Ubuntu Desktop: Charting a course for the future

Ubuntu Desktop: charting a course for the future

A small boat navigating the ocean.

Photo by Geranimo, Unsplash

It has been a little while since we shared our vision for Ubuntu Desktop, and explained how our current roadmap fits into our long term strategic thinking. Recently, we embarked on an internal exercise to consolidate and bring structure to our values and goals for how we plan to evolve the desktop experience over the next few years. This post is designed to share the output of those discussions and give insight into the direction we’re going.

These values form the framework by which we determine our priorities and measure our progress, and hopefully inspire those that want to contribute to this experience to focus their energies in ways that are aligned with our longer term ambitions.

Where are we now?

Before looking ahead, let’s take the time to acknowledge Ubuntu Desktop’s position in the wider OS landscape. Starting with some stats:

  • Ubuntu Desktop has more than 6 million monthly active users (based on devices checking for desktop-specific updates and not including those behind a corporate firewall or proxy).
  • Ubuntu Desktop is by far the most popular Linux distribution for developers (~27% in the 2023 Stack Overflow developer survey).
  • Ubuntu Desktop is the most used desktop Linux distribution for gaming (when you include older LTS and interim releases grouped inside the ‘Other category’ on the Steam hardware survey).

But this is not a position to be complacent about. We must be hyper-aware that the desktop landscape is rapidly evolving in a variety of ways, including:

  • The increasing focus on security, including a wide range of MFA tools, secure boot, hardware backed encryption and immutable OS’s.
  • The rapid transition of user data and enterprise management suites to the cloud.
  • The growing usability of cloud desktops, even for high-end software engineering.
  • The introduction of more experimental technologies like embedded AI, such as Windows Copilot.
  • The concept of augmented or virtual reality productivity environments, such as the Apple Vision Pro.

With this in mind, it is not enough to polish what we have, we must build momentum to address these evolving user needs in a way that is uniquely ‘Ubuntu’, adheres to our mission and the broader values of the open source development community.

That is why the Ubuntu Desktop team continues to grow rapidly, so that we can reinforce our foundations, explore new technologies and use cases, and serve our ever growing user-base.

Why are values important?

Values help us articulate the reasons behind the goals we set ourselves. They represent commonly understood priorities from our users that may manifest at different levels in the product. From specific features, to combinations of features, to simply a philosophy behind our development practices.

They also provide a persistent through-line across Ubuntu releases. It’s one thing to list all of the new features we plan to land in Ubuntu 23.10, but to do so in a way that everyone understands that these are stepping stones to broader goals makes it easier for users to appreciate our motivations and follow our journey towards a commonly understood end-point.

Diagram showing how values connect each sequential Ubuntu release into a a more narratively structured progression of features.

Let’s illustrate this with an example:

In Ubuntu 23.04, we changed the Desktop installer from Ubiquity to Subiquity, the new Ubuntu Server installer.

The “feature” view of this change is a new desktop installer that is more flexible and unifies the tech stack so that development effort is centralised.

But we could view this as a stepping stone towards a longer term goal: “Zero touch deployment” or the ability for users to take a laptop pre-installed with a standard Ubuntu image and apply customisations on first boot to create a personalised or enterprise specific installation through device enrollment.

This goal is made up of many features, the new installer being just one of them, and to achieve it will be a multi-cycle effort that gradually adds more elements of this design over time.

We have shifted the way we plan in the Ubuntu community, to make these high level goals the primary topics of discussion and debate, so that we can more easily include a wider group of voices into the Ubuntu roadmap.

But why did we choose that as a goal? And how do we maintain focus on such a long term initiative over many releases? Well, this is because such a feature lives up to a number of our core values listed below. Let’s see if you can identify which ones. :wink:

The Ubuntu Desktop values

Ubuntu Desktop is used by millions of people from all over the world. This includes Linux enthusiasts, gamers, freelancers, students, administrators and professional developers, so it’s challenging to narrow our roadmap thinking to simply targeting specific types of users.

To ensure that we are maximising our efforts to provide exciting new capabilities to as many users as possible, we need to reduce this complexity space to a set of values that would resonate with as many people as possible.

These are the result of that thinking, first at a high level and then illustrated with more specific examples from our upcoming Ubuntu 23.10.

Choice

Wherever you want to work, Ubuntu Desktop should be there for you. This includes devices from Dell, HP and Lenovo, the Raspberry Pi (and other Arm-based devices!) and even in the cloud.

  • Ubuntu 23.10: This one we’re keeping quiet about for now, stay tuned!

Quality

The features we ship in Ubuntu should be high quality, well designed and form a coherent experience that is both intuitive to new users and highly efficient for power users.

  • Ubuntu 23.10: We’re continuing to refine the first time user experience beyond what we delivered in Ubuntu 23.04, including a new, more modern and performant app store (also part of our enjoyment value, see below).

Support

Backed by our global community and Canonical, Ubuntu Desktop should be well documented, easy to troubleshoot and securely maintained for the lifecycle of each Long Term Supported release. Ubuntu Pro is available to everyone and Canonical’s support teams deliver enterprise-grade support services to those organisations that require it.

  • Ubuntu 23.10: Thanks to the migration to Subiquity, it’s possible to use autoinstall to customise desktop images via cloud-init. We are working on the desktop specific elements of that. Check out Dave Jone’s blogs on building Ubuntu flavour images for Raspberry Pi for inspiration.

Enjoyment

A desktop operating system should be more than just productive, it should be a pleasure to use. The touchpad should feel good, games should run well, your favourite software should be easy to find and your workspaces should be intuitive to navigate.

  • Ubuntu 23.10: Our new Ubuntu Software application is designed to make it easier than ever to find and manage the software you need. Quarter-screen tiling will also land as a first implementation to help you manage your workspaces more easily.

Performance

Ubuntu should feel lightweight and responsive across a wide range of hardware for a range of tasks from gaming to development to day-to-day productivity. It should also be efficient, particularly when it comes to the battery life of your devices.

Privacy by design

Privacy is an increasingly important value to users in every sphere of life. We want to ensure that users feel in control of their data and have the tools to manage and understand their privacy status when using Ubuntu.

  • Ubuntu 23.10: We are investing in a new prompting mechanism that asks users to provide and manage additional permissions requested by applications (such as specific file access).

Security by default

Ubuntu Desktop must hold itself to the highest standards of security for both daily users and organisations with specific compliance requirements. Ubuntu’s recommended security configurations should be easy to understand and available as the default experience.

  • Ubuntu 23.10: We are currently working on a highly experimental implementation of hardware-backed full disk encryption as an option in the Ubuntu installer and the newest release of software-properties improves security for PPA key management.

Seamless integration

Ubuntu should deliver a coherent and consistent experience across Desktop and Server where it makes sense to do so. It should be easy to introduce Ubuntu into the wider ecosystem of developer, identity and device management tools.

Looking towards the future

We should always be working to identify new technologies that could improve Ubuntu Desktop in the context of our other values and implement them in a thoughtful, mission-aligned manner.

  • Ubuntu 23.10: In parallel we are also working on Ubuntu Core Desktop, an immutable version of the classic desktop experience, an additional choice :slightly_smiling_face: for Linux Desktop users designed to improve security, quality and stability.

As you can tell from some of the examples, each of these values can be interpreted and applied in a variety of ways across the Ubuntu stack, even internally we are still identifying new things to explore or consider inspired by this framework.

We know this list is not exhaustive. We sometimes fall short of fulfilling these bold goals. But that’s why we put them on paper: because we want to focus on achieving these high standards we’ve set for ourselves.

If you believe in these values and want to challenge us, or even contribute to making them a reality, we want you to be part of our journey.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts and returning to this topic towards the end of the year in the context of Ubuntu Desktop 24.04 LTS.

We think it’s going to be pretty special.

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Oh that’s interesting. Are you able to share whether that’s part of FreeDesktop portals or something specific to snap?

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I appreciate the focus on privacy and security. While I personally use Ubuntu because I do NOT want or need my data in the cloud (And other OS’es irritate me to oblivion to use the cloud for such), the support of user choice has kept me here. Many will use Ubuntu for reasons and scenarios completely opposite of mine I also understand. So far, I think that good balance has been maintained. Please continue to keep Ubuntu so versatile and thanks for welcoming feedback. Looking forward to 24.04.

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Honestly I reaqlly hope they push this upstream to gnome-software as well as adding hooks for Flatpak. Not that I hate snaps or anything but in all honesty they both have issues with permissions with flatpaks missing some and sometimes snaps being a little too open.

Since snaps utilize nearly only in-kernel features for their confinement, which result in audit messages, i think the solution will actually live in the kernel, with a minimal userspace bit to throw message notifications from the kernel audit layer onto the dbus, where the different desktops can then utilize them in a toolkit specific UI, not sure that would fit any freedesktop spec …

i guess from a user POV it will look similar to what you see on your mobile phone, on first access to a blocked resource the system will ask you for permission interactively, so all these mazes for permission pages in tools like the snap store should be superfluous (perhaps useful to use them to explicitly turn off something already granted again, but likely not needed beyond this)

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In the “Support” value I’d also put this Discourse channel which is very useful to know and understand the team’s choices.

I registered only 1/2 months ago, but I came here almost everyday to see what’s going on and it’s super-interesting.

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Welcome! There’s all sorts of easter eggs on here for folks to get a sneak peak of what we’re working on and get involved.

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Linux folks tell that Desktop market is niche. But if on Gnome Control Panel: Info Page with Ubuntu logo was button to “<a href be Ubuntu PRO”, then maybe “some” costs to developers working on linux desktop may be returned to Ubuntu… Because only on Ubuntu Download page there is Donation page and otherwise nothing…

Ubuntu role in the Linux ecosystem was what convince me to nuke Windows 10/11. Been using it since 18.04 and loving it.
I’m sometime tempted to try the NON-LTS releases, but I’m concerned about their stability. I’m currently studying software dev which best matches non-LTS, for the sole reason of later libraries.
I really wish all libraries were snaps so i can for example have 3 libc versions and build against any of the 3.
It was fun watching Ubuntu formatting my Windows install. I was like a child watching something i hate burn.

Also, Snaps have so much potential and yet its being shunned by many. Really want canonical to see that what it has done so far with snaps its just like removing just the outer skin of an onion. Now let us all start the race to the inner core of that onion. Lets show all those against snaps, what they’re missing when we reach the finish line.

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I am sorry but is this number accurate? It is incredibly tiny compared to what is expected for a flagship distribution like Ubuntu, especially if we take previous statistics into account.

In 2013 Canonical said that it is expected to have 18 million desktop users: https://web.archive.org/web/20120614123643/http://www.theinquirer.net:80/inquirer/news/2173243/canonical-expects-ubuntu-pre-installed-million-pcs-2013

How come 10 years later, we now have only 6 million?

The methodology could be different of course, but such a huge difference should be enough indicator that there is something wrong with it. Perhaps depending on the package update mechanism is not wise.

Your link is referring to installs not monthly average users, we comfortably exceed that target you mentioned in annual Ubuntu Desktop installs (looking at all sources not just devices with Ubuntu pre-installed). :slight_smile:

My data refers to monthly active users, so devices that check in within a certain window. This is always smaller than total installs in a year as not everyone is using their device (or just their Ubuntu partition if they dual-boot) within a certain 30 day period but it is a better method of measuring actual usage.

As I mention it is also a ‘known minimum’ as we can’t track offline devices or corporate devices behind network firewalls/proxies. This is a significant number of devices and could extend that value considerably but I wanted to keep the number grounded.

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You can abandon any hope of flatpak in Ubuntu defaults

See https://discourse.ubuntu.com/t/flatpak-is-a-missed-opportunity

A new Ubuntu-fix.sh is in the way …

Because Millions of people don’t turn on their computers anymore and do everything on their phone.

I’m really excited about this comprehensive vision for the future of Ubuntu Desktop that Canonical has shared. It’s great to see their commitment to constant improvement and how they’re addressing the evolving landscape.

The inclusion of hardware-backed full disk encryption in Ubuntu 23.10 is a standout feature for me. I’m genuinely curious to see if it will function similarly to the method outlined in this informative article: https://chris.boyle.name/blog/2020/10/passwordless-disk-encryption-on-linux. If so, it could be a game-changer for security on the platform.

I also think that Canonical could play a pivotal role in elevating the overall quality and feature set of productivity software, particularly LibreOffice. A focus on enhancing the user experience with de facto standard software like LibreOffice could make Ubuntu Desktop even more appealing to a broader range of users.

When it comes to privacy, I find myself wondering why Canonical hasn’t been more involved in the public debate surrounding GDPR and the utilization of Google Workspace / Chromebooks in public schools across the European Union. Given Ubuntu’s focus on privacy and user control, their insights could contribute significantly to these discussions. It seems like a missed business opportunity for Canonical to not engage in such important conversations.

Regarding gaming, I believe that Canonical has an opportunity to showcase Ubuntu as a gaming platform. Imagine seeing a CSGO team using Ubuntu in a professional tournament. Such a move could be a tremendous branding opportunity and demonstrate that Ubuntu is truly a versatile gaming OS.

All in all, I’m enthusiastic about the direction Ubuntu Desktop is taking. The commitment to innovation and user-oriented values is truly commendable. Kudos to Canonical for their dedication, and I’m eagerly looking forward to the upcoming releases and developments.

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I would like to see Ubuntu Desktop receive far more focus for everyday business acceptance and use. IMHO, that is where the real immediate potential is. Gaming is a good goal but that is very long term because you have to also convince AAA studios to develop for Linux. They don’t want to invest in the Linux platform because the market is too small. It’s a catch-22.

Our company would like to rid ourselves of Microsoft Windows. The ridiculously expensive technology stack required to run a secure MS Windows desktop is out of control. We also have Ubuntu Desktops deployed but the integration with Azure Active Directory (ironic, I know) is steep to get integrated and cannot be done simply during a 22.04 installation. We are hopeful that 24.04 has far better and simpler Azure AD integration during installation. Most of our applications are cloud (browser) based so getting users to adopt Ubuntu Desktop is not difficult.

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Ubuntu Desktop is the most used desktop Linux distribution for gaming (when you include older LTS and interim releases grouped inside the ‘Other category’ on the Steam hardware survey).

May I ask how you found out what is in the “Other” item, if this item is not clickable?

It seems that you assumed that there may be other versions of Ubuntu, passing it off as they are there, which is not included in the concept of objective evaluation based on statistics.

While smartphones can do a lot, they will not replace a desktop for quite some time (until significant virtual interactive display technologies). Ubuntu does such a great job with integrating with smartphones and tablets – and I really think the Gnome UI is awesome.

Plotting a course for the future could involve continuous advances in technologies such as graphics support (kernel), partnering with game manufacturers, adding user friendliness (welcome screen support with links to MS Core Fonts, business integration apps, and key applications via software center).

I am thankful for a community driven OS that is focused and driven to be even more popular – in the business sector, the gaming sector, the personal home sector, and those without Internet access.

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