In December 2019, Canonical, the company responsible for the development of Ubuntu, created a poll asking “how could they make Ubuntu better” for our use. Although Ubuntu is already very efficient and widely used, there is undoubtedly room for many improvements.
Talking to your customer is one of the most important lessons learned by any company that has achieved success. In the Linux world, interestingly, listening to what the customer has to say often means listening to someone in love with the system or software, while often being a non-paying user for the service.
The big survey of 2019
I remember answering Canonical’s questionnaire at the end of last year, taking care to carefully (and extensively) fill in each field, putting in details that I believed deserved changes, some of them, in fact, ended up arriving in the system , others do not.
Second the Ubuntu blog, about 22 thousand people answered this poll, becoming part of the discussion that was raised for the development of Ubuntu 20.04 LTS Focal Fossa, which was launched recently.
The company comments that all these messages helped in the decision-making process on some very specific points.
Machine Learning to the rescue for Ubuntu 20.04 LTS
In addition to a traditional reading, Canonical used the machine learning and text analysis service of Monkey Learn to identify what feelings were used behind each comment, as well as the most used keyword ranking among all responses.
This analysis generated a precious result, which was publicly shared in the official Ubuntu media. Several points were identified and reveal a lot about the difficult mission of pleasing a consumer like Ubuntu users.
Unity sent my regards
The move to GNOME was controversial, as was the move to Unity itself in mid-2011, however, the controversy apparently remains.
Canonical reports that a large amount of comments involved the word “GNOME” and some very interesting conclusions were drawn from this information.
Although Unity was still remembered by users, Canonical admits that no matter how hard they tried, a large part of the community saw the Unity development initiative, not as an advance, but as a way to divide the community , even without that direct intention.
Historically speaking, this is exactly what happened, there was a division and Canonical ended up moving away from this more community approach. Research like this has become rare for a while. Still, it is curious to realize that this was the same period where Ubuntu saw its greatest growth in popularity, creating its visual identity, which is carried on until now.
Among the people who answered the survey questions for the creation of Ubuntu 20.04 LTS, about 30% mentioned the desire to return Unity.
A relevant sample, 80% of people, even though they mentioned their desire for Unity eventually, admitted that GNOME Shell is a good thing, but still called for specific improvements.
The results of the research carried out by Canonical for the production of Ubuntu 20.04 LTS show that people would like to maintain a long-supported version, but that it could be easily updated, with a recent and optimized GNOME.
People don’t want Windows, but the programs that run on it
A particularly interesting part of Canonical’s research shows how much people want to use Linux and find themselves stuck with other systems, possibly due to the availability of some software.
Adobe Photoshop (and other Creative Suite software), Microsoft Office and other tools that are currently not available for Linux have been mentioned a few hundred times as “reasons for still using Windows”.
These answers came when the question «What would you like Ubuntu to do to make your life simpler». Although the problems are legitimate, it is natural to imagine the feeling of “tied hands” by Canonical when reading this kind of thing, it is simply not within the company’s reach to create versions of these software for Ubuntu, if it were, we would certainly have seen some progress in this sense.
What can be Canonical’s responsibility is to make the distribution of this software viable. We know that this is not just an inconvenience, there are market factors involved, however, one of the points regularly raised is the difficulty in creating software with support for hundreds of Linux distros.
Canonical is currently trying to solve this problem with Snap packs, and although they are not the only alternative, they undoubtedly have a great appeal for the development and publication of software such as those mentioned in the research.
People want to play on Ubuntu
The Ubuntu blog article informs us that exactly one thousand two hundred and eighty people talked about games in some way. Although this figure represents only 6% of the people who responded to the Canonical survey, it seemed obvious how much this segment has been developing.
Keeping Ubuntu a competitive system in so many different markets is a challenge that probably goes beyond my imagination, pleasing different user profiles is also not an easy task, yet we saw several improvements in the release of this version of the system.
When meeting the requests of gamers for the availability of the latest drivers for graphics cards, with the vulkan libraries pre-installed and together with the GameMode by Feral Interactive enabled by default, it creates the feeling that Canonical really cares who wants to use Ubuntu for games.
These additions were extremely well received. A few months ago we were concerned with support for 32-bit libraries, such as those in Wine, and how they would negatively impact gaming on Ubuntu, but not only is this support currently active, but we have two versions of Wine, a stable and another in development (wine-development), as installable options directly from the repository.
A small gap can still be pointed out, however, is the absence of Lutris in the official repositories, or even via Snap. Although most Linux gamers primarily use Steam, Lutris turned out to be a very important tool too, and supporting it on Ubuntu in a simple way is just as important.
Snaps are hated, loved and irrelevant in the same proportion
Of all Canonical’s “come and goes”, the top 2 resides with Unity and Snaps packages. There are those who love, there are those who hate, there are those who do not care.
It is one thing to verify this by reading the comments of our audience, another thing to do a data analysis and realize that statistically, that’s right!
According to a survey conducted by Canonical, about 30.1% of people commented negatively, 33.5% were neutral in relation to Snaps, and 36.3% commented positively.
Observing this condition, we have practically 70% of users endorsing the use of Snap packages. The survey also reveals that a word that appeared constantly in this survey was “more”, or “more” in Portuguese.
People don’t seem to really care if the app is a Snap or not, as long as it works correctly, while the main negative comments regarding the technology were complaints about startup, overall performance, package building and general improvements.
I can’t imagine anyone complaining if Creative Cloud arrived on Linux thanks to Snaps, they are in fact a great market tool and an effective way to reduce friction and time in the development and packaging of the same software for different versions of the same distro, or even from different distros. Of course, everything has pros and cons.
In my opinion, a kind of “thermometer” to determine the success of Snaps will be when people stop asking themselves if something is on Snap or not, using that information to make the decision to use an App or not.
A little bit of you in search
Canonical’s research report for building Ubuntu 20.04 is quite extensive, and you can consult it completely on here.
Among the interesting data I would still like to highlight the session that tries to profile the audience that answered the questionnaire.
- Most of the people who answered the questions are Ubuntu users (55.3%), followed by Windows users (17.4%), considering the work environment;
- Most of the people who answered the questions also work in software engineering in some way (33.8%), the profession is followed by unspecified IT sectors (19.6%) and the financial sector (16.9%);
- More than half of the people who answered the poll (51.1%) are Europeans, followed by North Americans (22.4%), with Asians coming in third (12.1%);
Almost 80% of the survey referred to “standard” Ubuntu, with GNOME, as the preferred version among all flavors.
Interpreting the data
The popularity of Ubuntu in Europe is clear, especially around the United Kingdom, where Canonical is based.
There are a lot of users of Ubuntu or its direct derivatives here in Brazil, and, although the percentage has not been revealed, it is possible to see that South America ranked fourth in relation to interaction with research, probably not losing out on a lot for Asia.
It is important to take advantage of opportunities like this to say what we would like to see in the future of Ubuntu, it seems that research like this will always be carried out before the release of the next version, so we should have another similar effort for the release of Ubuntu 20.10, in October 2020.
Naturally we see a great use of Ubuntu by highly technical people, although it is a good gateway to the Linux world, there are indications that this post is not indisputable, especially with the presence of distributions such as Linux Mint and Pop! _OS (both based on Ubuntu) and others, like Fedora and Manjaro, which has been increasing its appeal to newbies.
The fact that most of the research participants use Windows is obvious, the deduction I make is the same that Canonical revealed in its article, possibly these people are forced to use a certain operating system in their work, such as Windows, but would like to use Ubuntu, or probably already use Ubuntu on their personal computer, or server, and for this reason participated in the research.
A huge responsibility
When I started using Linux, Ubuntu was already big, and since then it has grown even more. It is curious to say that I saw the birth and death of things like Unity, Unity 8, Ubuntu Phone, Ubuntu One, among other small projects.
Perhaps one day I will be able to understand the size of the responsibility behind a company like Canonical, in keeping Ubuntu functional for millions of people with different needs around the world, speaking different languages, with different cultures, each hoping that Ubuntu is better in some sense.
Losing some people along the way is part of the evolution, some refuse to change, others do not like the path taken, but this new LTS showed that Canonical is not the leader of this market by chance. The words “Linux” and “Desktop” are directly related to Canonical, for what it has done in the past, and for what it continues to do.
To the next!