Canonical (and consequently, the Ubuntu project) is constantly growing. The Ubuntu distribution has grown to be one of the most popular desktop systems out there, garnering millions of users worldwide. Mark Shuttleworth has come out many times with ideas to help boost Free Software in the commercial and private sectors, and Canonical should be applauded for what they’ve achieved so far.
However, here’s a few ideas I think they ought to mull over. Just keep in mind that I’m throwing around ideas, these aren’t exactly “practical” ideas so much as that they’re just ideas that I think happen to be neat.
1. Buy Out System76
It’s no secret that System76 is one of the biggest supporters of Ubuntu. They install the Ubuntu system on every device they ship, have the rights to place the Ubuntu logo on all of their products, and have a fantastic make quality. They work together with Canonical to provide updates, drivers, codecs, etc. If anything, I think it would be a wise move some time in the future for Canonical to consider buying out System76 and using them to produce Canonical-branded hardware. Mark Shuttleworth even mused over the idea of going into hardware with Canonical in the past, this would be one way to do it. Also, with Ubuntu as the main operating systems on their own hardware, Canonical could look into…oh, I dunno…switching the boards over to Coreboot and looking into using Free Software hardware and drivers.
2. Provide an alternative repository for Free Software Android Applications
Canonical turned a lot of heads by introducing a music store into the Ubuntu One service package. It’s a welcome change of pace, and gives many Linux users the ability to purchase and download music legally (albeit in an MP3 format, more on this later)
The more important question, however: Ubuntu can now download music in a function not unlike iTunes, but…what about mobile apps? As the libraries for Ubuntu’s desktop system have gotten more and more robust for device syncing, I’ve been wondering how this could best be used to kill two birds with one stone.
Why Android, rather than the other half-dozen linux-based smartphones out there? As far as I can tell, Android is rapidly becoming the most-used linux-based smartphone platform around, and sales have surpassed that of the iPhone. This would be a way to get to as many people as possible.
See, there’s a bit of a jam going on with Android: You can get paid apps, and you can get free (as in gratis) apps, but it’s not always the easiest to find Free Software applications. Oh, they’re out there, don’t get me wrong. But finding them is less than obvious, and if you have a custom Android ROM such as CyanogenMOD, you can’t even use Google’s regular app store. The need for an alternative to step around these issues is obvious. This would stimulate FOSS development on apps for Android, and in turn would also provide a free repository for anyone using an Android device.
3. Make Ogg Available for the UbuntuOne Music Store
This has been one of the biggest complaints about the U1MS. It would be really, really nice to be able to download music in a Free Software format. While it isn’t exactly a requirement per se, it would be a nice way to begin circumventing the need to install MPEG-based patented codecs. I started a petition a while ago here, feel free to sign it and present it to Canonical. As of this writing, there’s about 245 signatures of users that would be willing to use U1MS if it switched over to OGG.
4. Switch to “Feature-Based” Releases
I’ve wondered for a while why they haven’t done this already. I suppose doing the “100 Papercuts” is at least a start for the sake of usability, but in my mind something a little bit more needs to be done. I think Ubuntu developers ought to consider the possibility of splitting up development to focus on specific system features for each release. What do I mean by this?
Let’s assume that, under this model, their next main focus for the next release will specifically be business applications. Rather than just touching base with upstream, they could focus a whole bunch of usability bugs, features, etc, into strictly the business and office apps in the Ubuntu repositories. They could package and refine some of the really nifty office applications you don’t normally hear much about. Then, for the next release they could focus specifically on multimedia creation, and look at ways to iron out PulseAudio, possible multimedia frameworks they could integrate into applications, different workflows they could put together, etc. They could focus on areas that they’re currently a bit lacking in, and as such they could find ways to strengthen the user experience across the board.