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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