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Ubuntu daddy bets on desktop polish, ARM clouds

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Ubuntu fans are being coaxed into accepting a new emphasis on design in the next desktop release and breaking the umbilical link to old server hardware for the cloud.

Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth has judged that "the nail-biting transitions to Unity and GNOME 3 are behind us" and that Ubuntu 12.04 LTS – due in April next year – provides the opportunity to "put perfection front and centre".

The next version will be called Precise Pangolin.

Celebrating Ubuntu fonts and typefaces on Thursday, Shuttleworth called Ubuntu 12.04 LTS: "An opportunity to work through the whole desktop interface and make sure we're using exactly the right weight in each place, bringing the work we've been doing for several cycles fully into focus."

While there's scope to tweak the user experience, these opportunities would probably be put on hold to focus on "polish, performance and predictability".

Shuttleworth was rallying the penguins ahead of the Ubuntu Developer Summit (UDS), to be held in Orlando, Florida, next month, where they'll hash out the 12.04 LTS design and build.

Work is already underway to prioritise support for newer hardware rather than treading the familiar Linux path of back porting to much loved older systems. Shuttleworth reckons back porting puts the stability of known, good configurations "very much at risk".

Shuttleworth called developing a system of support for hardware one of the "critical challenges" facing the LTS release, adding a strategy will be outlined at UDS.

12.04 will be the first LTS to support ARM on selected system-on-a-chip architectures – support for ARM was formally introduced in the Ubuntu 11.10 just released.

"Ubuntu has established a very strong competence in ARM and I think the 12.04 LTS release will power a new generation of power-focused hardware for the data centre," Shuttleworth said.

On cloud, Shuttleworth also indicated the ability to run Ubuntu-powered clouds on ARM-based servers in addition to the more standard x86.

Shuttleworth is clearly making an early strategic wager that ARM servers will be produced in large numbers by OEMs and installed by customers. It's his big bet on the touchy Ubuntu GUI – especially the creation of Unity at the expense of the old GNOME – that's been splitting Ubuntu loyalists.

Thursday's blog was Shuttleworth's second call in recent days to encourage open-source developers to think about how Ubuntu looks and the distro’s design.

Welcoming the newly elected Ubuntu Community Council on Sunday, Shuttleworth said the Ubuntu project had shifted in recent years to be defined by a design that's not solely focused on integration and delivery. This shift "is not yet fully reflected in the community leadership," he reckoned.

According to Shuttleworth – also a member of the Community Council, which is the non-technical governance body for the project – that shift produced Unity, the uTouch multi-touch framework, and Juju, previously called Ensemble, to build and manage clouds.

"We've now created a whole new dimension to Ubuntu: the design and definition of products, essentially. And that begs the question: what is the community role in defining and designing those products?" Shuttleworth said.

The introduction of Unity, though, has been a polarising force in the community, as it has meant shifting the entire interface to a touch-based one and dumping GNOME.

The first implementations were also very shaky, providing munitions to those concerned about the direction their beloved Linux distro was headed. Open-source firebrand and Cathedral and the Bazaar author Eric Raymond blogged this week that he reckoned Ubuntu had "jumped the shark" with Unity.

Such was the rancour on the Ubuntu Sounder message list that the Community Council closed it in April, with some Sounder followers relocating to Google Groups. Some took the closure of Sounder has an attempt to control the community and shut down discussion on Unity; Shuttleworth's declaration that the transition to Unity is complete is likely to further anger these people.

Council member Daniel Holbarch said at the time of the Sounder closure: "While we appreciate that the Sounder list (and possibly other, similar forums) provide a particular social release for those who use them, we think there are better forums for each of the varied topics discussed there." ®

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