As I mentioned in a recent post, I have come to like Ubuntu 13.04 quite a bit. Raring Ringtail marks the first Ubuntu installation lasting more than a day in one of my machines since the Ubuntu 10.10 days. In fact, the more I am using it, specially after getting some updates that have improved stability, the more I am liking it. It´s been a two year hiatus and now that I am getting to love it again, I can´t help but being a bit concerned with everything I am reading about Canonical changing the core of Ubuntu.
News has it that Ubuntu will, over the next year, change its software packaging system to what they call "Click Packages", abandon X and forget about Wayland to embrace Mir and, last but not least, transition Unity entirely to Qt. The idea behind this sequence of changes it to provide a unified foundation for all the Ubuntu platforms (mobile + desktop, maybe TV?) to build upon. Given how quickly they want it to be ready, though, and the fundamental nature of all the changes, it is quite the ambitious plan, to say the least.
Looking back at the "promise-to-achieve" ratio Canonical has been able to score in the last couple of years (quite poor), the quality of what was being offered (again quite poor, requiring 4 full releases to get to an acceptable level) and the fact that there was a clear lack of direction, this all sounds a bit scary. If getting Unity to work as expected took two years an a half, when can we expect all these radical changes to work nicely? Ubuntu 14.04 is the target of all these changes converging together on all platforms, but does that mean the same as actually meeting expectations?
Lots of users like me were disappointed in Ubuntu after 11.04 and it took more than two years to finally offer something compelling enough to bring (some of) them back. If Canonical chew more than they can swallow now, if they get back into unstable, under-performing software for several more releases, it´s just going to be a pity and they may lose some users forever.
On the other hand, I must admit that, if Ubuntu is ever going to be a decent opponent to Android, iOS and the like, these changes might be not only critical, but also an absolutely must. Some are criticizing that Ubuntu is isolating itself from the Linux ecosystem and seeking more control, but let´s be honest, that´s the only way for it to become an alternative to the big names out there. Ubuntu must up its game big time in many respects if it ever wants to put up a fight, becoming more dynamic, flexible, reliable, better looking and way more responsive.
Let´s just hope they get it right this time and are able to complete these changes as planned, within the next 12 months. If Canonical pulls this off, it may be the beginning of Ubuntu for real, a serious distro that can truly compete out there. However, if they again take 2-3 years to actually make it happen, I believe their train will have left the station, probably forever.