You don’t need to look through powerful binoculars to glimpse what’s looming on the horizon for Ubuntu.
In around five months’ time the terrifically named Trusty Tahr – aka ‘Ubuntu 14.04’ – will be released on the desktop and server, while newer 14.04-based versions of Ubuntu for phones and tablets will also be made public.
But what can we expect to find in them?
First things first, this release is a Long Term Support one. On both the desktop and server Ubuntu will be backed by five years of bug fixes, security updates and general maintenance.
Unity 7 Is Sticking Around
The current Unity 7 interface has seen an ample amount of under-the-hood work put into it over the last few releases. As desktops go, it’s more responsive and performant than it used to be; kinder on system resources; and has seen many of its features finessed in both design and interaction.
‘…stability, dependability and performance.’
For Ubuntu 14.04 – a Long Term Support (LTS) release – the onus is on stability, dependability and performance. All are key. To this end Unity 7 is to remain the default desktop, and will gain few (if any) substantial new features.
But it will continue to benefit from subtle refinements under the hood.
Xorg Sticking Around
Goldfish, or anyone else with a really short memory, may not remember that Ubuntu 13.10 was supposed to use Xmir (a compatibility layer sat atop of Mir but tied to X) on the desktop. The idea was to slip it in nice and early so that it could be throughly tested before deployed in the next LTS.
Said goldfish won’t, however, have any trouble recalling that this didn’t happen.
Due to its long-term support nature, and because it didn’t get the aforementioned testing, Ubuntu 14.04 LTS won’t be picking up the ideological slack from its predecessor. Your bog standard, GPU driver-friendly Xorg will ship by default and receive updates during the course of the LTS cycle.
Ubuntu for Tablets Is ‘Key Focus’
As we reported recently, the bulk of developer attention during the 14.04 cycle will be targeted towards polishing the tablet experience so that it’s up to scratch come April. This takes in everything from engineering the Mir display server so that it’s capable of handling multi-tasking features (like ‘Sidestage’), to ensuring that applications sport appropriate, tablet-sized faces when used.
Come mid-April a ‘version 1.0’ of the tablet image will be released for the Nexus 7 (2012) and Nexus 10 devices, and be able to act as a lure to hardware manufacturers debating its inclusion on their devices.
As an aside, Mark Shuttleworth recently hinted that ‘an interesting set of household names‘ are already interested in using it. He’s made similar claims in the past, but there seemed to be more of a twinkle in his eye this time…
Will Offer Unity 8 Desktop Preview (Of Sorts)
You don’t need to be particularly observant on forums or website comment sections to know that some desktop users of Ubuntu are uneasy about the amount of attention and engineering effort Canonical are directing at their mobile efforts.
This is a long game; a trial of patience. It’s true that this release, as last, remains using Unity 7 (which is in a so-called ‘maintenance mode’). For Ubuntu’s 25 million desktop users things may appear to be in stasis.
But all of the work currently being funnelled into shaping the phone and tablet experiences will, eventually, benefit desktop users. The brilliance of Unity 8 is that it aims to use one unified code-base no matter the device it’s powering.
All of the work [on] the phone and tablet experiences will, eventually, benefit desktop users.
A Unity 8 designed for the desktop remains some way off. Tailoring the interface of Unity 8 for the desktop, and finessing Mir with all the trappings needed to manage a multiple-window workflow, is going to require a huge effort. It’s currently pencilled in as coming in 14.10, though Canonical Community Manager Jono Bacon has cautioned that this could well slip back to 15.04.
But, providing everything goes as planned, we’ll be able to play with some of this on the desktop sooner rather than later.
A ‘developer preview’ session consisting of Unity 8 (tablet UI) and Mir are, tentatively, to be included in April 2014’s release of Ubuntu 14.04. From the Unity Greeter you will be able to log in to Unity 8 just like any other desktop environment.
Ubuntu for Phones Will Hit v1.5
April of next year will prove to be something of a crunch-day deadline for the Ubuntu Touch project. While it may covet ideological prizes it is, so far, yet to ‘seal the deal’ where it matters: shipping on devices that people can buy.
When Ubuntu Touch was announced we were told, according to the timelines of the day, to expect the first Ubuntu Phones on shelves by the time Ubuntu 13.10 rolled around. That, of course, hasn’t happened.
Ubuntu for Phones 1.0 was a good first effort, but was more “alpha” than even its most die-hard fans would dare deny. It even ended up subtitled as ‘for developers only’, rather than the mouthwatering invitation to the world that Canonical’s mobile machinations has suggested it would be up until that point.
While version 1.0 of Ubuntu for Phones fell at the proverbial first gate, the race is far from over. OEMs are, say those mysterious yet oft-cited ‘industry insiders’ and ‘sources’, continuing to hunt out a ‘2nd horse’ to back in the mobile OS race, ever fearful that an over-reliance on the Android ecosystem could turn around to trample them.
Fourth place is still to play for (Microsoft’s Windows Phone is rapidly cementing itself in 3rd, fact fans) and Ubuntu 14.04 will see round 2 – or more accurately round ‘1.5’ – of Ubuntu for Phones.
Many of the missing gaps of that first release – things like vibration support, boot splash, a GUI way to turn the phone off, etc – will be addressed this cycle for version 1.5.
New Icons, Mobile Apps & Misc Changes
While the above represents the “core” happenings planned for this cycle, some other, smaller things are underway.
A new icon theme for Ubuntu Touch is underway, and could debut on the desktop.
Some of the Ubuntu mobile apps will be tailored towards desktop use and made available for easy installation. If any prove to be particularly great Mark Shuttleworth hasn’t ruled out adding a few to the default line up.
An emulator for testing Ubuntu Touch apps is currently in development on 14.04.
And, in a chance already landed, the Unity Greeter now has appropriately themed shutdown dialogs, similar to those used when logging out of or shutting down from within the Unity session.
The USB Start-Up Disk Creator tool (what a mouthful!) is getting redesigned. Expect a streamlined, sleeker look.
TRIM support for SSDs could, finally, be enabled by default. The net result would be peppier Ubuntu performance on SSDs, while potentially lengthening the lifespan of a solid-state drive.