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Sun, Feb. 10th, 2019, 11:48 am
Did Ubuntu switch to GNOME prematurely?

A response to a Reddit question.

I can only agree with you. I have blogged and commented enough about this that I fear I am rather unpopular with the GNOME developer team these days. :-(

The direct reason for the sale is that in founder Mark Shuttleworth's view, Ubuntu's bug #0 has been closed. Windows is no longer the dominant OS. There are many more Linux server instances, and while macOS dominates the high-end laptop segment, in terms of user-facing OSes, Android is now dominant and it is based on the Linux kernel.

His job is done. He has helped to make Linux far more popular and mainstream than it was. Due to Ubuntu being (fairly inarguably, I'd say) the best desktop distro for quite a few years, all the other Linux vendors [disclaimer: including my employer] switched away from desktop distros and over to server distros, which is where the money is. The leading desktop is arguably now Mint, then the various Ubuntu flavours. Linux is now mainstream and high-quality desktop Linuxes are far more popular than ever and they're all freeware.

Shuttleworth used an all-FOSS stack to build Thawte. When he sold it to Verisign in 1999, he made enough that he'd never need to work again. Ubuntu was a way for Shuttleworth to do something for the Linux and FOSS world in return.

It's done.

Thus, Shuttleworth is preparing Ubuntu for an IPO and floatation on the public stock market. As part of this, the company asked the biggest techie community what they'd like to see happen: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14002821

The results were resounding. Drop all the Ubuntu-only projects and switch back to upstream ones. Sadly, this mostly means Red Hat-backed projects, as it is the upstream developer of systemd, PulseAudio, GNOME 3, Flatpak and much more.

Personally I am interested in non-Windows-like desktops. I think the fragmentation in the Linux desktop market has been immensely harmful, has destroyed the fragile unity (pun intended) that there was in the free Unix world, and the finger of blame can be firmly pointed at Microsoft, which did this intentionally. I wrote about this here: https://www.theregister.co.uk/Print/2013/06/03/thank_microsoft_for_linux_desktop_fail/

The Unity desktop came out of that, and that was a good thing. I never like GNOME 2 much and I don't use Maté. But Unity was a bit of a lash-up behind the scenes, apparently, based on a series of Compiz plugins. It was not super stable and it was hard to maintain. The unsuccessful Unity-2D fork was killed prematurely (IMHO), whereas Unity 8 (the merged touchscreen/desktop version) was badly late.

There were undeniably problems with the development approach. Ubuntu has always faced problems with Red Hat, the 800lb gorilla of FOSS. The only way to work with a RH-based project is to take it and do as your told. Shuttleworth has written about this.
(See the links in that post too.)

Also, some contemporary analysis: https://www.osnews.com/story/24510/shuttleworth-seigo-gnomes-not-collaborating/

I am definitely not claiming that Ubuntu always does everything right! Even with the problems of working with GNOME, I suspect that Mir was a big mistake and that Ubuntu should have gone with Wayland.

Cinnamon seems to be sticking rather closer to the upstream GNOME base for its different desktop. Perhaps Unity should have been more closely based on GNOME 3 tech, in the same way.

But IMHO, Ubuntu was doing terrifically important work with Unity 8, and all that has come to nothing. Now the only real convergence efforts are the rather half-hearted KDE touchscreen work and the ChromeOS-on-tablet work from Google, which isn't all-FOSS anyway TTBOMK.

I am terribly disappointed they surrendered. They were so close.

I entirely agree with you: Unity was _the_ best Linux desktop, bar none. A lot of the hate was from people that never learned to use it properly. I have seen it castigated for lacking stuff that is basic built-in functionality that people never found how to use.

In one way, Unity reminded me of OS/2 2: "a better DOS than DOS, a better Windows than Windows." And it *was*! Unity was a better Mac OS X desktop than Mac OS X. I'm typing on a Mac now and there's plenty of things it can't do that Unity could. Better mouse actions. *Far* better keyboard controls.

I hope that the FOSS forks do eventually deliver.

Meantime, I reluctantly switched to Xfce. It's fine, it works, it's fast and simple, but it lacks functionality I really want.