Unity and GNOME 3: What Is Good And What Is Evil?

With two recent releases of Linux operating systems, Ubuntu and Fedora, new age of desktop environments began. These two operating systems bring you new user interfaces: Unity in Ubuntu 11.04 and GNOME 3 in Fedora. Are these new interfaces good or evil for Linux community? Let's try to analyse.

If you ever used Unity and GNOME 3, or seen any screenshot of them, you see it is very different from anything you have ever seen before on desktop and laptop computers. Interface of these DEs is very different. There is no more task bar with button which launches menu. Instead, you have docked launcher, and one of items in this launcher starts menu. Emphasis is on not using menu at all. Instead, you use launcher itself plus search for application you need typing some characters in search box. Yes, this is very different. Is it good or evil? I think this is good. You may dislike this interface from the first sight. But it is more user-friendly from my understanding (putting aside all the bugs which both GNOME 3 and Unity have at this moment). If I take a risk to remind you year 1995 when Microsoft released Windows 95... do you think that Pre-Win95 interface was better than Win95-like? Did you think this way in 1995? Another example will be in Microsoft product again, and I am very sorry about this because I write to Linux community. Have you ever noticed change which MS Office 2007 brought into Office applications? Sure you have! It is impossible to leave this unnoticed. Many people (including myself) who migrated from previous versions of Office to Office 2007 made a noise. But finally all of them settled down and started using new interface. Simply because there is no choice if you need to stick to MS Office.

Are there people in the world who still prefer (and will prefer) GNOME 2.x to anything else? Sure! There are still people who like KDE 3, like me, although newest KDE version has number 4.6 now. Forking always happens in Linux world. I have no doubt that GNOME development will fork (if has not been forked yet) into post-2.32 and 3.x branches. And this is good again! More choice users have, the better it is for Linux community. But there is small evil. People who want to try Linux for the first time in their life (after Windows or Mac) may be lost in number of desktop environments offered. This number is currently impressive (KDE 3, KDE 4, GNOME, XFCE, LXDE, Enlightenment and list goes on), and adding more items to the list will increase complexity. It is a fact that most difficult action for human being is to make a choice. Some potential users may stuck in front of this choice like Buridan's ass.. and do not make any choice at all, they may stick to Windows or Mac OS. Why this evil is small in my opinion? Because many of those people will either listen to their friends or make random choice. Also, many distributions do not give users a choice of DE.

Having more Desktop environments in the list will increase competition between them. And this is good, because nothing moves progress as effective as competition.

Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu and Unity, currently ships 2 desktop environments with latest version of Ubuntu 11.04. User can chose to use GNOME 2 or Unity. But this will not continue for long. Next version of Ubuntu 11.10 will only contain Unity interface. On another side, latest version of Fedora only shipped GNOME 3. There is no fall-back to GNOME 2 there (unless you have very old hardware). And here lies most evil. Users are left without a choice. Somebody somewhere made a decision for them. This is approach which Company With Eaten Fruit On The Logo is famous for. And this also partially applies to Microsoft. Why do Canonical and Fedora Project follow these steps? Do they want users to migrate to different distros or at least different spins? This won't add popularity to the system. I don't ask Canonical or Fedora Project to continuously support GNOME 2 forever. But transitional period should take some time. It should not be "big bang" tactic, but rather slow phasing out of old interface. For example, ship Fedora 15 with both GNOME 2 and GNOME 3 with GNOME 2 as default. Next Fedora 16 could come with GNOME 2 and GNOME 3 with GNOME 3 as default. And then Fedora 17 could be with GNOME 3 only. This could help both users to get used to new interface, and developers to polish product.

New interface of both GNOME 3 and Unity is very similar. There is no much difference between them visually. Main idea of it came from netbooks which have limited screen real estate. That's why emphasis was made on giving as much of this real estate as possible to application. This is good idea. I like it, because I am 99% of time laptop user. Another good idea is to "iconize" interface. There are not many items left where user has to read and select text objects. Much more items only have icons. This is more user-friendly from my perspective, especially for beginners. And this also aims both systems to portable devices operated by finger: tablets and smartphones alike. These both facts are good because they increase both number potential users and number of potential uses of GNOME 3 and Unity, and effectively popularity and awareness of Linux system.

New interface which was brought by new releases has both good and evil. Like everything in this world, it is neither black or white, but rather some shade of grey. What do you think about this new interface? Which one do you prefer? Will you think about switching on or off GNOME 3 / Unity?

This guest post, written by DarkDuck - the author and owner of the blog Linux notes from DarkDuck.