Don't rest, Ubuntu has a way to go yet
Like most Linux users I applaud Canonical's latest Ubuntu Linux release, version 9.04 or “Jaunty Jackalope”. The release further cements Ubuntu's “onward and upward” philosophy whereby each release becomes that little bit more functional and user-friendly. Disclaimer: I have used every release of Ubuntu since Warty Warthog (look it up), but switched to the KDE variant Kubuntu some time ago.
What's most exciting about the Jaunty release is that it will be followed by another release (code-named Karmic Koala, BTW) in October.
This is where Ubuntu needs to play its cards right. With such rapid release schedules, Ubuntu needs to make sure annoying regressions and other breakages don't creep in spoiling its release parties and the continuous improvement mantra.
Mark Shuttleworth has explained at length why he prefers six monthly releases for Ubuntu so I won't dwell on it now, but what I will say is the frequency of a Linux distribution release will not necessarily determine how usable it is.
With more and more software installations and updates being performed over the Internet, the idea of a “definitive release” is become less compelling. Sure, it's ideal if you are a new user, but if you're already using Ubuntu it's a lot less relevant.
To that end OpenSUSE's decision to adopt a nine-month release cycle may improve its installation and management experience for new Linux users.
Simply pumping out the latest release of open source components won't make them work together better either.
Application integration is something still lacking among Linux distributions and it would be great to see Ubuntu tackle that problem head on for a future full release. Perhaps not Karmic or even the next one, but it would great to see Ubuntu put its head down and devote a whole release cycle to making its choice of open source components play well together – even if it is something as simple as automating installations.
We're already seeing signs of that with the dovecot-postfix package in Jaunty.
Windows and Mac OS X systems have always focused on rationality and integration for a “seamless” experience and it would be great to see Ubuntu do the same, even if it means dropping support for the less popular software packages it now distributes.
A free, open source operating system that “just works”, even the most ardent Linux fans are waiting for that.