Ubuntu Community in Trouble?

I am looking at alternatives to Ubuntu, in particular I like:

  • Fedora  –  Gives me a cutting edge open source graphics stack. I really have been enjoying their implementation of Gnome Shell (with Tweaks)
  • Linux Mint – Great for everyday users and it comes with a very innovative and user friendly desktop, without trying to be “revolutionary”, it’s just evolutionary
  • LXDE – as far as lightweight and friendly environments go, LXDE rocks (Lubuntu, Linux Mint LXDE, and Fedora LXDE are all good products)

I know the biggest reason I’m searching for alternatives is “Unity”, which I think is a perfectly ironic name for something that is dividing the ordinary users into two more desktop camps, Unity vs. Gnome Shell.   If you asked users what more they want from Linux, they would say polish and a better office suite, not more desktop choices.  [To be fair to Canonical, they are investing more into LibreOffice, which I am very happy about 🙂 ]

The graph below is from Google Trends.  It tells the story of Ubuntu rising from obscurity and the predictable releases pushing the “buzz” higher and higher. 11.04 has had the weakest showing in recent releases and the drop after the release doesn’t seem to be a good sign either.  It will be very interesting to see how the release fairs tomorrow.

The worst part for me is that Unity and Gnome Shell aren’t very different from the user’s point of view.   They both are revolutionary in some of the same ways, and both make some stupid choices.  I think it’s mostly the stupid things that have forced the separation (along with the usual politics), these are the things I would like to see removed from both.

Gnome on Ubuntu has served as the flagship desktop environment for Linux for at least the last few years.  Gnome provided a solid usable desktop and Ubuntu provided an amazing amount of polish and things like OEM installs, etc. (along with everything else a distro does).  I will be very impressed with both Ubuntu and Gnome if they are able to compromise and reunite.

United we stand, divided we fall.

23 thoughts on “Ubuntu Community in Trouble?”

  1. Arch Linux not an option ?
    Using it since June on KDE 4.x

    Or Debian Testing ?
    This since Feb (when I was running stable) and moved to testing around June as well.

    Both going well.

    I do not feel inclined to use Ubuntu anymore either. Upgrading or doing a fresh install every few months has become painful.

    All that being said, I was introduced to Linux and the wider world of FLOSS via Ubuntu so there 🙂

  2. Unity pushed me away from ubuntu. Gnome2 is great, it makes sense. Gnome3 will be nice in a year or so. Try Arch Linux with xfce4

  3. @jorge – well to take it further philosophically software doesn’t exist without people 🙂

    @gotunandan & @mitchell
    Ok, I’ll put Arch on my to try list 🙂 I’ve heard a lot of good things, but the others I’ve actually used.
    As to Debian testing, I would try Linux Mint Debian edition first

  4. I think you’re reading way too much into Google Trends. See the drop actually started when Lucid (10.04) was released, the stable LTS that people love. Maverick (10.10) was a good release too. Or look back further in time: Hardy Heron (8.04 the previous LTS) was the first release to not raise the bar and Ubuntu never recovered! I blame the bird background.

    Mint’s lagging behind Ubuntu and it’s still unclear what desktop they’ll prefer for their Ubuntu-derived edition (but it looks very unlikely that it will be GNOME 2 but it might be GNOME Fallback).

    Fedora’s a bit rough if you try to run the development version, but it’s closely aligned with GNOME.

    By the way, you didn’t say why the Ubuntu community was possibly in trouble…except that Unity has made some unspecified stupid choices and perhaps is too much like GNOME Shell. Personally, I believe that Unity has improved GNOME Shell and GNOME Shell has improved Unity.

    For a variety of reasons, Ubuntu has not been very influential in GNOME development. Now Ubuntu has its own desktop it can control (without needing to heavily patch GNOME’s) and GNOME can focus on theirs without having to worry about merging or rejecting Ubuntu’s patches. I really don’t see how users are being hurt by this as there is now one extra usable GNOME desktop implementation.

  5. I agree with your opinion. And yes, the Unity name is desafortunate at least paradoxical.

    Ubuntu and GNOME can keep colaborating, though I feel the best way is they share a common vision for the desktop.

  6. I like Unity. Did not put me off Ubuntu (though I had to install XFCE on my wife’s laptop). But I quite understand why people do not like it. The main problem apart from being to unfamiliar as it’s quite easy to get accustomed to it, that Unity is not polished enough and still has a number of annoying bugs, which shouldn’t happen to a default desktop environment of a major distro.

  7. I am more of a KDE user so I made Kunity *giggle*: http://i.imgur.com/WvwDn.png

    I don’t dislike the Unity experience and I think that, for someone that is new to computing, it’s more pleasing than gnome3 (at the moment). Unfortunately I don’t want to use Unity myself because of: A) plasmoids I use (like the one I used to automagically upload that screenshot) and B) 3D acceleration permanently enabled. Since I am a GL game developer, I cannot afford a desktop that affects the speed of my games, because it becomes harder to debug. There’s Unity2D though. and C) I use a panoramic setup with 4 windows always on (1 big and 3 side windows) so I prefer menus attached to parent windows. If not for those 3 I’d adopt it anytime.

    However, I get this odd feeling that Gnome3 is the only platform getting development going on. I wonder why that is…?

  8. Bryan – To be even more philosophical: software wouldn’t have existed without people, but can exist without people, but not without working hardware which will not exist for every long without people.

    After that it all gets very entropic.

  9. All good things do come to an end. Ubuntu is heading off in another direction. And they don’t care about us the users. Cellphone GUI are on the agenda here. So the smaller group of desktop users
    are being left behind. As we’ve already seen there are more cellphones than PCs.And please note, Ubuntu is not the only Linux out there..

  10. Still using Ubuntu 10.04. Tried 11.04 and didn’t like it. Will probably upgrade if/when Lubuntu becomes official.

  11. Um. Well, I feel ya. I’ve used Ubuntu since 2005 after moving from Slackware. In the past months and weeks I’ve distrohopped like a madman (yes, I even tried Arch) trying to find something I liked as well as Ubuntu in the glory days, that well, wasn’t Ubuntu. I’ve lost faith in the distro. Each release gets worse for me, not better – no matter how much I *wanted* it to get better. Once I realized 11.10 was going to be yet another step backwards, I had to move on. I installed openSUSE 12.1 beta, and I won’t be looking back. GNOME Shell is awesome (why re-invent the wheel Ubuntu?), and the package management, and YaST are far superior to anything Ubuntu or Debian has to offer. So sadly, I’m no longer an Ubuntu user and a happy openSUSE user for some time to come. Fedora was a close second for me, but I was able to get up to speed more easily in openSUSE, and Fedora just never felt stable with the deluge of updates it was pounding me with.

  12. @Jeremy Bicha “I really don?t see how users are being hurt by this as there is now one extra usable GNOME desktop implementation.”

    The problem I see is that with Unity/Gnome shell duplicity is that we spend more time and resources, twice, in doing equivalent things in both desktop, that could be spend in improving other things.

    I only see benefits in the Canonical part, because they control exactly what they want deliver and they have the right to re-license the code (it is supposed they won’t do it, they just gain a better business position with that right). The cost is that they need more resources to maintain Unity, instead of contributing and polishing/customizing Gnome shell. So, I guess, Canonical thinks that the benefits outperfom the costs.

  13. Great post, and I feel your pain man. What I’m going to do for now:

    – stick to 10.10 on my production box;
    – install Xubuntu on my ‘expendable’ box;
    – try Unity from a USB stick, just in case …

    I’m really sorry that a) we have a split Gnome 3-based community b) both Gnome Shell and Unity managed to be fail revolutions (= change for the sake of change, no real improvement and actually several regressions for the user).


  14. Unity is not dividing people. People like to be divided into “Unity camp” and “gnome-shell camp”

    Having 10 different desktop environment is healthy competition. 5 sound systems is healthy competition. Gazillion music players is healthy competition. Infinite number of distros is healthy competition. But two GNOME based shells are tearing us apart? Sounds scandalous

  15. What should alarm you on the graph is not the fact the graph is going down in the end. It is the fact it didn’t grow more since 2007. I am not sure if this is the size of the community stagnating or just people doing less search on Google.

  16. I can’t stress this enough. The Google Trends information is not easily distilled into a digestable conclusion about growth.

    Just as it was folly to draw certain conclusions on the rise of the Ubuntu term, so it is to draw the opposite conclusions from the fall of the Ubuntu term as recorded in the Ubuntu trend graph.


  17. If you’re a multi-millionaire as is shuttleworth, you can ignore users and develop whatever you like. I just hope that if/when unity is ever thought a complete failure, canonical and shuttleworth don’t abandon linux – but start addressing user concerns with unity.

    Canonical could have been heroes if they developed a gnome2 lookalike instead of unity. Instead they develop a hybrid gnome 3. Maybe even Linus would have jumped onboard with ubuntu…

  18. Wait and see what happens. Ubuntu 11.10 released and opinions on Unity is changing. Unity needs to evolve and it will evolve( with the support of Gnome 3). Do not partition the GNU/LINUX community

    Enjoy computing with GNU/LINUX


  19. In spite of a superficial resemblance, it looks like there’s a big difference between Gnome 3 and Unity in that Unity appears to retain the Desktop metaphor and Gnome does not. So we have a Linux interface that is optimized for touchpads and retains the traditional desktop metaphor. I don’t use any touchpads myself, but in theory it sounds like a good idea.

    As far as the Desktop computer is concerned, I don’t really believe in innovation. Your Desktop GUI opens applications, and it opens local files in applications, and it opens network content in applications. That’s all it’s ever going to do, and these revolutionary new desktops are the same sandwich on different bread. Thanks to KDE4, my twitter interface can be on a widget, instead of my browser. It’s the same interface. The change is more than cosmetic, but it’s less than substantial.

  20. They called it “Unity”, b/c it was supposed to provide a common / standardized user interface between desktops, *pads/tablets, netbooks/notebooks, smartphones, etc. It’s a good idea in theory, b/c then folks will be comfortable moving from device to device, and won’t get bogged down learning a bunch of new interfaces that try to reinvent the wheel. Unfortunately, what rubs some folks the wrong way is how the Unity interface makes a desktop look like a dumb-down smartphone/pad. And some folks feel Unity is too busy for a smartphone interface. It’s nice to think “one ring can rule them all”, but I really think each device needs to have its own specialized interface that empowers users. Desktop users feel insulted with this dumbed-down interface thrust upon them, especially after we’ve spent decades learning more robust interfaces in Gnome, KDE, Windows, Mac, etc.

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