I know, it really doesn't sound like a headline that should be taking up too much space or time. Ubuntu is adding a dock to GNOME. Big deal. It is, after all, nothing more than an extension that anyone can add from the GNOME Extension site.
Or is it?
I am actually one that believes this to be a very important move for Ubuntu. No matter how inconsequential it may be, to the world at large, this is all about one thing for Canonical.
Seven years ago, June 9, 2010, Ubuntu Unity was released. With every release, Unity grew and that look and feel became synonymous with Ubuntu. It was the the Launcher, the Dash, the HUD, and the purple and orange color scheme all working together to form a perfect union of desktop (for some). That Launcher on the left side became to Ubuntu what the task bar was to Windows XP/7 and the Dock was/is to MacOS. So when Canonical decided to drop Unity in favor of GNOME, they found themselves with a quandary—do they migrate to a straight-up take on GNOME, or do they "mix it up" a bit.
Fortunately, Canonical made the right decision.
For more information on what Canonical is doing with the Unity Dock, check out this post (which includes screenshots of the new dock) by Ubuntu contributor, Didier Roche.
From GNOME to Unity
I remember when Canonical made the decision to drop GNOME, in favor of their in-house desktop, Unity. The Linux community (especially the Ubuntu faithful) were up in arms. As we all know, end users do not take to change well, and making the switch to a completely different desktop is a major switch (ask anyone that switched from Windows 7 to 8 or 10).
I believe Ubuntu Unity was one of the reasons why so many users migrated to the likes of Linux Mint. Mint had a desktop that was familiar to users and offered no threat of changing to something akin to Unity. As Ubuntu's desktop popularity began to diminish, Mint's swelled. And while Canonical insisted the Unity developers spend precious time developing Unity 8/Mir/Touch, Unity 7 stagnated—while Cinnamon and Mate flourished.
And then there's GNOME Shell. This new iteration of GNOME continued to improve, in the shadows, certain that one day it would find its way back into the limelight. And boy did it. By the time GNOME 3.24 was released, this particular desktop managed to become one of the most stable, slick, and polished options on the market. Canonical had to know this.
From Unity to GNOME
And so we find Ubuntu heading back to GNOME. The last time GNOME was the official desktop for Ubuntu was back in GNOME 2.x days. That was a wholly different time and a completely different desktop metaphor.
Canonical knows it cannot do to Ubuntu what it did when it first released Unity. That kind of drastic change could be a death knell for the Ubuntu desktop platform. To that end, the dock is key—more so than many might realize. Without the addition of the dock on the newly-minted desktop, Ubuntu is no longer Ubuntu; instead it's just spinning Ubuntu GNOME into the official flavor. Sure, Canonical could slap a traditional Ubuntu wallpaper into the mix and give the theme a bit of purple and orange...but it's still just GNOME. And guess what?
Just ask Apple.
Ubuntu needs that dock and it needs it on the left side of the screen (but do give the user the ability to move it). Ubuntu needs the purple and orange color scheme. In other words, Ubuntu needs to remain Ubuntu—no matter what desktop they employ.
Bravo to Canonical
I applaud Canonical for not only seeing that Unity 8/Mir and the Ubuntu phone were dooming the distribution that was once heralded as the greatest thing to have ever happened to the Linux desktop. That they've finally realized how important a single desktop item could mean to them makes it clear Canonical understands their past mistakes and knows that you cannot simply toss major functional/cosmetic change into the works and expect everyone to be okay.
To some, it's just a dock. To others, it's a sign that Ubuntu Linux will be okay.
- Video: How to install Ubuntu 16.04 server platform (TechRepublic Video)
- How to keep Ubuntu desktops and servers running clean (TechRepublic)
- The ups and downs of 20 years with the GNOME desktop (TechRepublic)
- Ubuntu 17.10: Finally, an exciting Ubuntu release (TechRepublic)
- Canonical asks users' help in deciding Ubuntu Linux desktop apps (ZDNet)
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.