The next release of Ubuntu, dubbed Natty Narwhal, is getting ready for release next month. There are some new application changes in this release. In our last post, we covered LibreOffice, which will replace OpenOffice.org as the Ubuntu Office Suite application.
There is a another change, to the shell desktop interface. Instead of using the Gnome desktop, that's been a standard in Ubuntu for a number of years, a new Unity User Interface will come with the next release of Ubuntu.
Why the change, when the users have been looking forward to using the new Gnome 3.0 release, which was not ready for prime time in Ubuntu's last release? Well, as always, there's a little politics in play.
In 2010 Canonical, the makers of Ubuntu, started working on creating a consistent user desktop interface experience. Canonical wanted application menus to be consistent through out the desktop, despite the differences in installed applications, a consistent way to search for applications on the system, and how to present favorite applications to the user with icons. Unity employs a vertical icon application switcher.
In discussing the move to Unity, the founder of Canonical, Mark Shuttleworth, cited philosophical differences with the Gnome design team over the user experience. From Canonical's perspective, they presented what they'd like to see in the Gnome interface to the Gnome design team, and the Gnome team ignored their input. Sounds like a little hurt feelings here. I can certainly see a desire on Canonical's part to want to control their user's experience, and the look of their product. On the other hand, the Gnome team did not want to be dictated to by probably their biggest supporter. This is beginning to sound like a family feud with Canonical saying that the Gnome team was inflexible.
Unity first appeared in the Netbook version of Ubuntu 10.10. The design helped increase the screen real estate available to users on the small Netbook screens by making use of vertical side icons.
Canonical was quick to point out that Unity is a shell on top of Gnome desktop environment, so in effect Ubuntu will still use the Gnome drivers, it just won't look or act the same as the Gnome interface.
If we're just going by the look of the desktop, from the images in the article, I'd have to give the nod to Gnome 3.0. Probably, because I'm not use to vertical icons in a toolbar. They might work out just fine after some use. However, an early review of the Unity interface has not been glowing with criticism coming from Canonical's lack of user input in the creation of Unity.
If these early versions of the Unity interface turn out not to be the polished gem that, I'm sure, Canonical wants to eventually get to, it may drive Linux users to another distro with a different desktop environment, and turn off potential new Window's users from adopting Ubuntu.
Certainly, the Ubuntu distro, in the last couple of releases, has come into its own as a viable competitor to Windows. After all, who can argue with free. Even so, we would hate to see Canonical stub its toe after having achieved so much over the last couple of years. There is some risk here. Let's wait and see. The new release of Ubuntu 11.04, Natty Narwhal, is due out on April 28th.