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With GNOME 3.0, the GNOME Foundation has diverged from the consistent look and feel that marked its namesake desktop environment for years. The new GNOME Shell interface represents a new desktop approach intended to make applications easier to access, limit workspace distractions, and make more use of modern desktop and notebook hardware.

The GNOME Foundation has overseen the development of the default graphical environments for the Linux- and Unix-based operating systems from Canonical, Red Hat, Novell, Canonical, Sun Microsystems, Oracle and others. However with Ubuntu 11.04, Canonical has broken ranks with GNOME by opting to not participate in GNOME Shell.
Instead, Canonical is offering a separate interface called “Unity.” Unity is rooted in many of the same components and designed with many of the same goals as GNOME, albeit with different implementation details.

I’ve been testing both interfaces throughout their development and in their finished versions — I tested GNOME Shell in the beta release of Red Hat’s Fedora 15, and Unity in the shipping version of Ubuntu 11.04. I’ve found each interface promising. Each does a solid job streamlining notification messages and staying out of the way of active applications.

With that said, both will require that users spend time adapting, and the enhanced hardware requirements of each will prove troublesome in certain scenarios. However, there’s time for users and implementers to adjust to GNOME Shell and Unity.

The next Long Term Support version of Canonical’s Ubuntu is set to ship a year from now, with an October release of the OS in between to address usability and hardware fallback issues. A 2D version of Unity is already available in the Ubuntu repositories. As for GNOME Shell, it’s not clear when the new interface will make its way into the enterprise operating systems from Red Hat, Novell, or Oracle.

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May 5th, 2011

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