Ubuntu dropped a major news this April. They are gonna leave all their dreams of convergence (Ubuntu phone, Unity 8, Mir) and take a more desktop first approach, however they are also gonna leave their polarising desktop environment Unity 7.x.
What?? Seriously they are dropping their rock solid, ultra stable, beautiful looking, modern, keyboard centric and extremely space utilising desktop environment.
Sure the above compliments may sound too much for some folks out there however these are my personal thoughts. And I am not saying it’s the perfect desktop environment, oh no no it has a lot of pain points.
Since Ubuntu 17.04 which got released just round the corner which may be the last version we see Unity 7 as the default desktop, I though it would be a good time to give a final look to Unity 7.x.
Unity 7 came into existence with Ubuntu 10.10 when canonical dropped Gnome 2.x for the more modern approach to the computing desktop. The decision was criticised by a lot of people, but ultimately proven correct by Gnome when they switched to 3.x. Gnome 3.x followed on same lines of Unity, being minimal and providing only the essentials.
So let’s look at why we loved Unity:
Stable: Despite few bad initial years Unity became quite stable since 12.04. Seriously it may have a lot of flaws but stability issues was not one of them.
Fantastic screen space utilisation: Dude, seriously I am yet to find a desktop shell which handles screen real estate the way Unity does. The global menus which work flawlessly for all applications just save a lot of vertical space on your display. You may not realise it initially but once you use Unity and then move back to something like Gnome or Mate, it’s then you realise how important that sweet vertical space is. Kudos to Unity there.
Fantastic user experience: The whole desktop looks modern, works best with keyboard shortcut and always stays consistent. This in turns helps in providing an awesome user experience (remember what happened when Windows 8 came out?).
Linux to masses: Ubuntu desktop with Unity was the one that lead Linux into the homes of common audience. Until Ubuntu, all other linux desktop were just too Linuxy, too geeky for general audience to consume and use on a daily basis. It was Ubuntu (Unity) that showed to people that Linux can be used on day to day basis and can be a decent alternative to Mac and Windows. Awesome work there Canonical.
TLDR; it just works! and that’s what matters to most individuals. We who are reading this article are probably not the majority of the audience to which Ubuntu calls to.
So why so polarising comments?
Well every coin has two sides and so does the coin of Unity. Despite of all the advantages there were some major flaws with Unity.
- Lack of customisations: well in the Linux world of open source everything is approached with the mindset of personalisation. Every other linux desktop environment let’s you customise your computer to your hearts contents (except Gnome which I think is much more similar to Unity then any other). Unity did not provide much in this department. Well you could change icons, themes and that’s pretty much it. No dock movements, extensions, custom menus, panels, widgets etc etc. Nope none of those. The rigid nature of Unity did not go very well with the community.
Power hungry: It’s true, a base install of unity chugs through a lot more ram then most other environments.
Convergence : It never took the direction Canonical intended it to be. The mobile market was monopolised by iOS and Android, no matter how many Linux enthusiast promote it, they are no match to sheer brute forces of iOS and Android. Then comes tablet, Ubuntu promised a lot but never delivered a concrete product. Unity 8 was supposed to ship with Ubuntu 14.04, but still it’s not the default shell even in 2017 with Ubuntu 17.04. Canonical invested a lot of resources in Unity 8 and in turn left the 7.x child on it’s own. There was no active feature development which slowly led to a boring experience and hence drop offs.
So what’s next?
It’s Gnome all the way now. To be honest no matter how much I love Unity, even I agree this is a move in the right direction. Ubuntu already has a very solid base, and now using a desktop environment that’s loved and maintained by a huge community is gonna be an awesome combination. Until now finding a good Gnome desktop only lead to either Fedora or Arch, both not being so mainstream and unknown to masses. But after ubuntu jumps in the Gnome bandwagon the entire games gonna change. Gnome will benefit a huge with ubuntu’s strong technical background as well as community. And we may finally have a perfect Gnome Desktop – the desktop of the future.
I just hope all this works!!
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