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Aggrieved that your favorite operating system doesn’t feature the options you love? Reckon that your ideas for an improved desktop experience should be listened to?
Well, so does Canonical. The developers of the Linux-based Ubuntu operating system have opened up two avenues for user feedback during 2017, and given the success so far, there could be more to come.
But what’s it all about? How are Canonical reaching out to their users, and how is the data they collate used? Can you really influence the development of Ubuntu?
Ubuntu 17.10 Feature Requests
In early 2017, Canonical’s Ubuntu Product Manager Dustin Kirkland descended upon Hacker News with an announcement.
“I’m interested in HackerNews feedback and feature requests for the Ubuntu 17.10 development cycle, which opens up at the end of April, and culminates in the 17.10 release in October 2017. This is the first time we’ve ever posed this question to the garrulous HN crowd, so I’m excited about it, and I’m sure this will be interesting!”
Following this request, the Hacker News community got pretty excited, resulting in 1,109 comments by 713 unique users. More stats can be read in Kirkland’s summary blog.
In short, the feature request has proved to be a resounding success, something that has already influenced a major change in Ubuntu.
Feature Requests: Results
You may know that Ubuntu has abandoned Unity (although you can keep it… after all, it’s far from dead). But did you know that the decision to switch to GNOME (as opposed to the myriad other desktop environments) was influenced by the feature requests survey?
Daily builds of 17.10 are already available, and feature the GNOME desktop, along with some other community-contributed improvements:
- New BlueZ implementation for improved Bluetooth support.
- 4K/Multimonitor/HiDPI improvements, which should improve 4K support across different displays.
- Upgrade to Network Manager 1.8 for enhanced network connectivity.
- Better mouse settings and improved touchpad gesture support.
- Improved support for NVIDIA GPUs (proprietary graphics being a bit of a sticking point for Linux systems).
Many more changes can be found listed in detail at Dustin Kirkland’s blog. Once implemented, you can expect to find these
The Desktop Default Application Survey
Given the success of the previous survey, Kirkland is now polling users across a number of Linux-centric websites to measure engagement with default apps. Are the ones included in Ubuntu popular? To find out, a survey can be completed at http://ubu.one/apps1804. Here you’ll find the opportunity to offer up to three options for each application type.
For instance, web browser, email client, terminal client… and so on. All you need to do is spend the time filling out the form, perhaps checking which open source apps you currently use, and which ones you’ve previously used or would like to see in Ubuntu. List these in order of preference for all application types that you use, hit Submit!
Once submitted, this information will be used to distill a new collection of defaults for Ubuntu 18.04 LTS, which is expected to be released in April 2018. (In case you didn’t know, Ubuntu releases are numbered according to the year and month.)
How the Data Will Be Used
There has been some concern among survey respondents (and those yet to respond!) about whether the data will be used. To find out more, I chatted with Dustin Kirkland to establish the intention. He was absolutely clear: “Every user who responded should be 100 percent confident that their voice has been heard. We have meticulously collected the data and we’re processing it now.”
At the time of writing, the response rate is an amazing 76 percent. That’s across all blogs and websites that have featured the survey, such as Reddit, OMG Ubuntu, and others. But how can so much data be useful? “Canonical’s Ubuntu Desktop Engineering team is working hard to scrub those results, and derive insights on how Ubuntu users interact with their desktop, and with what apps.”
Kirkland tells me that the data will be made public in a few weeks when the first phase ends. Due to the amount of data being collated, a second phase will run later in 2017. This time, on September 13, a refinement poll will be launched.
“The results of that second poll will feed into the Ubuntu 18.04 LTS engineering planning cycle, which begins the week of September 25th, and concludes, with a concrete product plan, the week of October 9th, 2017. We will then spend 6 months developing Ubuntu 18.04 LTS.”
Where One Leads, Will Others Follow?
Kirkland tells me that the success of the project so far will see future versions of Ubuntu employ the same level of community interaction. The Ubuntu desktop continues to be important to its users in a way that other operating systems are perhaps not. In short, Kirkland observes that “the Ubuntu Desktop is still a deeply personal experience and Ubuntu users are incredibly passionate about it.”
Of course, Canonical are by no means alone in collating data from users about how they engage with their PCs. But unlike, say, Microsoft, this is an entirely voluntary process. It’s not collected behind the scenes, with little or no oversight, or awareness by you, the end user.
You can easily head to the Ubuntu default apps survey page to make your own suggestions. No one needs to know — or cares — who you are. Only that you want to help Ubuntu be the best it can be.
It’s a great approach, one that we can see expanding across other operating systems and Linux distros over the coming years. This is an opportunity for real change: it doesn’t matter if you can code or not, you now have the chance to influence the development of one of the biggest Linux operating systems. Don’t miss it!
Will you be contributing to this list? If so, act quickly! Or would you like to see your own preferred operating system — whether Windows, iOS, or Android — reach out in the same way? Tell us below.
Image Credits: Gajus/Shutterstock