For years, Canonical was pushing their flagship product into unknown territory. Set on bringing to light “convergence”, Canonical wanted to merge the mobile platform and the desktop into one, seamless metaphor. To that end, development on the traditional Ubuntu desktop (Unity) slowed to a crawl, so a good portion of their development team could focus on Unity 8 and Mir–the one-two combination that would make convergence a reality. This development continued on for some time. With each iteration of Ubuntu, Canonical would claim “Next release!” That promise soon became the next big vaporware; the developers simply couldn’t deliver a product that was up to the Canonical standard. Eventually the idea of convergence was scrapped. Along with that, Unity 8 and Mir were both shipped to /dev/null and everyone assumed Unity would finally start getting some much needed attention.
But something odd happened on the way to the forum. Canonical opted to ditch their in-house desktop (Unity) and migrate the official Ubuntu platform to one of the most polished desktops on the market–GNOME.
Home again home again
October 19 marks the day of return. Why return? Before Unity, Ubuntu relied on the GNOME desktop. This was back during the GNOME 2.x days, with the top and bottom bar that everyone had grown accustomed to. When the GNOME developers shifted their entire design philosophy to a more modern, simplified interface, Canonical opted to go another direction with their own desktop (Unity). And now, we come full circle. GNOME was the original desktop that helped to make Ubuntu one of the most popular (and user-friendly) distributions on the market. It was the adoption of Unity that helped to cause Ubuntu’s popularity to take a hit. At the moment, Ubuntu ranks fourth on the Distrowatch Page Hit Ranking (behind Linux Mint, Debian, and Manjaro). If I were to speculate, it is the return to form that will bring it back to that coveted number one spot. Ubuntu has a lot of ground to make up, but GNOME will go a long way to aid that effort.
A Unity-like GNOME
The thing about Canonical–the thing that has always made them a top contender–is that they listen and understand their users. Although many would think otherwise (mostly due to the adoption of Unity), if you’ve paid close enough attention, you can see the finer shifts in the product, changes that reflect the wants and desires of the users.
Take, for instance, Canonical’s version of GNOME that will be shipped with Ubuntu 17.10 (Figure A).
The designers and developers have done something unheard of in today’s world of technology. Instead of foisting a completely different desktop on their faithful users, Canonical has tweaked GNOME such that it offers enough resemblance to Unity as to make the transition fairly seamless. For those users who don’t like the Unity take on the desktop, a vanilla GNOME is but a few clicks away. That, my friends, was a smart move on the part of Canonical. It was also a shift that shows Canonical listens and wants to deliver the best possible desktop platform they can.
For me, that is what makes Ubuntu 17.10 such a milestone release. It’s not so much that they’ve dropped Unity (although I was a fan), but that they understand what the users want and need (in order to make this transition easy). It also helps that Canonical made the right decision to return to GNOME. Of all the desktops I’ve used, GNOME offers the best ratio of modernity, ease of use, performance, and elegance.
We’ll finally see progress
There’s one other element that makes the 17.10 release a bit momentous. For years the Ubuntu faithful had to suffer through a stalled development on the desktop. Since so much effort was being placed on convergence, it was a rare thing to see a new feature roll out with Unity. Most releases were little more than bug fixes. Every so often something special would arrive, but in the form of the kernel or some other underlying feature.
All that changes with 17.10. From this point forward, Ubuntu can finally return to making big exciting releases that bring to light new features to improve the desktop experience. To anyone who’s stuck with Ubuntu, through the convergence madness, you get it. No longer will you have to stand by while other distributions release shiny new improvements. Your distribution of choice has been unfettered from the cage that prevented its flight. Ubuntu can once again soar to new heights.
And that, my friends, makes Ubuntu 17.10 one of the most exciting releases to come from Canonical in a very long time. Get your copy of Ubuntu 17.10 as soon as it releases.