Canonical Ubuntu splits from GNOME over design issues

The next version of Canonical Ubuntu will use Unity as a desktop shell, rather than Gnome

Future versions of Ubuntu will ship with the Unity interface

Future versions of Ubuntu will ship with the Unity interface

Canonical is changing the default interface on the next release of Ubuntu from GNOME to Unity, a new open source project that focuses on simplified interface and three dimensional displays.

Canonical made the switch for the next release of its Ubuntu desktop Linux distribution, because of increasingly divergent views of how a desktop interface should look and operate, according to Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth.

"We were part of the GNOME shell design discussion, we put forward our views and they were not embraced by designers," Shuttleworth said during a press briefing. "We took a divergent view from the GNOME shell folks on key design issues, for example how application menus should appear on the system, how one should search to find applications, [and] how one's favorite applications should be presented."

The next release of Natty Narwhal (11.04), due to be released in April 2011, will install a Unity shell, for those systems that meet the hardware requirements to run the interface, in either two-dimensional or three-dimensional modes, Shuttleworth announced on Monday, at the company's Ubuntu Developer Summit, being held this week in Orlando, Florida. For previous desktop versions of the software, Gnome was the default shell.

Canonical and the developers of GNOME, an open source project led by the GNOME Foundation, have had an increasingly disharmonious relationship over the past year due, in part, to these design issues.

Because Canonical was already developing Unity for netbooks for OEM (original equipment manufacturer) customers, "We went ahead and did the engineering" for a general desktop interface for the next release, Shuttleworth said. "Essentially, it is a very different product from the GNOME shell, and has a very different way of organizing things," he said.

Despite these difference, Ubuntu desktop users should have little problem moving to the new interface, Shuttleworth promised. Other elements of GNOME besides the shell will continue to be used. The Unity interface should run all GNOME-based applications without modification.

Shuttleworth also noted that users can install GNOME on their own, using Ubuntu's software installation program. Shuttleworth also defended Unity as fully open source project, like Gnome.

"We have no plans for proprietary extensions to Unity whatsoever," Shuttleworth said.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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