back to article Ubuntu republic riven by damaging civil wars

There's a popular misconception about open source: that it's democratic, that all users have a vote over its direction and development or even the running of the community around it. The users of Ubuntu, arguably the world's most popular Linux distro these days, are currently discovering that this is not how it works. The …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    Since you didn't say it I will...

    Begun the Linux Desktop war has!

  2. A. Lewis

    Choice is good. Maybe Ubuntu needs to try and bring the rogue forks, K and X and L -buntu, back into the fold and brand them as just different flavours, but still Ubuntu at the core.

    Personally, I'm one of the number that ditched Ubuntu when they moved to Unity, in favour of X'buntu. XFCE is good and speedy and meets my needs perfectly.

    1. Ru

      You're a few years late, chief.

      Clearly it was a mistake to ever use anything more featureful than fvwm.

      1. Anonymous Coward


        that was more like the blockade on Naboo.

        Required SW quote: "I sense an unusual amount of fear for something as trivial as this destop manager dispute"

      2. Anonymous Coward

        THAT was more like the blockade of Naboo

        And the requisite SW quote would be:

        "I sense an unusual amount of fear for something as trivial as this destop manager dispute"

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Choice is good

      Except when its windows, in which case everyone flames Microsoft for offering too many versions. But that's just an aside and maybe even trolling. I have been considering a more permanent move to Linux but I guess with all this going on I get to leave that move for another 5 or 10 years or so and just play with it on an old laptop that is used for nothing important. Seems I'll never run out of different versions to play with and delete.

  3. zenkaon

    I really like unity

    Very happy with unity. It's a bold move by Ubuntu, but a good move. They took a long hard look at gnome-shell and decided to go there own way.

    I find it very usable and logical (warning - my logic may differ drastically from yours - but we all know I'm right ;) and am looking forward to seeing where they take it. The dash definitely needs work.

    Ctrl+Alt+T opens a terminal. What more do hardcore users want?

    For the doubters (I used to be one), try it for a week. That way you can give it a proper scathing

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "What more do hardcore users want?"

      Slackware? :-) Or that distro where you have to compile everything from scratch?

      I'm not sure that anything *buntu could be considered hardcore.


      1. jake Silver badge


        MeDearOldMum (mid 70s) and Great Aunt (96 years young) use Slackware.

        Of course it helps that the installer (me) understands their needs. Support calls dropped from several times per month each with Windows to less than once a year between the both of them.

        Canonical's offerings are shovelware/kitchensinkware, and have exactly the same problems as Redmond and Cupertino ... and for exactly the same reasons. That reason? Glad you asked ... it's because they try to be all things to all people.

        Probably doesn't hurt that I started using Slack in 1994, when it was obvious that MarkWilliamsCompany's "Coherent" *nix clone was no longer being developed ...

        We need to get back to a surgical approach to computing. Shotguns clearly aren't working.

        Learn Ubuntu, and you know Ubuntu (RedHat, Mint, whatever). Learn Slackware, and you learn how Linux works ... and can easily build customized systems for the computer illiterate. As a side benefit, knowledge of Slackware translates to more industrial variations of *nix ...

        Ubuntu: Ancient African word meaning "Slackware is hard."

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I really like unity

      I installed 11.10 on one of my computers and didn't like it or 11.10. But I installed 11.10 on a virtual machine and have played with it a bit.Although it would be nice to setup my desktop like in Gnome, but it became workable..Especially when I install Synaptic.

      I now think 11.10 is a really good distro of Linux and will install it on my other computers when 12.04 LTS comes out. Mark has done an excellent job with UBUNTU and I applaud him for that. I remember the earlier days of slack when you first booted, all you got bash shell and you had to figure out how to get xserver working! Linux has come a long way.

    3. Sergey 1

      Tried Unity for half a year

      I can work it, but it's association of running apps and launcher icons still drives me crazy sometimes. I don't want to switch to Term on Workspace2, I want a new one in the current Workspace3 !!!

      And how do I switch Term tabs without reaching for the mouse?

      And 4 workspaces aren't enough, clearly

      And they want to move away from synaptic, replacing it with whatever "software manager" thing. Back to apt-get times?! okay, can do apt-get too...

      I'd be really pleased if they concentrated on adding new stuff rather than replacing things that worked perfectly


  4. mrmond

    Mountains out of molehills.

    While I'm not a fanboy (I use win 7 as well) most people in my LuG don't give a hoot, let alone being angry about Unity,KDE or Gnome 3.

    You either like it or you don't. Just use a different window manager or a different distro.

    Same happened with Win ME and Vista, that's why so many stick with XP.

  5. DrXym Silver badge

    A couple of points

    GNOME Shell is actually a lot more extensible than GNOME 2 was. Instead of writing applets you write extensions in JS and CSS and much like extensions in Firefox they integrate straight into the GUI and appear like part of the experience. However the user-land tools which are needed to install, update and remove extensions are not there but the framework is which may be why it looks so spartan. Extensions are why GNOME applets not supported in GNOME 3 - there is something better there already.

    Also lacking from GNOME shell are configuration options to modify the experience. For example I actually do like maximize & minimize buttons and icons on my desktop but there is no easy way to add them without installing an "advanced" tweak tool. This sort of thing needs to be part of GNOME shell, in a dialog from the control panel. Despite these deficiencies I am still very confident about the way the project is going. GNOME Shell is a is highly usable experience, but it needs a few more iterations, some of which need to take note of criticism from people moving from GNOME 2.

    Now regarding, Ubuntu. Someone really needs to give them a hard slap. Unity has obvious failings and I was surprised and disappointed to see that 11.10 didn't bother to address them. Unity is actually reasonable for netbooks since it is a compact desktop but it sucks for larger screens. Where is the configuration dialog so I can set the edge that the launcher bar appears on? Where is the checkbox that I can disable the risible global menus from? Who in god's name thought that stupid floating scrollbar was ever a good idea? Why is Unity UI peppered with recommendations from the online store and doesn't bother to show the bloody app I'm trying to find. And where is the switch to disable this store promotion?

    Ubuntu is turning into Lindows / Linspire and it's a crying shame. Older releases "got it" and pushed the usability envelope. Since Unity turned up it's all been in freefall. I still use Ubuntu but it's running GNOME shell these days with hacks around the other things.

  6. Richard Wharram

    I don't see the fuss

    GNOME3 and UNITY phobes can just use the XFCE or LXDE editions which are both official Ubuntu spins and quite similar to GNOME2. Easy for Windows migrants too.

    Maybe power users and developers would have more of a problem. I dunno. But for most people this seems a lot of fuss over nowt much.

    1. Martin
      Thumb Up

      Who in god's name thought that stupid floating scrollbar was ever a good idea?

      Just repeating for emphasis.

      If Ubuntu had got everything else right, that is still a complete show-stopper for me.

      There are some applications which just do not work any more. FFS, why should the developer suddenly have to dig into his window handling just to check what subtle mistake he's made which means the app no longer works? Or perhaps he's strictly right, but just using something a bit unusual, and it's actually the stupid vanishing scrollbar that's wrong.

      Scroll-bars have worked for twenty years or more. Why change them?

      1. DrXym Silver badge

        Scrollbar can be disabled

        I can't recall the details but there is some file you can change to disable the floating scrollbar and the global menu.

        The floating scrollbar is such an extraordinarily bad design that I do not understand why it's there at all. You'd have to go back to the days of Openlook to find a scrollbar so abysmal. Both implement the same "elevator" style scrollbar. The difference is that the Openlook one at least stayed visible all the time and didn't have 20 years of hindsight to say what a bad design it was.

        Global menus are also bad design, not least because some apps don't support it (not surprisingly) but also because it increases the amount of mouse travel and needless clicking to discover stuff which shouldn't be hidden in the first place.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Your misuse of the word "experience"...

      ... indicates that you need to be slapped with the Salmon Of Correction.

      I agree with the rest of your post, however.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I did try to like it, honestly I did. I stuck with it for a couple of days at work but in the end I just can't love Unity, it just feels so unnatural.

    The classic start-button, menu-at-top design is popular for a reason. It works well and it's very efficient to use. All this trying to copy and better OSX business that Unity seems to be trying to do has so over simplified things, it hampers usability. When you're managing over a hundred servers and as many Oracle databases you need something that is solid, reliable and not something that seems to insist on picking fights with you every time you try to use it.

    I like Ubuntu, it's solid, dependable and exactly what you need when you don't have time to faff about with your O/S. I don't want to stop using Ubuntu but I don't want Unity when I need efficiency. I am sticking with 10.10 for the moment and I'll have to have a dip in the distro pool, see what else is about. Oracle RHEL clone might be a better bet, although I hate RPM with a passion!

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  8. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    a slightly lighter-weight desktop

    "Xfce is ostensibly a slightly lighter-weight desktop than GNOME, but the difference isn't dramatic."

    Nor should it be. A shell shouldn't consume significant resources, so it just shouldn't be possible to build an alternative that consumes dramatically fewer. (That said, I've switched from Kubuntu to Xubuntu and the difference is measureable, even if not dramatic.)

    Perhaps that really cuts to the nub of the argument. There are those who want the shell to be everything they do on the computer. Then there are those for whom the shell's main task is to get the fsck out of the way so that they can do some real work. I suspect there is no love lost between these two camps, so it is natural that there should be more than one shell.

    And as a final thought, is XP the get-out-of-the-way shell for Windows and Vista/7 the product of the everything-you-do-is-done-through-me camp?

    1. keithpeter


      @Ken Hagen

      "Then there are those for whom the shell's main task is to get the fsck out of the way so that they can do some real work."

      Yup. Can't beat dwm/dmenu with Thunar. Does all that press-mod-button-and-type-the-program-name stuff. Makes good use of the idiotic letterbox monitors we have to use now (why?).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        The excuse: better to watch movies (and play games?)

        The fact: who cares about movies (and games), it is a tiny niche. Letterbox is a pain to *work* with below 1600x1200.

        The reason: a 24" 16/9 monitor uses a lot less glass than a 4/3 one. Less area = more profit.

  9. KevinLewis

    But I am a Linux Novice...

    I am a bit of a novice when it comes to Linux. I am mainly a Windows user, and have used OSX.

    I installed Ubuntu 9 on a laptop we had, and liked it, and upgraded to 10 and used AWN for the menu, then 11.04 and 11.10...

    I just don't get GNOME3. It makes no sense. I can't find anything, it runs terribly slow on my laptop - yes it's a few years old, but 10 worked fine. I may give it a few more weeks to see if I get used to it.. but I reckon I am going to downgrade for the better...

    1. jbuk1

      if you're on ubuntu 11.10 you're not using gnome 3, I know you said you're a noob but at least try and make sure you bash the right product.

      1. Goat Jam

        Irony Alert!

        Commentard accuses other commentard of n00bness while getting his own facts wrong!

        News at eleven!

        I don't know what idiot upvoted this moronic post but the OP "noob" was quite correct, 11.10 does use Gnome 3.

        11.04 was the last Ubuntu with Gnome2, 11.10 is the latest and greatest and the first one that forces users on to Gnome3.

        I expect that you are referring to Gnome Shell in your snide put down. Gnome Shell is the presentation layer of Gnome 3 which Unity replaces but irrespective of which shell you choose on 11.10, they are both running on Gnome 3.

        Now, I accept that the OP may have been using Unity on Gnome 3 (as is the default) and then gotten confused between the Gnome Shell and Unity but at least he didn't compound his error by choosing to phrase his post like a lecturing school master.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All is not well in UbuntuLand then?

    I can't say I'm surprised.

    First, let me say that I'm not a Ubuntu user. I did try (honestly) but in the end, I didn't like it.

    However, a good number of my Linux buddies are or rather were Ubuntu devotees.

    Now they are not so sure.

    Several have gone off to Mint.

    A couple have returned to Debian

    One have even wiped his Thinkpad and installed Gentoo (he is the really wierd one...)

    Only three remain and one of these is secretly using KDE (shh Kevin)

    The reason they all give is 'Unity. I'm not a blithering Idiot so why treat me like one?'

    Canonical make no claims to be democratic. The Will on Mr Shuttleworth has to be obeyed much like that of Mr Gates of the late Mr Jobs. Without his leadership, Ubuntu would not be the force it is today.

    Personally, I think that is is his (M.S.) goal for Canonical to be profitable that might be his undoing. I'm sure he sees the growth that RedHat posts every quarter and would very much like some of it, if not all of it.

    I'm not sure where the Ubuntu team will go from here. They have to be careful or they will piss off many more of their fans. However, this might be a price they are willing to pay to be profitable.

    As for me, I use Fedora or CentOS. Gnome 3 is a POS as far as I'm concerned. Thankfully CentOS 6 will keep Gnome 2.x for sometime to come.

  11. Mage Silver badge


    Yet again the promising Linux has shot itself in the Feet. Removing both legs.

    Not everyone uses a Tablet / Mini-Netbook.

    Debian + Ice Window Manager for Older HW anyone?

    It doesn't make sense that newer versions of OS need new HW unless your partner(s) are AMD or Intel.

    Essentially the only bit of PCs that wear out are the keyboards and Mice and on Laptops/Netbooks additionally the Battery.

    Of course HDD or SSD can fail any time.

    1. Adrian Challinor

      Foot shooting for beginners

      Mage is correct, unlike previous posts of the form "Unity, live with it".

      One of the unspoken goals for Ubuntu was to create a credible alternative to Windows. I run Ubuntu since I had one too many crashes that wiped a complete disk partition under XP. I move the wife to Ubuntu since Vista was just too damn unstable. She is not a fan, but in her mind it is less hassle than Vista was (or "my first computer" as she liked to call it).

      If you're a geek, then Unity or Gmome 3 is great. A whole new raft of desk top tools to play with. Personally, I hated Unity and went back to Ubunto 10:04. Some of the device management packages just did not work under 11:04 and Eclipse was a real nightmare.

      What would this do in a business? Well, cause chaos. Why have most companies stuck with Win XP? The main reason is the cost of upgrade in terms of retraining. Changing 300 desktops over a weekend and having 300 users complain on Monday is not good for business. Some of the places I know are still on XP. Windows 7 is possible late 2012. They stay on an old OS because they are in business to make money, not to play with some muppet's idea of a new paradigm for a desktop.

      Canonical have gone the same way. Unity is too big a change. And with no fall back alternative for Gnome 2 users, who would want to put this in instead of XP or Windows 7? There is a backlash against Unity - its not good on large screens. So will Canonical change again? Many hope so, but its far from a pleasant thought. So business will stay away. IMHO what Canonical should have done is let you choose whether you run the new, super, flash Unity, or the old boring but familiar Gnome 2, or for the uber-geek, you can have Gnome 3. Their problem is that they have forced a change on to their user base, and that has broken the trust.

      Some people (eg, my wife) just want to run a computer, do their work, browse the web and send emails. They do not want to have to learn something new. These people simply won't upgrade until something makes them. Like having a new PC. And then, if they have to learn something new, why not go to Windows 7?

      I have moved to Ubuntu 11:10, but with Cairo-Dock, not Unity. This means that I am in control of how my desktop works. The family hate it, because they can;t find anything (this is a "good" thing!)

      I do agree with the first poster - let the desktop wars begin.

  12. Ray 11

    I quite like Unity too

    as does my brother-in-law who is just a user and does not do anything technical.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Some errata and thoughts

    You failed to mention Fuduntu and Fusion Linux. Both are Fedora 14 remixes. Fusion is unahsamedly pro-Gnome 2.3 and the chief developer talks of wanting to find a way to use one of the Gnome 2.3 forks in order to keep the familiar 2.3 UI.

    The situation with KDE is not really like the current one with Gnome.

    KDE 4 was a departure. It took some of the configurability away, but kept to the basic Taskbar, right click, etc, accepted UI standards. That's that main argument with Gnome 3/Unity - they have thrown most of the UI standards out of the window - a monumental act of hubris.

    If Shuttleworth thinks Ubuntu is going to attract hordes of new users he is mistaken. The point of UI standards is that they held true across OS's. Pretty much everything was in the same place whether you used Windows, OSX or Linux and anyone with half a brain could find their way around. This has now been abandoned. Many people disliked OSX because of the contextual top bar on the screen (easy to use once you'd got the hang of it), but, regarded as unnecessarily tricky by new users. So how will these same people cope with Unity/Gnome 3 that has done away with so many more of those standards?

    It's alarming, to say the least, to see how Linux is diverging. Each distro suddenly seems to be going off in its own direction. This is not going to be good for Linux, because the end result will be several distributions, each incompatible with the other, each with its own set of tricksy methodologies and idiosynchrosies and the only winner will be Microsoft. One wonders how much MS have to do with this sudden divergence and enthusiasm for abanoning good design and anoying thousands of customers, many of whom have proved loyal over the years.

    In the end, arrogance and stubbornness might just be the undoing of Linux.

    And the winner will be Microsoft and everyone else will be the losers.

    1. Ru

      "You failed to mention Fuduntu"

      Perhaps because no-one has heard of it, or perhaps because no-one cares.

      "It's alarming, to say the least, to see how Linux is diverging"

      It has always been this way. There is nothing new here, it is merely better publicised and the userbase is larger.

      "the only winner will be Microsoft"

      Really? I'd say that Apple would be the primary beneficiaries. But ultimately, who cares? This "Linux" you speak of isn't a coherent entity or corporation. "Linux" does not care whether you like it or not. It will still exist if half the userbase poof out of existence. There's no share price to lose here, no army of devs who need paying. Arrogance and stubbornness? On whose part? Linus? Redhat management? the KDE project? How about Xorg? How about IBM? How about Android? Do you somehow believe that they're all working together with a common goal and agree to synchronise their stupidities? You're looking at the action of one player in a very large system. There is no one true "Linux", and it most certainly isn't embodied by Shuttleworth's creation.

    2. Old Handle

      Fortunately for Linux, MS is also abandoning good UI design, so they won't really have an unfair advantage.

    3. Asgard
      Big Brother

      @"One wonders how much MS have to do with this sudden divergence"

      What a sick underhanded thought. I have to congratulate you AC (@13:23), for spotting this.

      @"One wonders how much MS have to do with this sudden divergence and enthusiasm for abandoning good design and annoying thousands of customers, many of whom have proved loyal over the years."

      I've never given that a thought before, but you could very well be right. Unfortunately financially it makes huge sense and its a terrible thought if true, but given how deeply underhanded, two faced and frankly Machiavellian a lot of bosses are, I wouldn't put it past companies like Microsoft and Apple hiring full time developers via 3rd party companies to disrupt major Linux distributions without even the developers knowing they have been hired to disrupt the distribution, by steer these open source projects away from what the corporations product goals, like undermining good usability and consistent user look and feel between Linux versions.

      Screwing up the usability of popular Linux distributions would pay Microsoft (and Apple) hugely. For example, Microsoft are talking about wanting 500 million users on Windows 8 so work out how much that will earn Microsoft and then workout how much it would cost to hire a few hundred programmers via 3rd party companies to disrupt and misdirect open source projects that are in the way of their multi-billion profits per year.

      Its a really sick thought, but sadly its all to plausible because unfortunately its an extremely financially viable method to undermine any Linux distribution that looks like it'll get popular enough to challenge companies like Microsoft or Apple. (Considering how much money these companies throw at lawyers each year, to take down competitors, its small change to hire hundreds of developers to overwhelm independent developer opinions on open source projects).

      I'm sure some will deny its ever possible (as they usually do), but its unfortunately hugely financially viable which makes it highly probable and profitable.

      What a depressing thought. :(

  14. John Goodwin 4

    Patience is a virtue, or so my Nan told me

    I've given it a whole month and 11.10 still annoys me every single day. Looks like it will be either Linux Mint or 10.04 when I rebuild my PC this week.

    Ubuntu on self-destruct mode.

  15. Hayden Clark Silver badge

    "It works in My Dorm-Room"


    As Linux gets more useful, this kind of tech-utopianism starts to seriously impact on serious, business use of Linux. While, having not paid for it, I can get that I have no control over it. But if the avowed intent of Shuttleworth and crew is to make me like it so much I might actually pay for it, they're going the right way about p***ing my right off.

    All this "kewl new way of working" UI stuff is very Silicon Valley, very College-Kid.

  16. Ian McNee

    A good roundup...

    ...but why end with the usual "Linux world more fragmented than ever"?

    This perspective panders to the "One True Virtuous Linux" tendencies and has its ultimate expression in Stallman/Gnu and their tiny list of niche distros deemed pure enough to be endorsed.

    How about "Linux world more diverse than ever"? I speak as someone who only really got to grips with Linux via Ubuntu and have since moved on because Unity and some other aspects of the distro don't meet my needs. No drama necessary, simply the opportunity to change the tools one uses because one's knowledge and goals have outgrown the old tools.

    It may have been inevitable that a figure like Shuttleworth would behave like he is now doing and alienate a section of the Ubuntu community. That's unfortunate but it might also be what is required to maintain Ubuntu as a well supported off the shelf distro for new users and enterprise desktops.

    For the rest of us the Linux community (and I think it really is a community in the way that an operation funded by a single wealthy individual cannot be) will provide as circumstances change. I've not yet settled on Gnome 3/KDE or DEB/RPM but I'm confident that the tools are out there to allow me to do what I need to do effectively and reliably.

    It would be great to change the world with Linux/FOSS but only the zealots have the luxury of waiting until that time (and inevitably they will never be the people who contribute to it happening). In the meantime lots of people are doing so much cool and useful stuff, let's go play!

  17. A J Stiles

    And the worst of it is .....

    ..... KDE was *already* released under the GPL *long* before Ubuntu chose GNOME.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Indeed: Register fact check...

      "Both Perens and Ubuntu chose the GNOME desktop, for two main reasons – firstly, it was completely free, unlike GNOME's principal rival, KDE, based on the at-the-time-non-GPL Qt toolkit."


      "September 05, 2000

      Trolltech announced today that it will license the upcoming free version of Qt/Unix 2.2 under the GPL (GNU General Public License)."

      And no, it didn't take three years for them to get that release out.

    2. jotheberlock

      The argument at the time was that Trolltech hadn't realised Qt under the LGPL (so people could write commercial apps with it). Not that that was what people actually objected to, of course; what they really meant was 'I hate C++ and everything to do with it' but 'Gnome is more free than KDE!' (because you can write closed-source software using it, forsooth) was a far more acceptable rallying cry.

      Now, of course, Qt is under the LGPL so it's exactly as free as Gnome/Gtk. And I've been a happy Kubuntu user for many years so I don't give a flying fuck about this Unity/Gnome 3 mess.

  18. Nigel 11

    Why the fuss?

    It amazes me how many people don't get it.

    It's not because Gnome 3 exists. If they'd taken the Gnome 2 code-base, forked it, announced that Gnome 2 needed a new maintainer because they wouldn't be working on it any longer, then the world would be a happy place. The maintainer would have been found. Some of us would stick to Gnome 2. Others would enthusiastically embrace Gnome 3. System managers could install both on multi-user systems, and let their users decide when they log in.

    This is the strength of open-source. Diversity, choice, and no-one forcing us to use new software that we don't like.

    The Gnome people broke the "rules". They developed Gnome 3 in such a way that you couldn't choose. They pretended it was an upgrade, when it was a brand new interface with little if anything in common with its predecessor. They did to us for the sake of ego-building, what Microsoft did to us for the sake of making more money for Microsoft. And frankly, compared to the gulf between Gnome 2 UI and Gnome 3 UI, the jump from XP to Win 7 is across a mere crevice.

    That's why the fuss. If the open-soure community had any laws, Gnome would have broken a lot of them. Thank heaven that XFCE exists. It feels like a step backwards, but only a step. And now it's attracted a whole lot of new users including Linus, it might even get improved.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      +1'ed for truthiness.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        ++ indeed

        Fork the Gnome!!!

    2. AdamWill


      Sorry, but that's just ridiculous. So the difference in your head between the world being a 'happy place' and 'broken a lot of' laws announcement?

      Because that's what your post boils down to. It's not GNOME's job to create a fork they don't want and don't want to maintain, and since _the code is freaking open_ it's not as if they've somehow made it impossible for anyone to do it. This is amply demonstrated by the fact that two other groups have already done it (and then pretty much died of neglect, but that's hardly GNOME's fault, is it)?

      So apparently you think GNOME not 'announcing' that GNOME 2 'needs a new maintainer' is some sort of heinous crime.

      They don't owe you anything. It's their project. They did not do anything 'for the sake of ego-building' (what? how do you build ego by writing a desktop?), they decided that they just didn't consider the GNOME 2 interface to be the right way to do desktop design any more and decided to change it. That's their right. You have no right to demand that the GNOME project fork their code or make specific announcements about it. All these 'rules' are entirely a figment of your imagination. They made no guarantees to you, you bought no service from them.

      Remember that GNOME is more than a shell. GNOME 3 is clearly a natural progression from GNOME 2, with many of the same components. It has a new shell, but hey, the shell is only one of several dozen GNOME components.

  19. Bruno Girin

    Irrespective of whether you like Unity or not, I think its effect will be the same as all disruptive technology: get the incumbents to re-think what they've been doing for so long.

    From my point of view, the Linux desktop has (visually) stagnated for several years. KDE has always looked like Windows but with a funny icon instead of the Start menu; while GNOME 2 looks like Windows but with a second panel on top because we didn't have enough space to put everything we wanted in the bottom panel. And neither of them is very good at being efficient for the user out of the box. Prior to any customisation, you typically need 3 clicks in GNOME 2 to start an application (Applications menu -> Category sub-menu -> app you want to run). Both have the potential to be customised in a way that is very efficient for a particular user but are just very average on first use.

    So Unity and GNOME 3 ask the question: can't we really do any better than that? Can we create something that is efficient and easy to use out of the box? Neither of them has all the answers but now that the status quo has been questioned, I hope we will see a lot of innovation in this space in the next few years from Unity, GNOME 3 and KDE (and possibly others). Hopefully, the end result will be a Linux desktop that is more productive for users out of the box.

    In practice, this is exactly why I like Unity: I can't be asked to customise my desktop, I just want to use my computer rather than tinker with it and all in all I am more productive with Unity than I ever was with GNOME 2. Of course, a non-scientific sample of 1 doesn't make a statistic but I'm sure I'm not the only one.

    I, for one, welcome our shiny desktop UI overlords.

  20. Steve the Cynic

    Ubuntu: No.

    I gave up on Ubuntu when, the very first time I tried to install it (from a magazine cover disk, if you must know), it gave me the big finger and stopped halfway through the installation because it couldn't find the Internet to download up-to-date versions of the packages.

    Dudes! Let me install the (bad word) thing first, then go looking for upgraded components once I have it properly installed and configured. The purposes for which I wanted to set up a machine didn't include having it go out to the Internet for anything.

    1. Bruno Girin

      I don't know what version was on that CD but recent releases will give you the option to either download package updates as you install or to do it later. So I suggest you try again.

    2. Microphage

      re: Ubuntu: No

      @Steve the Cynic: "the very first time I tried to install it .. it gave me the big finger and stopped halfway through the installation because it couldn't find the Internet to download up-to-date versions of the packages"

      This is not the case the installer explicitly asks if you want to go online and download updates, else it installs the CD version.

  21. Joe Burmeister

    Mint is going MATE and Gnome3

    Very selective quoting. It is moving to have MATE and Gnome3 and is involved in work to ensure MATE can live along side Gnome3. What I'd like to see is MATE moved to GTK3 because I don't think there is any debate that GTK3 is an improvement. I'm quite interested in trying Gnome3 with MGSE, though I still think Gnome3 needs a slim fast diet. Mint seams to be taking the best approach yet.

  22. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Who is in charge - you or the window manager?

    I found KDE 4 very irritating until I found Trinity. With KDE 3.5/Trinity I could disable almost everything (like the panel/task bar/start button/kicker and icons), set up keyboards short cuts for things I do regularly, and put a different customisable menu for each type of mouse click on the desktop to access everything else. When I tried KDE 4, nepomuk trashed the machine's performance. All the off switches for nepomuk did not work. Luckily I found Dovydas's solution at

    There was plenty more in the new KDE that I hated and could not get rid of at all. I could not set up my keyboard shortcuts. KDE 4 was telling me how to work instead of the other way around. I was extremely angry that I might have to buy a graphics card louder than a tornado just to switch between tasks. When I found KDE 3.5 was alive and well with its name changed to Trinity I calmed down and now I do not care what the KDE 4 developers do. The only fly in the ointment was the intense boredom that set in waiting ⅕ of a second for the web browser to smooth scroll. (In the [KDE] section of ~/.trinity/share/config/kdeglobals, add: SmoothScrolling=false)

  23. Bassey

    I've never met a group more resistent to change than IT types :)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      So you've never worked with users then :)

  24. theDragon

    Unity, Gnome3, Kde4

    plain and simple... FORK GNOME. Polish a turd, and it still is a turd, especially Gnome3 and Unity. I have gone to XFCE for now, and maybe permanently. So you young wiz kids, if it is not broken, DON'T Fix it. I want my Gnome 2 sane interface back. Until then I have tweaked XFCE to my heart's desire.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've never got the fuss about start menu layouts, even in windows I tend to open apps with the run box or command line. Same on linux, ssh forwarding and xterm to my mac laptop, I don't use any desktop manager on linux.

    Maybe I'm a bit weird though.

  26. James Hughes 1

    As a couple of people above said

    I like Unity. Been using it since the first non-beta release. Taken a while to get the hang of it, and there are definite areas for improvement (the Dash gets better on each release but still not perfect).

    Been using it for development using Eclipse and various day to day tasks. Nothing in it prevents me from doing what I need to do with the machine.

    Only problem I have had is Nautilus windows have been crashing recently - buts that more likely a Gnome than Unity problem.

  27. Ian 35
    Paris Hilton

    Desktops Grandad?

    As the mighty XKCD has it:

    I've used assorted Unix desktops since 1985 (Suns from SunOS 3 through Solaris 10, Macs, some Linux) and developed on a range of Unix back ends (Suns, AIX, Ultrix, Linux). I can't say the desktop was ever a major issue for me, and it's even less of an issue now when almost everything runs in a browser. The amount of intellectual and political capital being expended on an application launcher and some window furniture is astounding, and given all the the other problems the Linux marketplace has seems completely mis-directed.

    Paris, because even she could produce a better market strategy than forking desktops that no-one cares about and then shouting about it a lot.

  28. kedaly

    Quit whining!

    I am a power user and I've made the switch to Unity quite successfully.

    I can't say I love it, but I don't hate it. And if you give a new user a unity desktop to play with, they usually love it. (I have installed it on a few friends computers).

    Linux has to differentiate itself from the rest of the OS's, and unity is a bold new direction that just might catch on. I agree with the guy who says <ctrl><alt><T> get's a terminal, what else do you want?

  29. Chris Cartledge


    Unity is slow, but happily Unity-2D is much quicker, indeed almost lightweight. However I hope they do something about the usability which is very poor when you have multiple windows open for the same application. LibreOffice integrates particularly badly with some files appearing under a generic Office symbol instead of Writer, Calc or Impress as others do.

    It might also be good if some fundamental issues with Linux were fixed, such as caching network information. It is a pain to have to delete Auto Ethernet and then reconnect to it when I have powered off broadband overnight (and there are similar occasional problems with Wireless Ethernet).

    1. Phil the Geek

      "Linux has to differentiate itself"

      Why? It doesn't have to be different to be good. Book publishers don't "have" to differentiate the way the pages turn to sell paperbacks. I worked for a big computer company that just "had" to differentiate its products, even if the differentiators utterly sucked. That company doesn't exist any more, because in their differentiation ego trip they forgot that the users/customers were king.

      PS I think Unity's childish icons look like Microsoft Money circa 1995. Separated at birth?

  30. Anonymous Coward

    "all in the pursuit of preserving vertical space, so precious on 16:9 widescreen displays."

    I don't want a widescreen display, its a computer aka glorified typewriter and telex machine, I normally work with two 1600x1200 displays. Old gnome worked well enough, I have just tested Xubuntu and that seems to be usable for my purposes so that's what it will be in future.

  31. IR


    Four pages about how the interface created a huge bust-up and not a single picture of what the issue is! Lazily linking to a thousand other articles is not the same.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Switched to xubuntu

    Unity disturbed my workflow too much just like hundreds of others.An upgrade that reduces my productivity because I can't find a program and then when I do find it I have to pin it to a bar is no use, and too many programs and no hierarchy to the bar meant I ran out of space.

  33. Connor

    Still on Ubuntu 10.04

    I use Ubuntu on my primary (work) laptop. I did try both Unity and Gnome Shell, but everything just took so much longer, and it wasn't always down to just not knowing where anything is. Neither are as customisable (after 7 years of using Ubuntu, now all of a sudden I cannot change my fonts? My theme?) and the 'dock' is crap. Docky is much better for my needs.

    In the end I had to go back to using 10.04, unable to justify using an inefficient system and it is very inefficient and not intuitive, even in comparison to Windows. I guess that is what happens though when you end up using a UI designed for another type of device.

    Now I am stuck. Bodhi looks hideous, Xubuntu is OK but no desktop effects and compared to plain 10.04 looks dated. Still have Lubuntu to try but it is looking more and more likely that I will head back to Windows.

    It was a nice Ubuntu, but you've changed. It's not me, it's you!

  34. LaeMing Silver badge


    "a strange new packaging system"

    "getting to grips with the alien RPM packaging system instead of Ubuntu's Debian-derived one"

    As a Debian user since the early '90's, when just about everything else was RPM, that just tickles me!

  35. mark adrian bell

    I'm a big Ubuntu fan, but I have to confess I've made the move to Arch. I'll try out the new desktops when they're stable.

  36. RISC OS

    Ubuntu Studio...

    ... that's new to me... I looked at the screenshots and then I realised why Adobe Apps are still the industry standard and why real designers use apple/windows. If that's the kind of interface that can be created using free graphics software I can see why the worlds design companies don't use them. I can see why linux users think GIMP/inkscape are great programmes... the people using them obviously have no idea about design... and think just because they have learnt to use a stupidly designed graphics programme, that that some how makes them designers. Fail.

  37. Nick Sargeant

    Hate it.

    The ONE thing that makes Gnome 3 usable is that Docky still works.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Walked away, to some extent

    Well, I'm a Senior Linux Systems Administrator and I have had for 11 years Linux as my primary desktop, until about 1 week ago. I started with Slackware, moving on to SuSE, to OpenSUSE, and finally to Ubuntu topped off with about 3 months of Linux Mint.

    Now I am writing this from my MacBook Air.... yes, I have swapped to OSX. I am still umming and arring a little about it, and do have a VirtualBox Ubuntu 11.10 guest on it, likewise a RHEL6 for my test admin stuff, both of which run perfectly.

    One big reason for the move was I do not like Unity, yet I also do not like Fedora as my desktop. I simply need a presentable and functional operating system for my daily tasks, OSX does give me this. Ubuntu gives me a feeling of freedom and doing the right thing, but Canonical / Ubuntu have stuffed up with Unity. I am sure great things will come of it in the end, but I just do not adhere to it's motives. Too many apps swapped around and too frequently also.

    Sorry, very stoned also makes me ramble :-)

    Linux is my work, but my reasoning is that the Linux Desktop is not my bread and butter money, it's all shell based work.

    1. Goat Jam

      "Canonical / Ubuntu have stuffed up with Unity"

      I try not to be too hard on Canonical. I think they saw where Gnome was going and didn't like it.

      From that point on they had a choice, try and make a fist of Gnome Shell or try something new with Unity.

      I haven't tried either so I cant say which is better between Gnome Shell and Unity.

      For me, the best result would be if somebody created a third shell to run on Gnome 3, one that looks exactly like Gnome 2 only with Gnome 3 foundations.

  39. drag

    The Authors description of Gnome-shell is not terribly accurate.

    > Down the left hand edge of the screen is a "favourites bar" to which you can add your most-often-used programs.

    More or less.

    > A faint background glow shows if an app is running, but not how many windows; it's not really meant for switching between programs.

    It's meant for switching between entire programs. When you launch a application it placed a new icon in that. So when you click on the icon for the application it brings it forward.

    What it's not meant for is switching between windows. When you choose it it will choose the last used window of that application, if you have multiple windows open.

    > This is a keyboard operation – Alt-tab still works, and Alt-` (the key directly above tab) to switch between documents.

    Alt-tab switches between programs.

    Alt-~ switches between windows in the current program.

    Also you can use Alt-tab in combination with arrow keys to select specific windows.

    > The developers seemed to envision that the way to keep apps separate would be to put them on different virtual desktops. A virtual-desktop-switcher bar occupies the right edge of the primary screen, and there's an indefinite number of virtual desktops available – always one more than you're using.

    On Gnome 3.2 it hides this bar if you are not using multiple desktops. The multiple desktop thing has always confused some users so if you don't use it you don't see it.

    > The only way to navigate between windows with the mouse is an overall, Apple Exposé-like thumbnail view. So, if you have lots of windows, all on your first virtual desktop, the overview will be indistinct.

    More or less.

    Unlike Windows, Gnome never really had the ability to group a bunch of related windows together in the task bar (or whatever) when you had a lot of them open. So no matter what if you had lots of windows open on a single desktop it was always going to be mess.

    If you wanted to keep things organized you have to take advantage of multiple desktops. This really hasn't changed from Gnome 2 to Gnome 3.

    > The old hierarchical application menus have been replaced with a full-screen search-driven app-picker. Even windows' minimise or maximise buttons are gone.

    There are three application 'menus' or 'pickers':

    1. Hierarchical (applications are grouped by function in the traditional-like gnome app menu system)

    2. Grid display

    3. Search.

    If you are keyboard centric person the search is the most useful. As you the search is always in focus when you switch to the 'activities' view. You can simply start typing and open the application, or grab it's windows.

    like this:

    <hit windows key>

    type: firefox

    <hit enter>

    It will pull up firefox or launch it, depending if you have it launched already.

    the ctrl- button will modify the behavior to 'launch new window' rather then pull up existing windows.


    <hit windows key>

    type: firefox

    <hit ctrl-enter>

    Will launch a new window.

    It's a departure from existing WIMP metaphores for managing applications and Windows and it's not intiutive as OS X. But it's a quick flowing user interface and very keyboard friendly once you spend a couple weeks using it. Lots of potential.

  40. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    I'm a fedora user

    on a couple of low end machines. one copes with gnome 2 quite well, the other chugs along quite happily, if a touch slow.

    So I get a fedora 15 live cd to give the new interface a whizz and it launches into fall back mode because gnome3 needs a decent driver.

    What a great advert for Linux, may just as well install windows if I have to d/l a bunch of drivers just to get out of safe mode.

    So it looks like F14 will be my last Linux installation.. which is rather sad

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ubuntu 11.10 is easily fixed

    apt-get install e17

    end of problem, no need to reinstall a new distro or remix or anything harder than selecting enlightenment from the login screen after it has been installed and a quick logout.

    I cant see it being any harder for xfce either. Both are in the default ubuntu repositories.

    As for unity.... 11.04 was OK, but after I upodated to 11.10 unity reached a whole new level of annoying, which is why I jumped back to Enlightenment. My only issue with the move is that I didn't like the defualt e17 theme and had to install one of the Bhodi themes.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    With an ego that monstrous...

    ...I'm really, REALLY surprised that it has taken this long. He probably STILL AND WILL ALWAYS feel that he's simply misunderstood by the legions upon legions of slavish followers and conned organizations who he can no longer "convince to see the light".

    Anybody been keeping score on the stories in the news (all over the internet!) regarding the inordinate amount of psychopaths who head large organizations?

    It couldn't happen to a more deserving individual.

    Here's hoping his aim stays good, and the only recipients of shots in the feet are his own.

  43. Plutocrat

    First of all, great article. It was a nice summary of the landscape.

    I don't think I have much to add, just a general agreement. Moving to Unity was a terrible thing which alienated users. I have yet to see a single survey in which more people like Unity than Gnome 2 -- do a couple of searches on Google and see for yourself. If Mark Shuttleworth had bothered to do any sort of market research then he would never have made the decision to do this. Instead he was too busy playing the 'visionary leader'. Steve Jobs is probably the only guy who actually got this role right.

    So to summarise. I don't like Unity because

    - It doesn't work on 3 out of the 4 computers I installed it on as the hardware is 'not good enough'

    - It takes me longer to accomplish every task. I tried for a week.

    - Lack of configuration options. Still. Even in the 11.10 release.

    - My taskbar applets I set up in Gnome 2 aren't supported. So I have to change my time tracking application for eg. More work.

    - There is no choice.

    I've looked at Xubuntu and still find that a bit irritating. Lubuntu is actually a little better for me. I saw the Mint blog post yesterday and believe that these guys actually seem to understand what they're doing better than Ubuntu. They see that KDE4, Gnome3 and Unity are all making things more difficult for users, so they've written bridging software to make it easier. Did you hear that Ubuntu? No, I don't guess you did.

    So for me, I'll just move on to another one. I'll also, with a sense of embarassment for having recommended Ubuntu in the first place, help my clients to find an alternative. This makes me look unprofessional, but I'll live. The real tragedy here is that the momentum of Ubuntu has been lost, and a real challenger to Windows / Mac has been neutered.

  44. David Hicks

    Made the move to XFCE

    Debian testing just went to GNOME 3/Shell. There's no task bar. Empathy is given first-class status and all other IM clients relegated to the notification area, which is now hidden and "deprecated". You can't put shortcuts on the top bar, and the menu system just sucks. Also it brought Pulse Audio with it, that breaks some of the applications I use and immediately redirected all audio away from the headphone socket to the HDMI output. Useful...

    It took a little while to install XFCE and make it look like Gnome 2 did, but now it's there, it works almost identically.

    I've been coding for about 15 years now, I've never before encountered such a radical, unhelpful and unnecessary shift in paradigms, and I don't welcome it.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Xubuntu for the win

    Very logical, hierachical menus, fast, simple. Its like Ubuntu for grown ups.

    The new batch of UI designers forgot all the lessons of old:

  46. seansaysthis

    Canonical Own Ubuntu

    Canonical are now more focussed on mobile and tablet devices. this is driving UI changes. Canonical own Ubuntu and if thats what they want to do its up to them. There a great Ubuntu community and I hope they don't get sidelined as Canonical goes for more commercial Success.

    I've moved to Linux Mint it may be that after 20 odd years of using a computer with a menu system I cant really adapt to one without it. Linux Mint seem to be taking a more measured approach as the UI will evolve. Most users are content consumers not content creators and the ratio is getting lager in favour of content consumers. I might go back to Ubuntu in a year when the glitches are ironed out

  47. nederlander

    I Quite Like Unity Too

    Its fast sexy and minimal, yes, it takes some getting used to (like any UI paradigm) and it has its glitches, but its early days and these will be ironed out.

    Having said that, I'm not here to evangelise, use whatever distro you like.

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    It doesn't matter which one you go for - they're all better than Winblows!

  49. asbokid

    There's nothing particularly bad in Ubuntu, except Shuttleworth's ballooning ego.

    Will someone find a PC header pin and burst it, puhleeze.

  50. Microphage

    the non existent desktop wars

    I really don't see the problem, use the desktop you're most comfortable with. I find Konqueror running on top of Xfce the best in usability and a clear uncluttered desktop.

  51. GreenJimll

    I had my old laptop die on me a couple of weeks ago, so whilst on a temporary lash up awaiting my new replacement machine, I thought I'd try Ubuntu for a change and to see how "user friendly" it really is (I'm normally a straight Debian user these days, having switched from Fedora several years ago). I got the latest distro running and landed in Unity. I found it difficult to navigate round, couldn't work out how to move the launcher from the left hand side to and, as I actually needed to get some real work done, tried to find out how to switch back to a sane desktop. There were some folk saying that you could apt-get a package for a classic gnome experience but even when that was done it seemed awkward to use. So out came the Debian 6.0.3 netinst disc and back to the comfy I-can-get-stuff-done-now world of GNOME 2 based Debian.

    When the new machine arrived, that Debian CD got some more action. And I'm not alone - a couple of the chaps at work have tried Unity and then gone back to older LTS releases of Ubuntu or other distros. I'm rather hoping that GNOME 2 is forked and we get a long term package appear in Debian for that.

  52. phroggelator

    Why do people keep complaining about having to move to a new distro to escape Unity? 11.10 has at least 2 other perfectly serviceable UI's in its repositories - enlighentment and xfce. Why install a whole new distro when you can simply use basic package management to make the unity pain stop? This is doubly strange when you consider that many of the distros/remixes that people are installing are just ubuntu with different installed defaults. Package management is a basic admin skill for any OS, so what exactly am I missing that seemingly drives everyone to re-install from scratch?

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