“Unity” finally makes sense!
When Mark Shuttleworth (head visionary at Canonical Ltd.) announced Ubuntu would drop Gnome in favour of Unity and Dash, the community (including myself) cried foul. Gnome has been a stable pillar in Ubuntu’s “Jenga” strategy, and the thought of switching to Unity seemed like heresy.
Jenga is a game of physical and mental skill. During the game, players take turns to remove a block from a tower and balance it on top, creating a taller and increasingly unstable structure as the game progresses.
Recently I was working on an older PC running Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron). The one thing that really struck me, (outside of the brown theme) Ubuntu has remained true to its core with relatively few visual destop changes. I decided I must take a closer look.
Comparing 8.04 (Hardy Heron) to 10.10 (Maverick Meerkat) one thing is loud and clear, over the years Ubuntu stayed the course. In fact I was so intrigued by this I decided to dig up the first official release of Ubuntu 4.10 (Warty Warthog) and see what’s changed.
Comparing 10.10 with 4.10 (Warty Warthog) you’ll notice it doesn’t stray far from the basic Ubuntu desktop feel we’ve all enjoyed over the years. It screamed Ubuntu back then as it does now.
Which is most likely the primary reason why the community gasped for air when Unity arrived at Ubuntu’s doorstep. Most if not all, thought “why mess with a good thing”, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. I have to be honest, when the initial anouncement was made I was shocked (Deer in headlights syndrome). I couldn’t quite understand why Ubuntu would pick apart its very successful ditribution, drastically change it and possibly lose a good portion of its supporters. In fact I staged a private revolution by boycotting 11.04 (Natty Narwhal) and 11.10 (Oneric Ocelot). Ubuntu 10.04 LTS was my release of choice, but I began to wonder what would happen in 3 years when 10.04 LTS was no longer supported.
I had previous, although limited experience with Ubuntu’s new Dash interface. Granted it wasn’t Unity but while trying out Ubuntu’s now defunct Netbook edition I had a taste of what Dash/Unity would feel like. Needless to say I wasn’t impressed and in fact, found it somewhat frustrating. This is when I began looking at other distributions, namely Mint 11. Although I’m not sure how long my flirtation with Mint will last as “Katya” (the current Mint 11 release) is based on Ubuntu. Eventually I would have to decide. It seems I’ve come to a fork and a decision is looming ever so close.
Recently Mark Shuttleworth has commented on his blog “Ubuntu is well positioned for post PC devices like tablets, phones, TV’s and smart screens from the car to the office kitchen, and it will connect those devices cleanly and seamlesly to the desktop, the server and the cloud.” All these promises of a new “Jenga” vision will arrive by 14.04 LTS release. And this my friends is my “wow I get it” moment. We’ve been stuck in a PC dominated era so long, despite mobile devices like Android, iPad and the like staring us in the face, we are simply not getting it, or perhaps refusing to see it. Unity and its Dash interface now make sense – think about it, Microsoft has been touting Tablets for over a decade with zero success. Tablets to date have been a total failure, why? Because Microsoft has dictated the desktop standard and they tried to shoehorn Windows to a tablet device. The two are not compatible. Why has the iPad exploded in popularity? Because Apple did not attempt to shoehorn OS X to a small factor device, the iOS operating system is invisible to the user. If Ubuntu’s future vision is post PC mobile devices then Unity and Dash make complete sense. Gnome or KDE are PC era technologies and should remain there.
Now that I’ve been englightened, does it mean I like Unity or Dash? Certainly not, I’m still in the same predicament. I’ll have to decide if I want Unity or Gnome? Personally I really do not like KDE, although I was a KDE fan at one point. Only time will tell if Ubuntu is succesfull on post PC devices. I hate the change, but being at techie geek at heart I have to try the latest and greatest at least once.