Ubuntu should reconsider
Unfortunately, Ubuntu is becoming more and more of a disappointment lately. First they start shipping non-free software by default, then the edgy upgrade turns into a disaster and now I read about plans for including more non-free software and a 3D desktop by default in feisty (the next Ubuntu after edgy). To be honest, ever since I've seen the Feisty Fawn announcement I've been wondering what does the focus on "multimedia enablement and desktop effects" imply, the basic suspicion being will it include more non-free software by default?
Now it appears that it will, and as far as I am concerned, and I believe I am not alone with these concerns, there are some problems with that. First, it's the problem of principle which is broken with any inclusion of non-free software. An acceptable compromise, even to many Free Software purists, was to at least not have any non-free software installed by default and required for normal operations afterwards, so we could choose for ourselves. But when we get non-free software installed by default the only way to keep this out of the system is to determine which packages exactly are non-free and then remove them, but in principle by downloading the default iso we've already contributed to the numbers which support these non-free components, something Free Software purists do not appreciate.
Also, by including proprietary video card drivers in Ubuntu for these desktop effects Ubuntu as the leading GNU/Linux distribution is telling video card manufacturers that the GNU/Linux community can live with their drivers being proprietary meaning so much less pressure on them releasing those drivers as Free Software. This has been rightly pointed out here. What an extremely important point being missed by Ubuntu here!
But the problem is not just of this nature. There is a solid practical concern to be raised about enabling a 3D desktop by default. Not everyone has video cards which support or work well with 3D desktop systems. For example, I am currently running a PC with only integrated onboard savage chip which currently does not support 3D desktop and is quite sluggish even with normal X compositing manager. By forcing a 3D desktop by default, a lot of others with similar setups will run into quite an unpleasant experience upon installing feisty and will probably try to find ways to immediately disable this three dimensional unpleasentry just to have a normal desktop performance, which is a hassle imposed without much justification.
And if the sole goal of enabling 3D desktop by default is to attract people from OS X and Windows (and I can't imagine what else would be a reason) then I think Ubuntu people are missing a point by a huge margin. In many ways Ubuntu and many other GNU/Linux distributions are already much more attractive and technically powerful than Windows, and yet we don't see Microsoft's market share percentages fall so fast. We should have gotten this by now. No matter how many technical improvements and eye candy on top of that we add, it wont be enough. We need to change our strategy, and making an operating system with 3D desktop effects by default is not that.
The key to bending Microsoft's domination, as was already pointed out so many times, is in selling PCs with GNU/Linux pre-installed, and not just to make GNU/Linux as an OS in itself more powerful and good looking. Instead of spending efforts into putting proprietary software into Ubuntu and enabling 3D desktop by default, Ubuntu Foundation and Canonical should work on pushing GNU/Linux sold on as many PCs as possible. Why not work more with System 76? Why not make some big deals with them and invest some money and effort in pushing Ubuntu PC sales up? If you really want to have masses switch to Ubuntu GNU/Linux desktop, you wont do it with a 3D desktop, but by pre-installing Ubuntu on as many PCs people buy as possible.
I think Ubuntu should reconsider their ways or otherwise alternatives like a 100% Free Software gNewSense (despite the weird name) and yes even Fedora Core will become more and more attractive and the current popularity of Ubuntu will be marked as its peak, before it consolidates and starts falling back.