In a move that is both surprising and refreshing, the Ubuntu Unity desktop (the desktop that nearly caused both a mass exodus and a subsequent return of fans from Ubuntu is now available on Fedora (and, on a side note, Linux Mint). That means all the Fedora users who are unhappy with the GNOME Shell desktop, have even more options available.

Although this move was not handled by Canonical, it is still an important moment in Linux history. Why? Because it means the desktop that Canonical bet the bank on has proved it has teeth and staying power. When the majority of people lashed out at Canonical for making such a sweeping change, they stuck to their guns and continued to push the alternative desktop.

And now – that desktop has been migrated to other distributions. It’s not a perfect marriage (there are some features that don’t quite translate), but it works and works well. How did it happen? Simple:

  • Dedicated Fedora users, fed up with GNOME Shell decided they wanted an alternative that made use of the newer GNOME libraries and optimizations.
  • Using the openSUSE Build Service, the necessary packages were built and the GNOME:Ayatana / Unity repository created.
Unity On Mint (click to enlarge)

Fedora 17 users can now add the repository and then install Unity.

Linux Mint 13 users can simply open up a terminal window and enter apt-get install unity.

So… what does this really mean?

To me, first and foremost, it means the very heart of open source is still alive. That heart is choice. When Unity arrived it seemed as if, for the first time ever, a desktop was locked down to a single distribution. That left a bad taste in my mouth. And even though, in the end, I wound up really liking the Unity desktop, I always had issue with the fact that this wonderful alternative desktop was only available to a single distribution. That seemed, at least to me, antithetical to everything open source was about:

Freedom — the cornerstone of the open source movement. It’s not only one of the single most important tenets of open source, it is crucial to the success of the movement. I have always been fond of telling people not in the know this one important thing:

If my desktop doesn’t act and look the way I want it, I am free to change it in whatever way I want.

That means I can use any desktop that appeals to me and, should I chose, modify that desktop so that it perfectly suits my needs. So when Unity came out, it seemed the ONLY way I would be able to enjoy this desktop was to use Ubuntu. There was something fundamentally wrong with that idea. I was accustomed to trying what I wanted on whatever I wanted to try it on.

  • Fedora + KDE
  • Fedora + Enlightenment
  • Ubuntu +GNOME
  • Linux Mint + XFCE

The list goes on and on. It didn’t matter the distribution and it didn’t matter the desktop. But Unity looked to possibly change that. Until now. Now we are back to having that grand sweeping freedom we have always enjoyed. You want Fedora and Unity? You can have it. You want Mint and Unity? Have at it. It’s all there, waiting for you to give it a go.

There is always one certainty with the open source community — they will find a way. No matter what happens (be it the Microsoft Secure Boot, Canonical’s Unity, etc) the community of developers and designers connected to Linux and open source will always figure out how to integrate, translate, and migrate so that end users can feel free to use their desktops exactly how they want.