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Ubuntu's Game-Changing Quest for 'Unity'

By Katherine Noyes
Nov 1, 2010 5:00 AM PT

Human beings are creatures of habit, it seems safe to say, and tend to have a hard time embracing change.

Ubuntu's Game-Changing Quest for 'Unity'

So it has been no great surprise to see the widespread shock and dismay -- mixed, still, with considerable excitement -- over the decision to make Unity the next desktop Ubuntu's default interface.

Yes, for those who missed it, Natty Narwhal -- or Ubuntu 11.04 -- will not use the distribution's longtime GNOME Shell as the default desktop interface. Rather, it will feature the 3D and multitouch-enabled Unity, which just appeared in the netbook edition of Maverick Meerkat earlier this month.

'I'd Rather Have GNOME"

Unity is clearly a big departure for desktop Ubuntu, and Mark Shuttleworth himself has acknowledged that the decision was a "risky" one. At the same time, it's a clear indication that the distro is striking out in earnest and striving to make its own unique mark on the world.

Will the decision prove a good one? No one will really know until the distro comes out. In the meantime, Linux bloggers haven't been shy about expressing their thoughts on the topic.

"I'd rather have GNOME," wrote Quant in the comments on PCWorld, for example.

'Moving in the Right Direction'

"Not so sure I like this," agreed javaman90. "When it comes out, they had better make sure the old GNOME software works; or the Linux die-hards will jump ship."

On the other hand: "Anything new but open-source is welcome!" countered ArnabGanguli. "I'm excited to give it a try.

"Besides, it's not the only option to go with," ArnabGanguli pointed out. "U don't like it, snap it away and load gnome version...Ubuntu is moving in the right direction!"

Opinions on the topic seemed pretty widely divided on Slashdot as well, so Linux Girl did the only thing that made sense -- she set off for the blogosphere's gossip central, also known as the Punchy Penguin blogobar.

'A Good Thing'

"Ubuntu has not dropped GNOME," blogger Robert Pogson pointed out after a round of Tequila Tux Twisters. "They are just using a different default.

"For their purposes it works better," Pogson explained. "FLOSS is a meritocracy, and it is the distro that determines the merit here. Good luck to them."

Indeed, "competition between FOSS projects is a good thing," noted Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project. "It provides the potential for cross-fertilization of ideas.

"I see nothing wrong with Ubuntu trying to find something which they feel offers their users a better experience," Travers added.

'Likely to Promote Discussion'

Of course, "the market for window managers, graphical shells and the like is somewhat crowded," Travers conceded. "It remains to be seen whether or not this is actually manageable long-term for Ubuntu."

Even if it isn't, though, "I think it is likely to promote discussion, which will lead to a better quality of experience for users of the Linux desktop."

Slashdot blogger Barbara Hudson, who goes by "Tom" on the site, wasn't so sure.

"Those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it," Hudson recited. "Remember the big flap over KDE 4.0? The first version of anything never works right. It's why distros kept KDE 3.5 as the default KDE for several releases."

'Take Some Ritalin and Learn to Focus'

Changing to Unity, then, will "succeed in disaffecting their current users without offering anything compelling for new users," Hudson predicted.

Instead, Ubuntu should "take some Ritalin and learn to focus," she opined. "A while ago, it was netbooks. Then it was some silly announcements about moving into cloud computing. There was also the recent noise about 'open core.'"

Not only that, but "after years of denying that their Hallowe'en Pumpkin color scheme was fugly, they finally dumped it for the slightly less offensive but still eye-challenging Iridescent Eggplant ... and now they're changing it again," Hudson pointed out.

"I'm sure Red Hat and Novell, Mint linux and all Ubuntu's other competitors will be very happy to see Ubuntu make the switch," Hudson concluded.

'They've Made MSFT Look Tame'

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet, however, wasn't surprised to learn of the change in direction.

"Is anyone surprised?" he asked. "Frankly, watching GNOME I've felt they've made MSFT look tame when it comes to the amount of OSX ripping, and in GNOME it makes even less sense than Windows.

"In OSX everything is application-based and therefore having a central menu at the top and button layout like they have makes sense," hairyfeet added. "Why can't FOSS guys embrace something truly different, instead of either rips of the Windows or OSX desktops?"

'My Hat's Off to Canonical'

That, essentially, "is why my hat's off to Canonical for going a different way," hairyfeet asserted. "While I wish they would lose the top OSX style bar, or at least make it morph depending upon usage of application, watching videos of Unity I can say it is pretty impressive-looking at first glance and doesn't appear to be aping either MSFT or Apple."

Next, "if Canonical would just fork the kernel and make a truly dedicated linux desktop with hardware ABI, you might even get this old windows Greybeard to start stocking Ubuntu boxes again," hairyfeet concluded.

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