It does appear, in fairness, that the changes Canonical is pushing through will end up being positive ones as time progresses and they become more stable. But the company’s approach leaves something to be desired.
It grows tiresome watching them "suddenly" remove features and functionality that could – potentially – mean users will have to abandon the Unity desktop. That’s an ironic approach considering the definition of the word unity.
My hope is that, somehow, some way, Ubuntu can continue to evolve without putting older PCs out to pasture. And should anyone from the Ubuntu development team happen to be reading this, I have a few suggestions that might help make things go a little smoother for everyone.
Idea #1 – Hardware testing. Not a concept that is all that difficult, when you're merely looking at graphic/CPU/RAM resources. Should very generic tests run with the live install indicate lower resources, why not suggest a little apt-get magic to install a lightweight desktop?
This way, the Ubuntu development team will come away looking awesome and forward thinking.
Idea #2 – Mention somewhere on your website that if your PC is older than 7 years old, installation may not be possible. Another option is to present details on how older systems with adequate resources can still install via netboot.
Expecting newbies to just "know" to search through tons of documentation is seriously flawed. Despite it being the least newbie-friendly method available for an installation, at least it's feasible for IT staff working with older hardware. All it would take is a link on the download page, with a two sentence explanation. Surely, this is reasonable?
Should Canonical show some wisdom here and actually consider the two ideas above, they would avoid TONS of future forum complaints and frustration. Even if it's more of a hassle in the beginning for development, it would work in Ubuntu's favor in the long term.
Anyone who really thinks about it will surely come to the same conclusion that I have – Canonical needs to keep Ubuntu accessible with useful information, not assumptions that users will "eventually figure out" why something is problematic.
My hope for Ubuntu's future
Overall, I've really enjoyed Ubuntu 12.04. And with the recent bug fixes made to Ubuntu 12.10 beta to address some performance issues in Unity, I suspect that 12.10 is also shaping up to be a decent release as well. I continue to have high hopes for Ubuntu and want very much to see the distribution and Canonical be successful in getting Linux installed on as many PCs as possible.
Should the Ubuntu development team disregard concerns from the community, it will hinder adoption with those who hope to use Ubuntu on older hardware. And in some instances, I suspect we will see some existing Ubuntu users looking to lightweight desktop environments in place of Unity.
They would do this not because they dislike Unity, rather because Unity has been removed as an option from them.
Others still, may find themselves throwing in the towel and simply opting to upgrade their hardware. I have no issue with this, as I've done this myself in the past.
But I maintain that the only time one should be forced to upgrade their hardware to run Linux is if they need more horsepower for an intensive application or because something broke in the PC. Expecting users to upgrade merely to keep pace with the Unity desktop environment, however, is a genuine travesty in my humble opinion.