Well a couple of weeks ago, I wrote how Ubuntu, Mint, and Fedora were the top three Linux distros in that order. My how fast times change. I think the community has come to a decision on the new Ubuntu Unity desktop, and unfortunately for Canonical, that appears to be a thumbs down.
Here's a graph based on the latest DistroWatch page hit rankings,
The graph shows what happen to Ubuntu's ranking after the latest Ubuntu release 11.10, Oneiric Ocelot, on October 13th about a 30 days ago. Mint is the new King of the Hill.
Ubuntu's new release got rid of a lot of the bugs in their first version of the Unity desktop, that should have improved their rankings. However, with this release, they made users specifically load Gnome 2 through the package manager, if they didn't want Unity. Thus with this release users were arm-twisted to stay with the Unity desktop. In the first release, it was easy to switch back to Gnome. The Ubuntu nose dive seems to be a consensus on what Ubuntu users think of the Unity desktop.
The other problem Ubuntu is struggling with, and the reason I moved to Mint, was bugs in the software. I caught one that required me to reload the operating system. It was an ideal time to try a new distro, and so I tried Mint. Ubuntu use to be fairly clean, and probably, because of their emphasis on Unity desktop lately, there have been more problems with the software, and delays in fixing bugs.
From my perspective, for a number of years now, folks have been using Gnome 2, and have gotten use to their desktop layout. They could move around fairly quickly. Unity may look simpler, but it requires more keystrokes or mouse clicks to get where you want to go.
Mint has become the last bastion for Gnome 2. However, Gnome 2 itself has been grandfathered, and all new development is being done on Gnome 3. Gnome 3, like Unity, requires a paradigm shift to get adjusted, so it also is not getting great reviews. Since Gnome 2 is still the most popular desktop for Linux, Mint's decision to stay with Gnome 2 was handsomely rewarded with a 40% increase in downloads in a single month.
Within the next week or so, Mint is scheduled for a new release Mint 12, code name Lisa. Mint, based on Ubuntu, has released a preview of the upcoming release. Because Gnome 2 is now frozen, Mint has no choice but to adopt the Gnome 3 base, if they want to stay current, so they have decided to gradually move folks toward Gnome 3, while maintaining the Gnome 2 layout.
Mint is going to let the users decide which desktop they'd like to use with the ability to switch back and forth easily. They developed something called MGSE, Mint Gnome Shell Extensions, which is a Gnome 2 desktop layer on top of the Gnome 3 interface. They should be applauded for this move, no other distro has taken this approach. MSGE gives you a bottom panel, application menu, window list, a task-centric desktop, and tray icons, like Gnome 2. It is a blend of the two Gnomes favoring Gnome 2. Here's a preview from their site.
For those that strictly want Gnome 2, Mint has forked Gnome 2 and made a version called MATE that runs along side Gnome 3 to give you the Gnome 2 desktop. Bear in mind, that Gnome 2 and Gnome 3 are not compatible, you can't run both together unless you use the new MINT MATE application. Also, Gnome 3 requires a 3d video card, Mint has taken care of those users without a card by making a Virtual 3d Acceleration module. Gnome 3 still has some hardware problems, and the Virtual accelerator will alleviate this until drivers become available.
Not to be ignored is the new Fedora 16, Verne, after Jules Verne, released on November 8th. There are several new components with this release. They switched to GRUB 2 to improve boot time. The default desktop is Gnome 3.2.1. They included a nice, easy-to-use, new virtual keyboard for tablet users. This version offers many bug fixes over the previous release. Fedora has improved their log-in manager, and added easy access to Google Online Accounts. The Fedora Linux kernal has also been updated. You also have a choice to download Fedora with the new KDE 4.7. desktop, if you prefer.
The popular distros are moving forward with new features and a multitude of bug fixes, making Linux distros a stable and better alternative to Windows. The desktop wars will continue on, but instead of the traditional KDE versus Gnome, I guess, we'll have to include Unity in that mix, or maybe not. I would think that if Canonical reception of the Unity desktop continues to be negative, even for new users, Canonical might want to consider a Gnome 3 release.