “Ideally we would get a solution that would be embraced by the Mozilla community and eventually adopted as the “Firefox Mobile” solution.”

Of course, I saved the best for last….

Installing Ubuntu from within Windows
ubuntu-install.exe… nuff said… might not make it though… it is listed as ‘dangling’ which means it can’t be scheduled or has circular dependancies… no idea why it can’t be made to work.

Which ideas do you want to see make it into Hardy Heron? Do you disagree with any of these I’ve listed? Got more to add?