No unity in Ubuntu's decision

Ubuntu will drop the Gnome interface, replacing it with its own Unity interface. Naturally not everyone is happy

November 10, 2010
No unity in Ubuntu's decision

Apparently frustrated by the delays in creating a new desktop interface, Ubuntu has decided to run with its own desktop interface instead of Gnome’s shell. The underlying desktop for Ubuntu 11.04 will still be based on Gnome but the actual interface that users will interact with will be Ubuntu’s own Unity interface.

Ubuntu has always used the Gnome desktop as the default interface and file manager for its operating system since its launch. But, as the Gnome development team continues to push back the release date for version 3.0 of the desktop, Ubuntu’s Mark Shuttleworth has decided to run with Unity.

The Unity interface is the desktop environment originally created for smaller netbook PCs. Unity is a substantial shift away from Gnome’s current look.

The decision by Canonical to run with Unity instead of sticking with Gnome for the foreseeable future has disappointed many users. None more so than the Gnome Foundation which has been working to release a new version of Gnome for a couple of years now. In a post on her blog Story Peters, executive director of the Gnome Foundation, says as much:

“We’ve put a lot of work into Gnome Shell, our next big thing, and Canonical is saying that it’s not the best thing for their users. It’s disappointing because we are excited about our new plans and expect lots of users to enjoy them. And we rely on our distribution partners to get Gnome into the hands of users, so we were expecting Canonical to help us in that.”

Disappointment aside there are a couple of potentially good reasons for Canonical to switch to Unity.

One of those is that the Gnome developers still have some way to go to finalising the Gnome 3.0 desktop. Already they have pushed back the release of Gnome 3.0 by a full year, now planning on releasing it in March 2011.

This means that Linux makers that rely heavily on projects such as Gnome for improvements in the desktop have been on hold for a while now. And even if Gnome 3.0 is released in March next year it is unlikely to make it into a formal Ubuntu release until the end of 2011. Shuttleworth and his team have already shown that they would be cautious of including a brand new version of Gnome in their release without adequate time to test it.

The other big reason for Ubuntu to shift to the Unity interface is that desktop experience is an ever-increasingly important part of user experience. Being entirely reliant on another project team to define the interface of Ubuntu makes less sense than it previously did. It also means that anyone else can create a Linux release with essentially the same user experience as Ubuntu. By switching to Unity, Ubuntu claims more control over its end product.

Naturally the downside is that more work has to be done in-house by Canonical developers to add features to, and maintain Unity, but the benefit is a unique and individual desktop.

Unity will be included as the default desktop for Ubuntu 11.04, to be released in April.

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