The Ubuntu 12.10 release saw the Dash take another important step towards fulfilling its intended purpose of being an online, global search tool that helps users find anything, instantly, right from their home environment. There are a number of exciting improvements planned for 13.04 that will make the Dash more comprehensive, more online and as a result – slicker and even more useful. Here’s a snapshot of what is likely to land in the next release:
Smart Scopes – Scopes are the daemons capable of presenting local or remote information right in the Dash. In 13.04, we will increase the number of scopes installed by default in Ubuntu (including many existing community developed scopes) and introduce the ability to automatically light up the right ones based on their relevancy to a user’s search query. For example, a search for “The Beatles” is likely to trigger the Music and Video scopes, showing results that will contain local and online sources – with the online sources querying your personal cloud as well as other free and commercial sources like YouTube, Last.fm, Amazon, etc. To achieve this, the Dash will call a new smart scope service which will return ranked online search results, which the Dash will then balance against local results to return the most relevant information to the user. Scopes are becoming a really interesting contribution area for our developer community – and we can’t wait to see what people will submit to make the Dash an even richer experience.
Instant Purchasing – being able to purchase music or apps directly from the Dash, without opening a browser or a separate client. In 13.04, we expect to enable instant payments, powered by Ubuntu One, for both applications from the Software Center and music from the Music Store – to deliver the fastest possible purchasing experience directly from the Dash.
More Suggestions and User Controls – the More Suggestions scope, which currently returns relevant commercial content available from the Ubuntu One Music Store and Amazon, will expand to include more retailers. We are also testing a few additional user controls like filters for local and global searching – more to come on this front as we learn from those sessions. In the meantime, users can already focus a search to local files only with a simple super-f keystroke.
There are several principles around the Dash that are also worth reiterating:
Its raison d’etre is to provide Ubuntu users the fastest, slickest way to find things right from their home environment – independent of whether those “things” are on your machine, available online, free or commercial. The music and video lenses in the Dash have queried online sources since their introduction, and we will continue to expand our online sources over the next releases. Our testing has overwhelmingly shown that this integrated and unified search feature is the best experience for the vast majority of users – and the best user experience will always be included as a default on Ubuntu.
Privacy is extremely important to Canonical. The data we collect is not user-identifiable (we automatically anonymize user logs and that information is never available to the teams delivering services to end users), we make users aware of what data will be collected and which third party services will be queried through a notice right in the Dash, and we only collect data that allows us to deliver a great search experience to Ubuntu users. We also recognize that there is always a minority of users who prefer complete data protection, often choosing to avoid services like Google, Facebook or Twitter for those reasons – and for those users, we have made it dead easy to switch the online search tools off with a simple toggle in settings.
Onwards and upwards.