Ubuntu is the most popular Linux distribution. For that reason, its every move is watched closely, and it no doubt receives more than its share of criticism. All the same, in 2012, the corporate goals of Canonical, Ubuntu's commercial arm, clashed increasingly with user's expectations.
To start with, controversy continued in 2012 over Unity, the interface designed by Canonical. While a few former critics softened their response as Unity matured and they became used to its foibles, many continue to complain as loudly as ever.
Ubuntu's founder Mark Shuttleworth kicked off 2012 by announcing "the future of the menu" -- the Head Up Display or HUD, a typing completion transparency level that covers the desktop. Despite his own enthusiasm for this innovation, even the purchasers of Ubuntu User mostly disliked it.
More recently, this feature received renewed attention after being denounced by Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation.
The question that remains is whether such issues enrage only those already inclined to be suspicious of Ubuntu and Canonical or whether it will disenchant others in the next few years.
As FOSS distributions look at being ported to phones, tablets, and other mobile devices, the search is on for methods to minimize the effort involved to support these other form factors. The most obvious method is to use the same code on everything from workstations to phones -- and, because mobile devices are the most limited form factor due to their size, developers design for them rather than for a workstation or laptop.
However, as the reception of Unity and GNOME 3 has shown, what is accepted or tolerable on a phone can become a nuisance on a laptop. Users dislike interfaces that require far more clicks than a traditional desktop as well as those that allow access to multiple applications only by alternately revealing and concealing each app. Yet, so far, most projects persist in a one-size-fits-all philosophy.
The main exception to this approach is KDE's Plasma, or sub-system for interfaces. While interfaces cannot quite be swapped in and out as needed with Plasma, it still helps makes finding appropriate interfaces for each form factor relatively easy.
KDE has spent the last few years devising several different interfaces-- all of them supported by the same standard KDE structure, give or take a few modifications. The latest is the Plasma Active interface for tablets. Released in late 2011, Plasma Active went through two versions in 2012, and has emerged as task-oriented interface that is far simpler to use than anything else that FOSS or proprietary companies have produced for tablets.
From a developer's viewpoint, this approach is not quite as convenient as a single code base. But the compromise between low maintenance and the possibility of appropriate interfaces for each form factor seems more promising than anything else being developed.
Other desktop environments lack KDE's modularity, so they cannot easily copy KDE's way of handling multiple form factors. However, I suspect the impossibility of making one interface suitable for all form factors will force a search for other creative solutions in 2013.