Is Unity the Right Interface for Desktop Ubuntu?

By abandoning its longtime GNOME shell, the popular Linux distribution is making a bold move to strike out on its own.

By Katherine Noyes, PC World |  Open Source, Canonical, Linux

Canonical shook the Linux world yesterday when it announced that the next version of Ubuntu -- "Natty Narwhal," or version 11.04 -- will no longer use the GNOME interface by default. Instead, Natty will feature Unity, the multitouch and 3D-enabled interface that made its debut earlier this month in the distribution's netbook edition of Maverick Meerkat, or Ubuntu 10.10.

According to a blueprint proposed earlier this month and approved by Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth for discussion at this week's Ubuntu Developer Summit, the new, highly simplified desktop interface will feature a floating Unity Dash that can be moved to all edges of the screen; floating, overlapping windows with their title bars and controls on them rather than on the top panel; and a home screen that's consolidated into a simple pop-down menu extending down from the top left of the screen.

It will, in other words, "basically turn Unity into a UI that can match and exceed the OS X user interface in regards to visual effects," blueprint author Kenny Strawn wrote.

A 'Risky Step'

Design issues have been a source of increasing tension between the Ubuntu and GNOME projects, but this new decision is a bigger one than many had expected. Shuttleworth himself acknowledged yesterday that the move is "the most significant change ever" for Ubuntu, as well as a "risky step."

Reviews of the Unity interface currently used in the Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Edition also suggest that there is much to be done before it's ready for broader desktop use. Ubuntu-exclusive hardware manufacturer System76, in fact, recently made the decision not to ship Unity in its Starling netbook series because it feels the interface can be "slow" and "confusing" for users.

Similarly, "I think that Canonical's management has seriously underestimated the difficulty of the task in front of them," Dave Neary wrote yesterday on a GNOME community blog.

A video on Blip.tv shows the current Unity netbook interface in action.


Originally published on PC World |  Click here to read the original story.
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