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Ubuntu 'stagnation' is really innovation

Ubuntu doesn't appear to be innovating much on the desktop these days, which may well be the point. Going forward, the important thing is making the operating system cloud-friendly.

Linux guru Keir Thomas, in a blog post for PC World, argues that the Linux distribution and Mozilla's Firefox browser have forgotten themselves in the rush to popularity. Or, rather, they've forgotten their core values which, in both cases, translates into forgetting the importance of end users.

I can't agree.

Thomas' biggest complaint about Firefox is that it has slowed down, which seems an odd complaint, given how much faster Firefox 3 is (and Firefox Minefield is mind-numbingly fast).

But his complaints about Ubuntu seem even wider off the mark:

It seems there will be almost no new end-user features in the 9.04 release of Ubuntu...The most exciting thing is 3.0 and, well, that's not actually very exciting...It appears that, apart from a snazzy graphical boot, the desktop experience will be left to stagnate once again.

As with most Ubuntu releases, there will probably be furious tweaking under the hood, or in the back-room support services, but this means nothing, if it isn't visible, and if it doesn't improve the end-user experience. Ubuntu has, above all, always been a 100 percent end-user distro, which arguably makes it unique in the world of Linux.

Such criticism misses the mark, because it misses the point of what the desktop operating system has become or, rather, what it's becoming. Canonical's latest Ubuntu release may not have added new menus or graphics, but it made big news on the server side by making Ubuntu friendly to cloud computing. That is the point.

Whether you prefer Mac, Windows, or Linux for your desktop client, when was the last time that you saw big improvements? I'm a big Mac fan, but it has been years since Apple introduced something (Expose, in my case) that really wowed me and changed the way I use my computer.

This is why Apple's next Mac release, Snow Leopard, is mostly focused on the same under-the-hood tinkering for which Thomas rejects Ubuntu's Jaunty Jackalope release. Microsoft's Vista had its problems, but perhaps the biggest was that it gave no compelling reason to leave XP.

I believe we've tapped out the desktop metaphor.

If this is correct, Canonical should get plaudits, not criticism, for recognizing the desktop operating-system stalemate and pushing Ubuntu into the cloud, where there's still a great deal of room to innovate by tying desktop performance into cloud services flexibility.

The Linux desktop is dead, and has been dying for a long time. That's OK because it's not alone. Windows and the Mac are also tenants in the desktop's senior care center.

As users, we should expect more "under the hood" tinkering in Windows, Mac, and Linux releases, as each gears up for the next wave of cloud services competition. Desktop competition, in other words, isn't dead. It's just entering a new phase.

Follow me on Twitter at mjasay.