For the longest time I'd been heralding Ubuntu and it's Unity desktop as one of the best Linux distributions. I liked Unity...a lot. The design was beautiful, and workflow about as efficient as you would ever find. The Dash, the Launcher, the HUD...they all came together in a perfect storm of form and function.
But then things seems to sour a bit. First the releases seemed to offer little to no improvements. With the developers working desperately to bring to life the next iteration of Unity (Unity 8/Mir), it seemed the desktop, as it stood, had become an afterthought. During that time, something very, very interesting happened.
Or, more specifically GNOME 3. At its foundation, it was akin to Unity. The developers of GNOME decided to do everything they could to make the desktop take a back seat to the work at hand. And while the developers of Unity struggled with a failed convergence and allowed the Unity the public actually used to falter and stumble, the developers of GNOME did something really important...
They helped to build what might be the perfect Linux desktop distribution.
That's right. Ubuntu GNOME 15.10. It is everything vanilla Ubuntu should have been from the start. It's what every Linux desktop environment should aim to be. In fact, this was the first time, since I've been using Linux, that I completed an installation of a distribution and actually struggled to find a necessary tweak. The more I played around on the desktop, the more I realized I wasn't needed...like a parent with an 18 year old child who no longer required their help. I could just use it. Oh sure, I needed to install the likes of The GIMP, Audacity, and Spotify; but outside of that, there was nothing for me to do.
Nothing. Not. One. Thing.
All the good
I really wish there were more for me to say than...It all just worked. Perfectly. All the hardware, the software, the window compositor, the installation, the upgrades...everything was beyond painless. In fact it was painful how painless the experience was. Ubuntu GNOME made me feel like all those years of working to get the desktop exactly as I wanted it were nothing but me biding my time until this release happened.
All those random crash reports you find with the latest iterations of vanilla Ubuntu? Gone. And as to the performance? I first installed vanilla Ubuntu 15.10 64 bit, updated everything, and then worked. After a week, I blew away that installation in favor of Ubuntu GNOME 15.10 64 bit. The performance increase was surprisingly noticeable. Apps ran faster, transitions and animations were silkier and smoother, ...even networking enjoyed a significant speed increase.
And let's talk design. Out of the box, Ubuntu GNOME is gorgeous (Figure A). Every subtle detail comes together to make a perfect whole.
Launching apps from the GNOME Dash.
One point of pain
If there is one aspect of Ubuntu GNOME that must change it's the use of the Ubuntu Software Center. It has long been held (by a large number of groups) that USC has become an albatross around the neck of Ubuntu. It is also well known that Ubuntu plans on dropping the USC in favor of GNOME Software. Surprisingly enough, even though GNOME Software was released with GNOME 3.10, there is no way to currently install GNOME Software on Ubuntu. This, of course, will be changing with the release of Ubuntu 16.10, as GNOME Software will become the default software center.
In the meantime, the Ubuntu Software Center is the only smudge on an otherwise unblemished release.
A word to Canonical
As much as it must pain you to hear (and me to write), Ubuntu GNOME is what Ubuntu should be. It's as simple as that. GNOME has so far surpassed Unity in improvements it's almost as if they've been at this game a lot longer. Why? Because they have...and it's now showing. The glittering sheen of Unity has worn off and what remains is dull in comparison to what GNOME has to offer.
GNOME might not have the slick tricks like the HUD up its sleeve and it may not be working toward a convergence (something that Canonical will likely never achieve anyway - given the state of the Ubuntu Phone), but GNOME has become exactly what Linux needs on the desktop. It's slick, polished, reliable, stable, modern, and does everything you want it to do.
I realize that this would never happen (as Canonical has way too much invested in Unity), but Ubuntu GNOME is too good for Canonical to not support. Understandably, Canonical cannot scrap Unity for GNOME. However, it might behoove them to place Ubuntu GNOME alongside Unity as an officially supported distribution, right alongside vanilla Ubuntu...right there on the Ubuntu site. Yes, there's a bit of history going on there and it would take an natural act of collective will unseen in the world of technology for all parties involved to hug and accept the fact that Ubuntu GNOME is so good now that it belongs front and center.
I maybe a dreamer, but I know that won't happen.
As much as it should.
Don't get me wrong, I still like and greatly appreciate Ubuntu and Ubuntu Unity. But when you get a taste of GNOME (as it runs on top of Ubuntu 15.10), you quickly realize you are working with something special...something beyond anything the Linux desktop has ever had.
Am I going over the top? The only way you will know is if you install Ubuntu GNOME 15.10 and give it a try for yourself.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.