On Ubuntu, Unity and GNOME 3

9:07 pm gnome

I think there are some lessons gnome should learn from the fact that Ubuntu effectively quits gnome 3 ride (and bids gnome-shell farewell). It is not only about Canonical. It is about GNOME as well. Sapienti sat.

39 Responses

  1. Jef Spaleta Says:

    How is this about gnome exactly?

    How is what is Canonical doing any different than what Nokia did when it produced hildon for the N810/N810 tablets…years ago now?

    Even if Gnome Shell didn’t exist Canonical would still feel the need to differentiate in the marketplace. The were already differentiating their GNOME 2 based offering prior to Unity.

    Hell man, this is like their 3rd differentiated netbook interface attempt. First with UNE then with the fEnlightenment Foundation Libraries based interface for ARM specifically…now Unity. They’ve been marching down the differentiated interface road for quite awhile now.


  2. Sergey Udaltsov Says:

    @Jef: So far, Ubuntu DE was very much similar to vanilla gnome 2. Yes, there was patching, it became more intensive and more visible lately – but still, after Ubuntu, user would be generally “at home” with any GNOME-based distro. Still, there was nautilus, gnome-panel, compiz etc. But from 11.04 the experience, the overall L&F would be quite different.
    Ubuntu, even if not was a major code contributor (according to the famous survey), contributed a lot of user feedback in form of bug reports. GNOME 3 will have much less of them, I expect. That’s a serious blow.

  3. Dave Says:

    The only GNOME 3 component Canonical is replacing is shell (and Mutter because they’ve had problems with it in the current release).

  4. oOarthurOo Says:

    What’s the lesson exactly? Children are ungrateful? Teenagers think they know better than their parents?

  5. Sergey Udaltsov Says:

    Dave: I think that is essential change. gnome-shell structures the entire environment, sets the interaction model etc. When user switches from gnome 2 (or unity) to gnome-shell, he is getting into completely different world (yes, built with the same gtk, gvfs)

  6. E.S. Quinn Says:

    While i’m personally not fond of the Gnome-Shell interface. (At the moment, I plan on using the 2.x panel and spatial nautilus with compiz until they bitrot beyond usability, myself), i think it’s good that Gnome is doing something revolutionary instead of continuing the exact same interface… Any big change is going to alienate some people (Look at the fallout from 2.0, or from KDE 4.0).

    But i also think it’s good that Ubuntu is taking its own direction. A lot of people behave as if Ubuntu is somehow imposing its will on the upstream community, but i don’t think this is the case. They could perhaps be poked for calling what they distrubute “Gnome” as their vision continues to diverge from Upstream’s, but really, they’re just a popular fork.

    All that said, it would be far from a bad thing if someone (possibly me if i don’t see anyone else doing it) maintained GTK3 versions of the 2.x interface for at least several years. (For example of precedent, Windows 7 can be set to a non-aero mode where it looks and acts largely the same as windows has for 15 years).

  7. Martin Says:

    I for one have much more faith in the Ubuntu designers, of whom many seem to be actual interaction designers, than in the designers working on GNOME Shell, of whom many seem to be graphics artists suddenly turned interaction designer. The phrase “painting the corpse” comes to mind when looking at many of the GNOME Shell mockups.

    I’m sad to see Canonical go with a different shell. But at the same time, I’m relieved, because I wasn’t really looking forward to GNOME Shell. Unity on the desktop also feels a bit scary, but I have more faith in it due to the recent investments in UI design at Canonical.

  8. Sergey Udaltsov Says:

    @oOarthurOo: something about cooperation perhaps? About evolution and revolutions?

  9. Jef Spaleta Says:


    Do Kubuntu users find a way to provide valuable feedback to KDE even if Canonical isn’t directly positioning a KDE desktop as its default offering?

    If a Gnome Shell desktop is something enough users want, the larger Ubuntu community have the ability to keep it relevant as an offering inside the *buntu space.

    I very much doubt Canonical will make any effort whatsoever to keep people from making it possible to package a Shell environment.

    I would daresay that relations with Ubuntu and Canonical will actually get better once Canonical’s business interests are no longer in tension with GNOME as a project. Kubuntu as a more community focused effort seems to have reasonably better relations with the upstream KDE for example.

    Cultivate interest broadly in Shell,and enough Ubuntu users will show up to support it regardless of what Canonical decides to productise and support.


  10. Kosta Says:

    It might hard to believe, but I work with my computers and I hate the idea to have a new user experience. Lets hope that there will be a distro left with gnome but without loop/di/loop design.

  11. Sergey Udaltsov Says:

    @Jef: you are making a good point. If “Gubuntu” (Ubuntu with “real” gnome) is about to happen, that could be win-win scenario for both GNOME and Canonical. But I am not so optimistic about that – because I have serious doubts about “broad interest” in gnome-shell. I seen already enough comments with “not looking forward to gnome 3” attitude (for a moment I am inclined not to discuss my personal view on g-s). Those comments sometimes came from seasoned gnome fans.

  12. Sergey Udaltsov Says:

    @Kosta: thanks a bunch for illustrating my comment about lack of total enthusiasm for gnome-shell.

  13. Sergey Udaltsov Says:

    @E.S.Quinn: “GTK3 versions of the 2.x interface for at least several years” Great idea – but I’m afraid that would require HUGE effort. That is only possible if some corporation would back it up.

  14. Simon Says:

    @Sergey – actually, the GTK3 versions of the 2.x interface are happening.

    I don’t know how long they’ll be supported for, but gnome-panel and gnome-applets have been working hard in recent releases on ditching deprecated API like bonobo, and are porting to GTK3. It’s a fair amount of work, no question, but not as huge as you suggest…

  15. Sergey Udaltsov Says:

    @Simon: I am afraid that gnome developers would not give high priority to keeping that “old” stuff afloat. I do not believe it would live without corporate finding.

  16. Giacomo Says:

    This post, and the comments, are making me feel better. Lately I’ve been fearing I was the only one who was comfortable with GNOME as it is and didn’t see the need for this “new user experience”.

    I’ve got a job and a family, and I don’t really have the time, nor the inclination to learn this new shell who, for what I’ve seen, try to force me to adapt instead of adapting to my workflow. I read people saying “I wasn’t convinced but after two or three months of usage I’m starting to like it”… Guys, are you serious? There’s something really wrong with the shell if people need to force themselves to use it for months before they can feel partially comfortable…

    I used a not-so-recent build of gnome-shell this summer and, even ignoring the incompatibilities with my video card (an R300 card with the open source driver), I was completely unimpressed; whoever thought that jumping in and out from the overlay for everything was a good idea should be fired immediately. I checked the mailing lists and apparently this is not going to change, ever. It’s a “design decision” and as such can’t be reconsidered, ever.

    I’m also pissed off from all this talks of removing the icons from the desktop, or replacing the filemanager with something that should magically correlate my data and usage patterns to find what I want to use… Thank you very much, I know what I want to do and I’m perfectly capable of keeping my files organized and of keeping track of the applications I’m running without seeing them all at once every time I want to switch from avidemux to the calculator…

    I’ll just keep using gnome 2.x panels and nautilus + compiz as long as I can, and the move to something else who doesn’t try to be too much clever.

  17. tretle Says:

    I may be incorrect here but iirc Neil Patel was one of the original founders of the gnome shell idea.
    He is also the creator of the une interface(canonical employee).
    So there is your contribution.

  18. Sergey Udaltsov Says:

    @Giacomo: thank you, there are many people who share your POV.

  19. Jef Spaleta Says:


    If the general concept of a shell-like interface is uncomfortable to people then both Gnome Shell and Unity will both be rejected and a classic gnome panel will be show up as the preferred interface in wide use across the board regardless of where the tip of developer interest is going.

    But I will say that since Unity and GNOME Shell are both so different from the traditional panel based desktop in a lot of ways that having two visions of the future out there validates the idea that the panel based Desktop idea is showing is dated. Regardless of the differences and similarities between Unity and GNOME Shell they are not the traditional panel. Noone is banking on a traditional desktop concept moving forward. Noone. Nor should they..as its clear from the consumer device market…interfaces that are usibility beyond the traditional Desktop are going to be really important.

    If there were a group of people or a corporate interest planting their flag on a panel based desktop paradigm moving forward I think your general concerns would be validated. But the reverse is happening. Everyone with a forward looking vision is moving away from the panel based desktop. There’s little refuge on the horizon out there for anyone seeking the safe harbors of the status quo.


  20. Adam Williamson Says:

    “Ubuntu, even if not was a major code contributor (according to the famous survey), contributed a lot of user feedback in form of bug reports. GNOME 3 will have much less of them, I expect. That’s a serious blow.”

    Believe me, when GNOME is short on bug reports, they’ll be sure and let everyone know. I don’t expect that email to show up for quite a long time. =)

  21. Simon Says:

    @Sergey – depends on how things turn out, doesn’t it? But right now, the classic Gnome panel *will* be available as part of Gnome 3.0, fully up to date with gtk3-based libraries. In the long term, I guess it depends on how many people continue to use it.

  22. dioramayuanito Says:

    GNOME must accomodate an ordinary people like me who loves GNOME 2.x with gnome-panel interface. GNOME-Shell is good. But ‘changes’ need ‘times’ too.

  23. Joe Buck Says:

    I think that we will see a lot of resistance to both gnome shell and Unity among existing users, so I expect that a lot of people will be using classic Gnome, enough to keep it going for a long time. The split between Ubuntu and the rest of the world just makes this more likely.

    I’ll expect to be running the classic Gnome panel, and I also expect that most long-time Unix/Linux/BSD hackers will feel most comfortable with that approach, meaning that there will be enough developers available to keep it maintained.

    I might be convinced otherwise; after all I find that there really aren’t any useful graphical metaphors for many of the things I need to do, so I resort to scripting. And to a script, the hierarchical structure of the filesystem is unavoidable, so I worry about efforts to hide it in favor of search approaches.

  24. Kos Says:

    @Joe Buck, your ‘scripting’ use case is very very rare. Normal PC users do not use computer like you, so please remember that GNOME3/Unite are designed not for you.

  25. Sergey Udaltsov Says:

    @Kos: I think GNOME could not hide the hierarchy even if it wanted (perhaps GNOME would if it could ;). But GNOME2 was reasonably good even for power users. If nextgen desktops alienate all power users, that would be no good for those DEs – because developers are usually power users. Think about MacOS – with all its orientation to uneducated users, they still have (and actively support) powerful scripting engine.

  26. Olafur Arason Says:

    Unity is more of a incremental step than the Gnome Shell.

    It’s based on performance, written in Vala, not javascript (though I think this has done a lot of good for the bindings).

    There are too many loose ends in Gnome Shell. I have really tried using it and I hope it will be in a usable state when 11.10 arrives. Then we can change.

    This rift between Ubuntu and Gnome is childish, grow up.

  27. Sergey Udaltsov Says:

    @Olafur: I agree, to me Unity looks like more evolutionary thing (which is good!), comparing to revolutionary gnome-shell

  28. liam Says:


    What is your fear, exactly? That Ubuntu will succeed? That G-S will prevail? I don’t see the problem. The panel is going to be a back-up for awhile (at least 5 years, I would imagine, since Red hat is primarily driving this effort and they aren’t about to alienate their corporate users — now, that wouldn’t mean much in the way of improvements but it would probably be updated to work with essential new components). Making search the primary means to find things will be great for the vast majority of users but you’ll always have *sh if you have scripts.
    Some of the ideas the G-S devs have are fascinating, some choices they’ve made are curious (the focused window as the only app icon in the panel, for one), but they’ve been doing alot of work on internals so the gui has been lagging behind (however that appears to be changing, somewhat.
    One thing I agree with you strongly about is a lack of strong scripting capabilities. There is simply no way I know of to very quickly hack a graphical “itch” using gtk. The abstraction just doesn’t seem to exist. I’ve noticed, however, that G-S, even without current documentation, makes it pretty easy to modify the desktop (overlay and panel, in my case), but that requires digging into the heart of the shell and making changes. Hooks don’t yet exist, AFAICT, to allow such things to happen externally. Ugh, this is a bit stream-of-consciousness, but I’ll end with this: os x has this great feature i recently heard about that allows one to create macros (applescript, I assume) at the desktop level based off of recorded activities. I haven’t used this so I don’t know how well it works, but, depending of it’s abstractions, that could be something that could replace the need for many users to employ shell scripting.

  29. Sergey Udaltsov Says:

    @liam: My biggest concern that if big players are not interested in gnome 2 compatibility mode (concentrating efforts on Unity and gnome-shell), that mode would be not properly supported. Personally I would like to use gnome 2 compatibility as long as possible. ATM I do not have interest in gnome-shell, especially considering that I have not managed to start it on my power g5 system (neither inside vmware).

  30. Sergey Udaltsov Says:

    Also, I have personal hatred to JS, coming from my past webdev experience. I know, it is totally different in gnome-shell, but sometimes hatred gets so personal that you cannot fully eliminate it with reasoning;)

  31. Stefan Says:

    I’m a free software user. I like xfce AND gnome. I hate gedit and love emacs. I hate nautilus but still use Ubuntu.
    What makes you think that gnome components are always the best solution? And what makes you think that a distribution should ship with a vanilla gnome?
    It would be a shame if a distribution would simply put vanilla gnome on top of vanilla linux and that’s it.
    A distribution should make a selection of components from the free software world that they think are best and deliver a great user experience. And if there is no component that fits their needs, they should do as any free software developer would do: scratch the itch, develop their own solution.

    Lessens to learn? If users (and distributions) don’t appreciate your work, you might have lost the connection to what users want, or you never cared (which is of cause fine as well, because it is your time that goes into the project). But in the free software world no one is forced to use a piece of software, which is great!

  32. ethana2 Says:

    Every time I file a bug against a GNOME project, devs get all high and mighty, mark it WONTFIX, and then Canonical comes along six months later with their own thing that fixes it.

    So I understand them wanting to have their own new desktop experience that they don’t have to interact with gnome devs to produce. I think it’ll be a lot more quickly and efficiently developed that way. As long as the code is freely available in the end, great.

    liam, I would totally love to have automation like OS X. That would be absolutely fantastically amazing.

  33. liam Says:


    That clears up things quite a bit for me.
    I don’t think you need to worry about losing metacity/gnome-panel. They are keeping it for awhile, but I would be surprised if you would want to use it once G-S is “ready”.
    Big changes (aside from glitzy graphics) it makes are: 1.no panel (use alt-tab + mouse, or overview) – this could be added, however, if they provide decent hooks, 2. highly search oriented (I don’t see how anyone could complain about this since you can still manually arrange items and open the app menu — which isn’t finished, BTW), 3. notifications (they are separating system from applications), 4. easy extensibility (Gnome 2.x wasn’t easy to change), 5. JS:)
    Do you actually foresee G-S preventing you from working the way you want? Are you looking at it as it is now, or as they’ve envisioned it through the design docs?

    Regarding JS, that is, of course, a matter of preference, but it’s not a bad language as long as you realize it’s a scripting language. As for the wisdom of writing G-S largely in JS, we’ll soon find out.

  34. E.S. Quinn Says:


    I can’t speak for Sergey, but at least for me, the Shell interface drives me rather buggy–I’ve never liked autohide panels/docks on any system. I use my panel as much for quick-scan information as interaction, e.g. the clock or incoming messages that arrived too long ago to have fresh notification bubbles.

    That, and i use show-desktop a lot (due to spatial nautilus), and am rather addicted to Compiz’s behavior in that department. Metacity/Mutter’s habit of not letting you “restore” your windows automatically if you open a new one drives me buggy.

    …that said, if i could have a plugin to alter the show-desktop behavior, i’d at least consider putting my dislike aside for a while and try the Shell.

  35. liam Says:

    @ E.S. Quinn:

    It’s just a different way of doing things. The standard window list in panel is not very useful with multi-monitor setups or with many applications opened. The particular info you mentioned is still there (app notification currently animate from the bottom of the screen and stay there for a couple of seconds (or you can dismiss them immediately) – if you don’t dismiss them they hide away in the app notification tray that appears when you mouse to the bottom of the screen — this should be easily re-positionable using CSS) and the windows can be accessed by holding alt-tab or using the Win-key. My preferred with of interacting with applications in G-S is to hold Alt-Tab, which brings up previews of all the apps I have open, and either select the window with the mouse, or by tabbing till I get to the window I want. This makes it quite flexible for me. The one thing in all of this that I think needs to be addressed is the mouse-seek time associated with going to top-left then down (or wherever the window is). Something like the Talika plug-in would be fine, I think. BTW, the topmost panel in G-S doesn’t auto-hide, so the clock is always visible (unless you full-screen something, of course).
    Regarding your second issue, I’m a little confused. Are you saying Mutter/Metacity doesn’t maintain spatial awareness after overview? I can’t say that I’ve noticed that. If you’ve had that problem that sounds like a bug since I very much doubt they want to break that spatial paradigm.

  36. Akshat Says:

    The folks at the UDS told me that the classic gnome-panels will be available for people who want to use it and people with hardware incompatibilities.

  37. ngativ Says:

    Woa! this is one of the worst flame wars that i had ever seen!

    Anyway, i know when a design approach is wrong and the gnome shell badly wrong. The Unity shell is quite good , it only needs to improve its performance.

  38. nq6 Says:

    The influence of Unity on the Gnome Shell

    The Gnome developers know that 14 million to 16 million will be using the Unity.Eles will not want your users lost in Unity. Then copied the layout. Below is a screen that shows this.


    Today we can see the force of the decisions of the developers of Ubuntu. What we have with the new Gnome Shell, a replica of the Unity. It seems Unity with a new theme.

  39. Bastiaan Says:

    I will do a test drive with my mother. I have the feeling it will be better for her.

    The ultimate usability test I can tell you!

    If she will understand how to search websites, read and send email watch a dvd and organice photo’s it is ok (like millions of others do too)

    I personally have no opinion as of yet… perhaps do a test with your own parents if they can work with it Linux is ready for mainstream (which is more important than pleasing many of the people here). I mean you are Linux guys right? So pick out an other distro like gentoo and be hardcore in your own compilation!

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