2008 was a great year.  The United States got a new president.  I got a college degree, complete with the associated crushing personal debt (a nice complement to the crushing national debt incurred by my country).  More importantly, however, new features were introduced to Ubuntu and Linux.  Although it comes a bit belatedly (today being the first day of 2009), here's a list of my favorite innovations in 2008:

  1.  Better wireless drivers  Wireless in Linux used to be a mess.  It's still not always pretty, but thanks to the new wireless stack, things are much better.  In particular, the inclusion since Ubuntu 8.04 of the b43 driver for Broadcom cards and iwl3945/iwl4965 for Intel chips has rendered my ndiswrapper days a distant memory.  For Atheros users, vast improvements to madwifi, especially on 64-bit systems, were a nice touch in 8.10.
  2. Network Manager 0.7  For a long time, my first response to users who complained about being unable to connect to wireless networks in Ubuntu was, "Have you tried wicd?"  With due respect to the wicd developers, Network Manager in Intrepid now wins hands down in terms of features, including easy-to-configure VPN and WPA-enterprise access.  Even more impressive, for the first time since 2004, Network Manager actually works reliably.
  3. kvm  The kernel-based virtual-machine infrastructure was officially integrated into Ubuntu 8.04, making it simpler to virtualize efficiently at a low level.  The 8.10 Server Edition even includes nice packages for easily working with kvm.  Who wants to pay for VMware or fight with half-baked Xen when kvm tools are only an apt-get away?
  4. X.Org 7.4  Around 1998, it ceased to be fashionable to hack configuration files in order to get your monitor to work.  Yet X continued to rely until quite recently on an arcane text file to store its settings.  In Ubuntu 8.10 (and to a lesser extent in 8.04), X finally auto-detects settings, meaning that truly plug-and-play video has come to Linux, if a bit belatedly.
  5. Printing to PDF  It's long been possible to configure a PDF printer manually in Ubuntu.  But since 8.04, one has been included out-of-the-box.  This is a great feature that makes my life a lot easier when I need, for example, to save a web page in a readable format that I can send to others easily.
  6. Better Gnome clock  The clock in the Gnome panel has always been good at displaying the time and date.  But since Ubuntu 8.04, it also tells me the weather, and whether the sun has set, without my having to look outside.  With features like these, who needs windows?
A lot of these features, of course, come from upstream developers, not Ubuntu itself.  All the same, they've helped to refine the desktop experience considerably.  I look forward to discovering what Ubuntu 9.* will bring.

WorksWithU Contributing Blogger Christopher Tozzi is a PhD student at a major U.S. university. Tozzi has extensive hands-on experience with Ubuntu Server Edition and Ubuntu Desktop Edition. WorksWithU is updated multiple times per week. Don’t miss a single post. Sign up for our RSS and Twitter feeds (available now) and newsletter (launching January 2009).