Introduced with Ubuntu 7.10 was install-time encryption support for all areas of the hard drive except for the boot partition. However, the downfall with this feature is that it was only implemented in the alternate CD installer, meaning anyone using the standard Ubuntu LiveCD could not choose this option. Then with Ubuntu 8.10 there was an encryption option added to the Ubiquity LiveCD installer but just for creating an encrypted private directory (located at ~/Private). This Intrepid Ibex feature did not support encrypting the full /home/ directory or the full disk. Now though the Ubuntu developers plan to add this option to Jaunty Jackalope that gives the users the ability to encrypt their entire home directory whether they are still using the alternate or LiveCD installer. Granted, however, we still would really like to see the option added to Ubiquity for encrypting the entire disk. To see how encrypting the disk affects system performance, check out our Ubuntu disk encryption benchmarks and Intel Atom disk encryption benchmarks.
On the X.Org side, at a minimum will be X Server 1.6, which features RandR 1.3, Predictable Pointer Acceleration, and Direct Rendering Infrastructure 2. This next X Server release was also slated to include MPX and X Input 2, but those two features have been postponed. X Server 1.6 is scheduled for release in early January as an update to X Server 1.5 that is found in X.Org 7.4.
X.Org 7.5 has been talked about that it could be released on the first of April, but chances are that it will be delayed and not make it into this distribution until Ubuntu 9.10. X.Org 7.5 will likely be paired with an X Server 1.7 release. Even without a major X.Org update in Ubuntu 9.04 users can still expect updated Intel, ATI, Evdev driver updates along with other X packages.
The kernel in Ubuntu 9.04 will be either Linux 2.6.28 or Linux 2.6.29 -- we would certainly hope for the latter one. The Linux 2.6.28 kernel features integration of Intel's Graphics Execution Manager for providing kernel memory management to graphics drivers, stabilization of the EXT4 file-system, numerous new hardware drivers, and many other features. The Linux 2.6.29 kernel will continue with the usual slew of driver and architecture updates, but hopefully kernel mode-setting support will be incorporated. Recently we shared the state of kernel mode-setting and then provided a look at Red Hat's Plymouth and Wayland projects.
Ubuntu 9.04 will also feature an arsenal of updated Linux packages and the Debian import freeze for Jaunty doesn't go into effect until the end of December. Updating to GNOME 2.26 is a given for Ubuntu 9.04 and it has also been proposed that Xfce 4.6 and KDE 4.2 are integrated. Ubuntu 9.04 will also feature OpenOffice.org 3.1, since OpenOffice.org 3.0 was too buggy and too late to make the cut for Ubuntu 8.10. Updates to GIMP, Pidgin, Firefox, and the slew of other desktop applications would also be expected.
Some of the other minor work going on within the Ubuntu camp currently are new security features, the Ubuntu x86_64 spin being compiled with Position Independent Executable (PIE) by default, improvements to the Ubuntu server installer, an Ubuntu local repository mirror manager, better integration with NetworkManager, and of course a lot more work on the mobile side.
Expect Ubuntu 9.04 Alpha 1 to hit the Internet soon while the Ubuntu 9.04 release schedule places the final release of the Jaunty Jackalope on April 23, 2009. More information (and benchmarks) will be on Phoronix as the Jaunty development cycle continues forward.