When is a Gnome Not a Gnome? In Ubuntu 11.04!

At the Ubuntu Devloper Summit on Monday, it was announced that Ubuntu 11.04 will ship with Unity as its default shell.  It will still focus on Gnome applications, and depend heavily on the Gnome libraries -- but the default interface will be Unity.  For those unfamiliar with Unity, it's the default shell for the Netbook Edition of Ubuntu.

Does Canonical have the right to abandon the Gnome shell for their flagship product?  Of course they do, it's their distribution.  Heck, they kept it brown for years even when teased incessantly.  Whether you love or hate the decision to move away from the Gnome shell in favor of Unity, it's Canonical's right to do as they see fit.  Of course, it's easy to change the default shell, much like it's easy to change the default applications they install.  To be frank, I dislike most of the default application choices in Ubuntu, yet the OS is so solid, I just tweak it a bit and I'm happy.

For browsing, I prefer Chromium over the default Firefox.  I prefer Pidgin over Empathy.  For music I like Banshee.  For Twitter I install Twhirl.  None of those tweaks cause problems with Ubuntu, and most integrate quite nicely even if they're not the default choices.  So what does the switch to Unity mean for most users?

Not much.

Granted, it will be a little different to use, but most users shouldn't see much of a difference in functionality.  There is some question as to whether Ubuntu can still call themselves a "Gnome-based Distribution", since they're really using Unity as their default user experience.  That seems more an argument of semantics though, and won't matter much to the end user.

So what are your thoughts on the switch to Unity?  Is it a good move?  Bad move?  Arrogant, power-flaunting, communist-loving, puppy-kicking move?  Or do you not really care?  Personally I fall in the latter camp.  If I don't like Unity, I'll just install a different option.  This is Linux after all, and we can do whatever we want!



Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.


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Kent T's picture

I'm pretty mew to Linux. I'm 50 and I tried Ubuntu a few times without installing it abuot the time 8.04, but now, with 10.04 LTS for the first time I've gone totally Linux. Because I think, that now it's working out of the box. Apps and system are running silky smooth, and i have not had any crashes or anything.

I tried Unity on my old laptop, and it certainly was a pain, first and foremost very unstable in every way, apps and system.

I hope it improves before 11.04.

There about to loose alot of there userbase.

Anonymous's picture

So lets see there replacing gnome with unity as the default desktop.

Unity is highly unstable and years away from being stable. Unitys codebase is an absolute mess!

Second there replacing X with Wayland. Kiss 3D hardware acceleration good bye. Nvidia has no plans to support Wayland. Your ownly hope will be Amd/Ati and thats if they even jump on board. I doubt they will.

Oh I am sorry intel and there under-par graphics chipset when comapared to Nvida. There really interested.

Wayland only works with opensource drivers!

Wayland adds extra overhead when used in-conjunction with X so this means performance loss. Not to mention X applications that are not ported to Wayland will have to be nested in an Wayland/X window. Huge performance loss there.

Gtk+, Qt, Fltk, EFL all will have to be ported to work on Wayland. There will be alot of current applications that will never natively work on Wayland.

Wayland doesn't have Network Transparency.

It's not even really usable at this point and has virtual 0 developers even working on it besides it's author and now the ubuntu/fedora teams.
And I don't even think fedora is doing much coding on Wayland.

Reminds me of XCB which took 10+ years to even be usable. And to this very day has little to no documentation/tutorials on it's use. And developer support leaves much to be desired. Thats why XCB is an optional component and not a replacement for xlib.

What ever!

I see an epic failure on ubuntu's part.

i just installed ubuntu

vc's picture

i just installed ubuntu desktop just to get rid of the sh*** unity and now they tell me ubuntu desktop 11.04 will ship unity... hell they could have just end both and ship only one with unity, that way instead of installing ubuntu desktop i would have installed xubuntu instead :( and i say xubuntu because kubuntu with kde4 is not an option either since my netbook graphics card isn't powerfull and cant handle it :( i don't get what's with the devs around there but leaving ppl without an option to disable 3d acceleration is not very smart even on my desktop with ubuntu 10.10 i don't enable 3d accelleration since it makes a mess out of video playback with my ati and any other comp that doesn't have nvidia or ati it is worst.
if they want to get rad with alpha level desktop why didn't they ship ubuntu 11.04 with E17 and compiz? it would be a far better option :P

<<<< This is Linux after all,

goauld's picture

<<<< This is Linux after all, and we can do whatever we want!


Ubuntu 11.04

Anonymous's picture

Being as how Ubuntu 10.10 just stopped working for me after an upgrade, and I couldn't even install 10.04, and 9.10 somehow shot itself in the foot and networking no longer functioned; whereas all Ubuntu's from 9.04 and previous installed and ran with no problems whatsoever, I don't particularly give a damn what Ubuntu does. Its Slackware and Fluxbox for me.

Unity v3.0 and year 2020

Vaibhav D's picture

Oooooh, I can imagine myself working on some obscure code while standing in front of my monitor which is connected to my Desktop Rig which has Latest Ubuntu 20.10 with 4D Unity 3.0. I'm using hand (and leg, perhaps a tail too if I manage to grow one by then) gestures to modify something and unity's all sparkling and moving things around. And yeah it's got a voice too. And then there are global menus that announce some (again!) 4D notifications about my neighbor (she) out sunbathing, my dog (lewdly) observing her, and Unity telling me - "Hun, the dog won't listen!"(Virtual pout!)
Canonical's surely going to become SKYNET!!!

whatever... I dont care...as

Gaous Afrizal's picture

whatever... I dont care...as long we enjoy it. I've been use gnome, kde, and unity, e17 too (but it isnt enjoyable) . Hehehe

gnubuntu anyone?

Barry N's picture

If we don't like Unity could there be a "gnubuntu" for generic Gnome like we have a "kubuntu" for kde and xubuntu for xfce?

If Unity draws folks into the linux fold I'm all for it. For me, however, I'll probably stick to some generic Gnome though.

I'm not a purist. I run ubuntu/Gnome and still use a lot of KDE apps (kate, etc.) that I got used to while using kubuntu.

It does matter

Whippy's picture

I've used Unity on my netbook extensively and my wife and kids still use it on their netbooks. I switched my netbook to a customised gnome desktop because I got infuriated with not having multiple windows visible even on the 1024x600 screen.

On my desktop PC I use two large monitors and I'm pondering a third. I would think that power users use two monitors.

The default installation matters. It will affect perception and popularity of Ubuntu.

If Unity remains focused on a 'single window' user mode it will be bad for power users who would rather spend time working than tinkering with the GUI.

Options are good but I think there needs to be a single Ubuntu distro with some user questions (that can default, ideally using detected machine elements for the preferred default).

These questions would default to a working installation that is appropriate to the user and/or for the machine's monitor (and other peripherals).

One 'simple' Ubuntu install is important for perception and general take up. Alternative distros are great for geeks but not for the average user - they just want something that works well out of the box.


maconulaff's picture

My reaction to their change.....


As long as they keep the alternate install CD available, I will create my custom install with what I like anyway. I never use the default desktop install anyways. I prefer the freedom that Linux gives me - even within the Ubuntu world - to build it like I want it. This has and will always be why I prefer Linux for my own desktop computers.

The real key is - will Unity attract more users to Ubuntu? It may initially, but I suspect the limiting user interface in Unity will turn more users off due to the fact that many are not using small screens or tablets when they try Ubuntu.

But that is Ubuntu's choice - and if their choice irks me that badly, I can always use a different distro. Linux = freedom = personal choices.

Changes are a coming.

yamric's picture

I am not a programmer nor do I want to become a programmer I have been using Linux in one form or another since red hat 4.5 back in the 80's. I have enjoyed the Ubuntu distro,for quite sometime now. If Unity is the direction that they want to go then more power to them. There will be a learning curve at the beginning. But I feel Ubuntu has always been about easy of use for the non-programmers out there who want a free, secure, alternative, to what is on the market today. This change is no different than when Microsoft introduced the ribbon bar in there office suite. User adapted to it after while.

I'm going to assume you meant

phalcon's picture

I'm going to assume you meant you've been using Linux since the 90's since Linus didn't actually release Linux until 1991.

My Bad

yamric's picture

Your right I have never been very good with dates it was 1997 to be more exact when I started playing with Linux.

No matter the case

stanley's picture

To the me, it doesn't matter n way since it all remains Linux. And the use of Unity creates no big change. Any way its also good to experiment and explore the possibilities.


Shoaib Nawaz's picture

It is a change in Ubuntu. Most of times we love changes in life and some time we afraid to adopt it. The geek or professional users of Linux will criticise it, most probably due to lacking features or accessibility difference. Intermediate users will enjoy it.

Unity need to improve for features.

GNOME has backers

Anonymous's picture

Let's consider the two candidates.

In one corner is Unity, a newcomer whose first appearance was disastrous. In his corner is Canonical, a company that has the reputation of contributing almost nothing upstream, of not fixing bugs in a timely manner (if at all), and which seems to be content to let Debian do all the heavy lifting -- while taking all the credit. (In keeping with this boxing analogy, I guess you could summarize Unity as a cripple managed by Don King.)

In the other corner is GNOME Shell, which was ready to fight this fight in September but which has put it off until March just to be on the safe side. In its corner are thousands of developers and huge companies like Novell and Red Hat. It will be the default destkop environment on millions of Linux boxes across dozens of distributions. Its developers have a proven track record and love to spar with other contenders like KDE.

It's not hard to see which one I'm putting my money on.

Ubuntu Axes GNOME

Jake's picture

Great idea...and not too soon. Change is good. Unity will be a good change for a few years. Personally I don't like GUI's at all...but, if you must have one - GNOME was about as dumbed down to the core as you can find. Anything past KDE3.5 sucked in the KDE arena. LXDE is alright - but, not my pref. I actually have gotten used to Apple running BSD with its MacIntosh style GUI. For a lot of things being locked in can be a good thing especially if the user is inexperienced so Unity might well be a blessing in disguise. I know I like it on my Netbook and Laptop. My wife seems to be plenty happy with her Netbook sporting Unity. I like GNOME. I'm just tired of no change although it has given me ample reason to create some of my own menus. Oh - I guess that's what Linux is all about anyhow - eh? :)

Size matters ...

RO's picture

The amount of screen space is important in matching up a DE with a particular screen resolution. I have tried Unity a few times (including the Easy Peasy precursor on an Asus EEE netbook) for netbook-ish portables, and found the one change I had to have right away was to disable Maximize so I could have multiple windows on the desktop, and not have every app start up maximized - just my preference on anything from about 800x600 (tablets) and up.

That is why I probably find the notion of Android on 10-inch (and bigger) screens unbearable. I have it on a 7-inch 800x600 Pandigital Novel, and it is tolerable, but that is my limit.

I find XFCE and LXDE do fairly well on 1024x600 and bigger except for 1 glaring problem - they do not let windows be resized from the top edge. When the bottom edge/corners are off-screen, this limitation can make these DE's combined with many apps that seem to have been developed for screens with a minimum height of 768 pixels an almost impossible-to-use DE on netbooks and even the slightly taller older notebooks with 1024x768 screens.

Also, in these cases the apps do not "fit" well (especially if the fonts have been increased to any degree for old eyes like mine) when they have crucial control buttons right at the bottom for functions like "ok" and "cancel", which is very unfriendly/inflexible UI design. Evolution is an obnoxious example of this, and turned me off to it long ago with my first netbook.

The whole graphical ecosystem needs to be better coordinated for issues like this. I guess that is supposed to be MS Windows "strength", but I have found that Win 7 on a Netbook, and apps for it have similar problems, and Win 7 is even less flexible in font tweaking than most recent Linux DE's for the 600-768 height screens.

It is not so surprising that the Unity netbook DE would be considered for larger resolution screens - it might actually be usable on them as a supreme irony.

I gotta stop this ranting, but I guess you get the idea...

they had to

markh's picture

The way I look at it is that gnome-shell was coming down the pike anyway and lets be honest....it STINKS!!!!!! its worse than a friggin Ipad. So Cononical is taking charge (and control) by switching. This way they have their own gtk based setup and they are not at the whim of the gnome projects manic need to screw everything up. although I would have liked to see them have something that does not require 3d graphics (but I guess that's what xubuntu is for).

I switched to KDE when I saw gnome shell but 4.5 is incredibly buggy which is leaving me stuck on the LTS for now. But today my Kubuntu rig took a royal poo and I am just back and going again............I am really getting to the point of throwing all of it out and going with Xubuntu and just installing nautilus for network browsing. aaaaaggghhhh!!!!

anyway my problems aside I think ubuntu is making their own fork and sprucing it up at the same time.


wally's picture

I've been using LXDE and am quite pleased. Sadly, the newest KDE and GNOME both seem designed by MS. I want a lot of flex & function, not candy, so maybe Ubuntu is on the right path.

Earth to Canonical

Jebblue's picture

Get rid of the idea of tabletifying my really powerful desktop which Gnome works great on; stop changing stuff that works great already.

Do not give me global freakin menus *$*$*$, I don't want them!! I don't want a $*$$ Mac, if I did I would buy one and extoll the virtues of Mac and trounce Ubuntu in the forums from now on.

Get it?

PS Oh, put the dam icons back on the freakin desktop where the belong so I don't have to use gconf-editor and hunt for the keys to turn them back %%&*%%* on.

I think we are all missing a

Anonymous's picture

I think we are all missing a greater picture. Gnome will be changing its default layout substantially as well. Gnome 3 is a new animal. If Ubuntu did stay with the Gnome Default desktop, the result would have been, change .

I think that Ubuntu sees an opportunity to bring Linux directly into the handheld, tablet, PDA, et market. A market that Microsoft has missed. gnome 3 is not planned to be touch friendly, but Unity is.
Party on Ubuntu 11!

so basically ubuntu is no

Anonymous's picture

so basically ubuntu is no different than microsoft. they can at least put something in the install menu that lets the user choose the default gnome 2. whatever or unity. They dont have to upgrade to gnome 3 if they dont want to. just because something is new does not mean its better. Ubuntu has proven that many of times LOL.

ps Im not a big fan of touch screen :(A

Gnome is becoming Ungnome anyways...

Seanman's picture

... so it doesn't really matter to me. Either way, after Gnome 3.0, I'm either going to have to get used a whole new paradigm or tinker with the system anyways.

Keeping my GNOME

David Riley's picture

As a huge GNOME fan there is no way I'm going to make this switch. I didn't even know what Unity was until I read about it here, and after doing a quick search I don't like it just based on the way it looks. This could be a huge mistake for Ubuntu. To a lot of people, GNOME is Ubuntu. Why take something that's stable, easy to use, and well known and replace it with something different. That's like ripping the carpet out from a lot of non-technical users who've put in a lot of time trying to learn GNOME. Maybe they had no choice though, because unity starts with a U and they can't do a play on the name with out moving GNOME out.


djfake's picture

I want a desktop window manager, not a netbook window manager on my desktop! I dont' want change for the sake of change. I don't want a mac either!

Could there be another solution...

p2bc's picture

Just my two cents.

Ubuntu -> Unity,... a given since that is what happening anyways.
Kubuntu -> Kde, stating the obvious.

wait for it...

Gubuntu -> Gnome, vive la r-evolution (intentional, get it evolve, poor attempt at being funny for funny sack)

On a serious note I agree with everyone, it is not that big of a deal because we can always switch it ourselves. Personally I like getting the new toy straight out of the box, with a few updates sure. Tweeks, no problem, that is a personal choice.

Having to install for 20 mins to just have to download and install a new shell for another 10 to 15 mins is not how I want to spend my day. Don't get me wrong it is still better than installing windows for an HOUR, then another hour all the updates. In both case I have done multiple times but I digress.

Nice. Something else to

Anonymous's picture

Nice. Something else to tinker with:). All in all i agree, if it isn't liked swap out :D


llewton's picture

My thoughts are that calling something that is breaking away from another thing, and causing controversy, calling it "unity", well my thoughts are that it's the absolute height of hypocrisy :) We're truly in the presence of greatness of a particular kind here.

Also I quote from a song by Paul Weller which I conveniently heard on the radio this afternoon:

As another bit gets shattered, another little bit gets lost, what else truly matters, at such a cost

He also sings about "loser's reach, too slow and short to hit the peaks"... :) but we'll see how that plays out. Maybe Ubuntu will snatch that extra one percent off the MS market with this after all! All Linux will surely benefit with 2 percent. And maybe this is a visionary move to position the company for the future where all will be tablets and that.

Btw whatever happened to those Ubuntu indicators on the handily freed up space on the right of windows? Ach them UI fads, they come and go.....

unity bad choice

Filip Moerman's picture

you can indeed do as you please on Linux, but what is the
use of installing Ubuntu (except satbility) if you have to
change everything after installing. I am not a fan of unity,
for netbooks I find it OK, but for the rest I like Gnome.
I don't see the sense of unity on a big screen.

Matters Not

timvalen's picture

Like you said "If I don't like Unity, I'll just install a different option. This is Linux after all, and we can do whatever we want!" - case closed.

Although this post has nothing to do with KDE, just for the sake of responding to the gentlemen who mentioned it: KDE, GNOME or whatever, is a personal choice, and you are right, just change. I'll stick with GNOME myself.

I say the same...

Helder's picture

I say the same...


hitest's picture

I've used Ubuntu in the past; it is a solid, debian-based product. My distro is Slackware. I run XFce and Fluxbox on my Slackware boxes.
I don't have a problem with the switch to Unity.

Neither option seems good

Matt's picture

I can't say I'm fond of Unity or GNOME Shell. I'd rather keep working like I normally do. For the first time in my life, I might have to go to KDE to get work done.

I used to love Enlightenment. I haven't tried it since the new E17... maybe I'll try it again.

Not me

Doug.Roberts's picture

I left KDE about 6 months ago for Gnome after about 5 years as a KDE user. To each his own, I guess. I had found KDE to be increasingly heavyweight, complex, and buggy over that period.

I recently tried Unity on an Acer netbook with 10.10, and found it to be slow and buggy in its current state. The netbook interface is fairly clean, however, so there is promise that it can mature into something useful.


KDE - You can use it

Vaibhav D's picture

my KDE Desk which I have to Use because I develop apps on KUbuntu for My Organization

Good Idea

Shawn Powers's picture

That's actually a good idea. Perhaps I'll do the same. :)

Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.

What Part?

obx_ruckle's picture

What was the good idea? To leave KDE, try Unity on an Acer netbook, or mature into something useful?


Shawn Powers's picture

I was referring to giving E17 a try. For fun.

Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.


obx_ruckle's picture

And I was just trying to be funny. It might well be time for another try at E17. I did not have much success the last time I tried it, although I do not remember what the problem was.

I wasn't sure

Shawn Powers's picture

I wasn't sure if it was sarcasm or if I'd offended you. So I err'd on the side of caution. :)

I think the frustration I had last time I tried it was with programs not "integrating" well. Problems with the icons up by the clock and such. (I can't think of what they're called, I think "tray icons" are what Windows calls them)

Anyway, knowing me I'll never get around to it unless I'm assigned to review it. I'm really curious if Unity in 11.04 will force all fullscreen windows. That would be so dumb on a desktop...

Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.

For me

Doug.Roberts's picture

Leaving KDE for Gnome was a good thing. KDE had gotten entirely too heavyweight, complicated, and buggy for me. Amarok 2.x is a good example of this. The 1.4 version of Amarok had a simple yet functional interface. The current 2.x version is overly complicated, buggy, and non-intuitive. Fortunately, Clementine (http://www.clementine-player.org/), which is a fork of 1.4 Amarok is a very nice alternative music media player.


I had the same experience:

Luis Fernando Planella Gonzalez's picture

I had the same experience: used KDE for years, but 4.5 was terribly slow for me, on 3 different (and good) machines.
I'm using Gnome with Ubuntu 10.10, but I don't like Gnome that much either, and have hope that KDE will be fixed (things like kwin constantly eating 40% cpu, even without composite).
I prefer the KDE applications over Gnome equivalents (there is no editor like kate). However, I agree on Amarok: I've been using Clementine and loving it.
About Unity, I tried it on my netbook but found it very limited. I like the idea, but it has miles to go before getting usable.


obx_ruckle's picture

Curious about what makes kate so special.

Kate has support for

Luis Fernando Planella Gonzalez's picture

Kate has support for searching / replacing using escape characters or regular expressions. It has an integrated terminal, an open with other applications directly on the file menu, export as html, code folding, tons of useful options... And is very robust and responsive when opening very large files.
Most regular users wouldn't even notice those features, but I think that programs should empower smart people, not limit themselves because 90% of users wouldn't be able to cope with it.
This is the old Gnome vs KDE ideology, simplicity (only the really needed features and options) vs power (more features and options). But I don't want to go into it. The free software ecosystem is rich and have choices for anyone wanting one or the other (or others).