Unity Is Strength

Unity Is Strength

Article from Issue 200/2017

Choice is good? And we've chosen.

So farewell then, Unity. Ubuntu's new, shiny, convergence-enabling desktop, which I rather liked once I got used to it, will go the way of all cast-off projects as of version 18.04, when the most important Linux distro around will switch back to Gnome as its standard desktop. Unity will continue on as Yunit, a community-run fork, and the world will go on turning. This is all good.

Since the day Canonical chose Unity over Gnome as the user-friendly desktop, their destinies have been locked together. This town (in the sense that Linux is a town, which of course it isn't) ain't big enough for the both of them. So given that only one was going to survive, we should be glad that it's Gnome that wins, rather than the less popular, less open competitor.

We should be glad that, thanks to the GPL, Unity will live on for as long as there are developers willing to work on it. And we should be glad that desktop Linux has a benefactor who, when he realizes that one of his favorite projects isn't working, isn't afraid to pull the plug to stop wasting time and effort. I speak, of course, of Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu's End Of Level Boss, who tried to convince us that convergence was the future back in the day. It turns out that people don't want a single operating system that works across all their devices and are quite happy to use different interfaces on different devices.

This isn't the end of innovation from Canonical, but it is the end of this particular innovation. The next one might be more successful or less successful, but we'll only find out once it exists.

Unity was so central to Ubuntu and Canonical for such a long time (it was unveiled with great fanfare back in 2010) that the decision to go back to Gnome can't have been easy. So much mental energy has gone into it that it must have felt like a defeat to let it go, but it's far healthier to think of its demise as paving the way for the next win. With this in mind, I take my hat off to Canonical for having the guts to admit when it's got things wrong: That's the first step to getting things right.

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