Ubuntu released their latest Linux distro, Natty Narwhal on April 28th. A little over two months ago. Canonical, the maker of Ubuntu, took a major risk with this release. The risk was in replacing the Gnome Desktop with their own Unity Desktop.
I've written about the Unity Desktop and the Natty Narwhal release in previous articles. Basically, I felt, the first Unity Desktop release was not ready for prime time, and that Canonical maybe should have waited maybe one more release to bring out Unity. Hindsight is always 20-20.
Canonical did leave the user the opportunity to switch to the Gnome desktop, which they called Ubuntu Classic. There they tripped up again, by also introducing the new Gnome 3 desktop. In order to run the new Gnome 3 Desktop, you needed a 3d graphic card, and a 3d video driver for that card.
The combination of a new Unity Desktop, which required previous users to learn, and like, a new way to get around their computer, and if they didn't like Unity, switching back to the Gnome Desktop with Ubuntu Classic, and finding either bugs in Gnome 3, or that Gnome 3 would not work on their computer, could have driven users to a new distro.
Ubuntu by a wide margin has been the most popular Linux distro now since 2005. That's six long years in software development, and quite an accomplishment. Would Natty Narwhal's changed front end cause Ubuntu to lose its position as the most used Linux Distro?
There's a web site dedicated to the Linux Distros called DistroWatch which monitors the various distros and their popularity. We can go back to 2005, year by year, and see that Ubuntu has maintained its lead as the most popular distro. So far this year, if you measure the last six months, Ubuntu is still in the lead with Linux Mint coming on strong. If you look at the last three months, remember Natty Narwhal was release just over two months ago, we find Ubuntu and Mint dead even.
However, in the last 30 days, Mint has taken the lead. In the last 7 days, Ubuntu has taken the lead back. In the meantime, a dark horse, the PCLinuxOS distro, has gone from 7th, to 4th, to 3rd in the three month, one month, and seven day time frame. We are in the middle of a distro war and it appears that Ubuntu has stubbed its toe with Natty Narwhal.
I've written an article on installing Linux Mint. I moved to it when I got fed up with Unity, and my Gnome Desktop crashed. Linux Mint has been running fine with the Gnome 2 desktop. I do find it not quite as crisp as Ubuntu, and their package manager is not quite as good as Ubuntu in interface design, but I would not go back to Ubuntu in its current state.
I would go back and try Ubuntu again, provided they had a Gnome release, like their KDE release. Their current Unity Desktop is too much of a change in how I work to use. Quite frankly, despite all the icons and the Dash, I find it takes more mouse clicks to get to where I want to go. I like the way Gnome Do works for bringing up applications, which you can't run with Unity without modification.
Canonical thought their Unity Desktop would appeal to Windows, non-developers, certainly a much bigger audience then the current Linux user base. They may have misjudged the size of the Windows users willing to switch, and the loyalty of their previous users.
What's interesting is the rise of PCLinuxOS. This distro was made for ease of use, ease of installation, and to bring Linux to PC Window's users. It is user friendly, and has many graphic and sound card support built-in. It is loaded with applications. It's getting very good reviews, which is obvious from its sudden surge.
Canonical wanted to gather more Windows users with it's release of Natty Narwhal. It has competition on the left from Linux Mint for its former Gnome users. It has competition on the right from PCLinuxOS for the Window's users it wanted to capture. In the middle sits Ubuntu with a Unity Desktop that is a pain to work with, and is not that close to how the Windows Desktop functions.
Right now, were in a war. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out, and to see if Canonical can recapture, and keep, its throne with its October release of Ubuntu.