What’s Coming in Karmic Koala?

May 2009 saw the Ubuntu developers meeting in Barcelona for the UDS (Ubuntu Developers’ Summit), where they drew up plans for the next version of Ubuntu, codenamed Karmic Koala and set to be released on October 29. As it is expected that Ubuntu 10.04 (i.e., the version after Karmic Koala) is going to be a Long Term Support (LTS) release, a lot of changes are planned for this cycle. Which makes this one of the most exciting releases in a long time. Various changes have been proposed at the system level while trying to focus on improving the user experience. Many changes that were postponed in the previous cycles have been accepted this time in the hope of having a better LTS.

Foundation-level changes

Various changes to the core of the system are going to be made, such as:

  • Making ext4 the default filesystem: This will lead to a substantial boost in performance as well as reduce fsck occurrences by about 10 times. This was present as an option for Ubuntu 9.04 but now will be the default choice for new installations.
  • Moving to GRUB2.
  • Moving to GDM: This should lead to much better and prettier login screens. It was not included in previous releases as it lacked configuration options, which are being worked upon in this cycle.

As many changes are being made to the core, I would recommend everyone to reinstall rather than upgrade from a previous release. The reason is that many of these changes will be held back if you upgrade, as it is difficult to update such software without breaking the system. So to get the maximum performance, reinstall from scratch.

Boot experience improvements

It is rightly said that the first impression lasts. Keeping this in mind, Ubuntu is aiming to completely revamp the boot experience. The target for the boot time is 10 seconds on a Dell Mini 9 for the 10.04 version. This would be reduced to around five seconds, along with SSDs and some customisation.

Apart from boot speed, many steps are being taken to make the whole boot experience much prettier and friendlier. The splash screen is being modified to add some much needed bling to it. The GDM is also being changed to make it more polished with various effects.

To achieve both speed and beauty, Karmic Koala will be the first Ubuntu version to have KMS (kernel-mode switching) enabled. It will only work with Intel and ATI graphic cards. Nvidia cards will not be supported until Ubuntu 10.04. KMS will ensure a flicker-free boot experience as well as fast user switching. Fedora already has KMS enabled from the past few versions. So it will be good to have this in Ubuntu too.

New default applications

The default set of apps included in Ubuntu has not been changed much over the past many versions. So the decision to replace Pidgin with Empathy has been somewhat controversial. Empathy is a part of GNOME and uses the Telepathy framework for protocol support, which makes it highly scalable and reuseable. It brings with it a lot of useful and exciting features like audio/video chat, desktop sharing, etc. Currently, audio/video chat is supported only for SIP and XMPP, while, hopefully, support for Google Talk and MSN should be added in time for Karmic. This change would mean we can finally stop using proprietary apps like Skype. Another exciting feature that Empathy has is geolocalisation support, which helps in sharing and viewing location information. Unfortunately, this only works with XMPP servers but not with Google Talk.

With the goal of having a more social desktop, Gwibber will also be included as a default app. This will help to keep in touch with friends via microblogging sites like Twitter and Identi.ca as well as Facebook, Digg, etc.

Gnome-Bluetooth will now be used to establish Bluetooth connections. This should fix many of the problems that users faced in previous versions, while also bringing in some cool features like A2DP support so that we can have out-of-the-box Bluetooth headset support.

While it was initially proposed to replace Rhythmbox with the Banshee Media Player, this plan was dropped due to its development schedule not matching with Ubuntu’s.

Papercuts project

How many times have you heard someone say, “Linux lacks polish and is rough around the edges…”? Well, it seems that the Ubuntu developers too have heard this and to fix it, they’ve started the Papercuts project. This will target around 100 usability bugs that are really annoying but not too difficult to fix. This project will add the level of professionalism and completeness found in commercial operating systems. The full list of bugs to be fixed under this project can be found at launchpad.net/hundredpapercuts/karmic.

Ayatana project

As part of Canonical’s efforts to improve the user experience on the Linux desktop, the Ayatana project was started. Ayatana is actually a collection of various projects where design and user experience are given high priority. Currently, Ayatana comprises two projects. The notify-osd project, the new notification system that first made its appearance in Ubuntu 9.04, is being improved in this cycle. The other project is the messaging-indicator project that also was first seen in Ubuntu 9.04. This helps to reduce the clutter in the panel by reducing the number of icons. In this cycle, work is on to make it support many more apps like Empathy, Thunderbird, etc.

GNOME 3 preview

Though GNOME 3 is not scheduled to be released until March next year, a preview release of various GNOME 3 apps like GNOME Shell and Zeitgest will be made available via the repositories. This will help in getting a lot of exposure for these apps and help in a smoother transition to GNOME 3. People will be able to test the apps and give their feedback to the developers.

Android on Ubuntu

With many people interested in Android, Ubuntu doesn’t want to be far behind and is working on integrating Android apps into Ubuntu. This will help netbook users to run Android apps on Ubuntu, natively, which will open up a whole new world of apps for Ubuntu users. Ubuntu also wants to become the best platform for development of Android apps. These steps will hopefully help in increasing the number of companies offering Ubuntu on their machines.

While this just about sums up the main changes to be expected in Ubuntu 9.10, many other improvements can be expected. In the next few months we will see the release of many new operating systems like Snow Leopard and Windows 7, and to compete with them will be a tough job for Ubuntu and desktop Linux, in general. But looking at the features planned and keeping in mind how far we have come in just the past two years, there seems to be a lot of hope for Linux on the desktop. Next year could definitely be the year of Linux on the desktop!

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