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What's Coming Next for Ubuntu Linux?

Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth expounds on future plans for this popular Linux distribution.

With the release of Ubuntu Linux 12.04 "Precise Pangolin" less than a week ago, there's still plenty of excitement and discussion about this latest iteration of Canonical's popular Linux distribution.

Time never stands still, however, so even as Precise Pangolin was making its official debut, work was already beginning on its successor, which we've recently learned will be named Quantal Quetzal.

Also with an eye to the future, Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth on Tuesday spent an hour answering questions about what else is coming down the pike for Ubuntu in version 12.10 and beyond. As part of Ubuntu Open Week this week, Shuttleworth's "Ask Mark" session offered a compelling glimpse at what's to come.

'Ask Mark'

Organized at the beginning of each new release cycle, Ubuntu Open Week is a week of IRC tuition and Q+A sessions aimed at getting new contributors involved.

Kicking it all off is the "Ask Mark" session, during which community members are invited to ask Shuttleworth questions about the Ubuntu project.

Questions this time around varied from queries about plans for the Unity desktop to Canonical's relationships with hardware makers and beyond, but they provided interesting insight into Ubuntu's future directions.

You can check out the full transcript for yourself in the IRC log, but here are some of the key highlights.

1. Menus Won't Disappear Soon

In response to one question regarding Ubuntu's new Head-Up Display interface--and, in particular, what would need to be done to make it a viable replacement for the traditional menu system--Shuttleworth said there is no specific plan at this point for that to take place.

"No concrete ideas, beyond keeping traditional menus around as long as we need them for that purpose," he said.

Furthermore, "since we have all the data in the global menu now, it should be possible for people to experiment with lightweight Python programs to mock up ideas or suggestions," he added.

2. Unity Is Two-Thirds Done

Unity provides a better desktop shell experience for users than GNOME does, Shuttleworth asserted, reiterating similar comments he's made before.

"We get criticized for using Firefox not Epiphany, or Rhythmbox not Banshee, or... you name it," he explained. "But the fact that we make those tough decisions, with the criterion being 'what works best out of the box for users,' is part of what makes Ubuntu important in the open source ecosystem. That's how we've made open source useful for millions of other people."

The interface is now about two-thirds of the way to fulfilling the original vision for it, he added.

The next big decision, in fact, is how to merge the 2D and 3D versions, Shuttleworth said, and it's a tough one that will require developers to redo some work.

Quality, however, is continuously improving thanks to the fact that there's now significant QA support for the interface, he added.

"It seems people who were even very skeptical about Unity are willing to give it another shot," Shuttleworth said. "I think the design vision is becoming clearer, and the team worked incredibly hard to address bugs and shortcomings."

3. Wayland Is on the Way

The new Wayland graphics system announced in late 2010 "will be exactly two years more mature for the next LTS," Shuttleworth said.

At the same time, "I think X apps will be supported well beyond that, and we'll make the pieces fit together smoothly along the way," he added.

4. A New Icon Theme?

Canonical has long wanted to create a new icon theme, but a proper analysis needs to be done before anything is actually implemented, Shuttleworth said. Toward that end, "we've pulled together some experts, both artists and interface gurus, to look at the use of icons across the desktop. The art part will come later," he noted.

5. Microsoft's 'Gutsy Choices'

Asked about Windows 8 and any opportunity it may present for Ubuntu, Shuttleworth remained diplomatic.

"I admire some of the gutsy choices Microsoft are making," he said. "It's difficult for them, and they are doing some things very well. Credit where it is due."

"We are not here because we hate anybody else," Shuttleworth added. "We're here because we have a vision of a future only we can create."

6. Ubuntu TV and Ubuntu for Android

Last but not least, when asked if any Ubuntu TV or Ubuntu for Android devices will appear soon, Shuttleworth answered in just one, intriguing word: "mayyyyybe ;)"

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