Many of the developments discussed below were the work of parties not affiliated with Ubuntu or Canonical, and many of them apply to other Linux distributions and the rest of the free-software community as well as to Ubuntu. But they've all impacted the experience of Ubuntu users, so they're worth highlighting here.
Shuttleworth steps downOnly a few weeks before the end of 2009, Canonical announced that Mark Shuttleworth would be abdicating his post as CEO of the company in favor of Jane Silber, the COO. According to Canonical, the change will allow Shuttleworth to focus on research and design.
If and how this development will affect the Ubuntu community remains to be seen, but it was certainly one of the more newsworthy events of 2009.
3D acceleration in VirtualBoxWith the release of VirtualBox 3.0 last summer, the holy grail of 3D acceleration for Windows and Linux guests finally became available on Ubuntu.
This technology wasn't completely new. Some versions of VMware have provided guests direct access to video devices on certain operating systems for a couple years, although it didn't always work well. In addition, it was possible with some clever hackery to make OpenGL work on Linux guests in previous versions of VirtualBox.
But now, users can finally use 3D applications--both DirectX and OpenGL--without hassle in virtualized operating systems. This means one of the chief objections to Ubuntu adoption--the inability to run Windows games and other 3D programs, like Autocad--are no longer much of an issue, since those applications can be easily virtualized.
I haven't had a chance to play with VirtualBox 3.0 in detail, but hope to write a post in the new year about its support for 3D acceleration and other impressive features.
OpenOffice 3It may seem hard to believe, but OpenOffice 3.0 has only shipped by default with Ubuntu since Jaunty. OO 3 was released in October 2008, but not quite in time to be included with Ubuntu 8.10, so Intrepid and most earlier releases came with OO 2.x.
OpenOffice 3.0 brought important new features to Ubuntu users, including improved compatibility with Microsoft file formats and interface enhancements.
Chrome OS and CanonicalGoogle's Chrome OS obviously isn't Ubuntu. But with Canonical's announcement last November that the company will be participating in Chrome development, the two operating systems became linked, if indirectly.
Besides providing some revenue for Ubuntu's parent company, it's unlikely that Canonical's participation in Chrome development will affect Ubuntu much. But this is still an important development that raises Canonical's profile.
Better NetworkManagerNetworkManager saw several notable improvements in 2009. On the surface, it received an aesthetic makeover for Karmic.
Functionally, NM acquired useful new features, including the ability to create ad-hoc and master-mode wireless networks in one click. This functionality had been around in earlier versions of Ubuntu, but it was not so simple.
Beginning with Jaunty, the "Create New Wireless Network" option started working for me without any shenigans, which enhanced my Ubuntu experience substantially by allowing me to ditch my broken down Netgear router in favor of a network hosted by an Ubuntu PC.
New look in Ubuntu 9.10Last but not least, Karmic brought with it updates to Ubuntu's aging default theme and icons. Some might argue that much work remains to be done to make Ubuntu more attractive, but for my tastes, it's definitely already looking a lot better.
The year in retrospectAll in all, 2009 was not a revolutionary year for the Ubuntu community. There was no LTS release, as there was in 2008 and will be in 2010, and the focus was on incremental development.
Nonetheless, it's clear that Ubuntu gained some useful new features, and the community received interesting news, in 2009. Let's hope the improvements we've seen in the last year solidify and expand going into 2010 and the Lucid release next April.