Open Source

Ubuntu GNOME 14.10: Unifying the Linux desktop

Jack Wallen addresses the state of unification in the Linux desktop and how GNOME might well be the major driving force.

Ubuntu GNOME

As you may know, Ubuntu 14.10 came out with about as much fanfare as growing grass. If you're unsure why this happened, it's simple — Ubuntu is in a state of holding because of Unity 8/Mir. Until that happens, Ubuntu version upgrades will be about bug fixes and not much more. It makes sense... why dump a bunch of time/effort into an interface that's about to undergo a radical shift?

However, that's not the case for the GNOME flavor of Ubuntu. Ubuntu GNOME 14.10 was released along with the official flavor and brings to light some really impressive features. With this release comes GNOME 3.12. Such features include:

  • A big update to the GNOME web browser (with improved performance and UI enhancements)
  • Three new preview applications (Logs, Sound Recorder, and Polari — a new IRC client)
  • Photos has been updated to include Facebook integration
  • A new search feature for Terminals
  • Integrated Google Cloud Print support
  • A revamped Initial Setup Assistant
  • The use of the new popovers widget in a number of core applications
  • Enhanced system status
  • High resolution display support
  • Significant update to finding and installing applications
  • Facelift for the Videos and Gedit applications
  • App folders in Activities Overview (unfortunately, at the time of this writing, this process is not even remotely user-friendly, because it has to be done in the dconf-editor tool)

This release also includes the much anticipated GNOME-Maps and GNOME-Weather — and it's important to developers, because it comes with numerous new APIs and widgets.

But can the combination of Ubuntu 14.10 and GNOME 3.12 be the thing to pull GNOME out of a somewhat obscured position? I think it could. Why? Simple... unity. I'm not talking about Ubuntu Unity. I mean the literal definition:

Unity: a way of combining the parts in a work of art or literature so that they seem to belong together.

You see, the GNOME developers are getting one major issue right — the unification of all the elements of the platform to arrive at a single, complete whole. It's as if the developers understand that the interface is that which drives the ecosystem (something the mobile world seriously gets). In other words, unification. It's what so many platforms lack (especially in the world of Linux). But with Ubuntu GNOME 14.10, we're seeing a major shift in the ecosystem. Now, the design elements come together and nearly everything you open is very clearly GNOME.

There are so many out there, especially in the world of IT, who feel like the interface is secondary to the work. And yes, in a work/production environment, that is true. However, the vast majority of users (read: consumers) do consider the interface to be a key element when deciding on a platform. Design is the single biggest factor in Apple's success, and design is also a major factor in Microsoft's recent failure.

With that in mind, both the Ubuntu and GNOME developers are in a race for the grand unification of their platform. I have a feeling that GNOME will win this race. As you can see in Figure A, the GNOME team has done an outstanding job of bringing together the design elements.

Figure A

Figure A

GNOME-Maps and GNOME-Movies running to highlight GNOME's unity.

Ubuntu Unity could win this race, but it would require a major effort to get Unity 8/Mir released. Until that actually happens, all we will see are minor (if any) updates to the current state of that particular desktop.

Although GNOME has come a long way to bring together a perfect storm of unity on the desktop, it's not all perfect. For instance, even after upgrading a fresh install of Ubuntu GNOME 14.10, there are still features missing, and GNOME is listed as 3.10. To get the full-blown 3.12, you must add a ppa and run another upgrade. Here's how:

From a terminal window, issue the following command:

sudo apt-add-repository ppa:gnome3-team/gnome3

Follow that up with these two commands:

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get upgrade

At this point, you should have all of the features of GNOME 3.12 (for some reason, a few of the features were held back for the 14.10 release).

I do have one major gripe. According to the release notes (and every bit of information that I've laid eyes on), GNOME 3.12 includes the ability to sort Activities into app folders. However, I have yet to find a method of doing this. For a feature that has been touted as a major improvement, it's strange that the functionality can't be found.

So, what does GNOME need to do to cross the unification finish line? Here are a few items I'd like to see added and checked off:

  • Better default wallpaper (the default is currently hideous)
  • Easier means to organize Activities overview
  • Make folder apps actually work!
  • Retheme Maps to match Weather and Movies
  • Get rid of the Ubuntu Software Center in favor of GNOME Software Center
  • GNOME Weather doesn't display details at the moment

The current status of GNOME is so far ahead of where it was just a short year ago. At the rate that it's progressing, I can easily imagine it surpassing nearly every desktop available for Linux. However, that doesn't mean everyone will start adopting it. There are still users who cling so tightly to the old metaphor of less is more. But in order for a desktop to compete, more must trump less — but more must be done with less and done with a level of elegance to meet today's constantly rising standards.

What will it take for GNOME to rise above all other desktops — or can it? Let us know your thoughts in the discussion thread below.

About Jack Wallen

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.

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