When Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu announced that the next version of the popular Linux, Ubuntu 11.04, would use Unity, instead of GNOME as its default desktop interface he shocked the Linux desktop community. Now, with the release of the Ubuntu 11.04 beta, we can get a real look at Unity.
Before going into that though, let me answer the question of why Ubuntu has decided to move from pure GNOME to the GNOME-based Unity. As Shuttleworth explained to the Ubuntu developers, “Lots of people are already committed to Unity–the community, desktop users, developers, and platform and hardware vendors.” In particular, he noted, “Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) favor Unity. They’re happy to ship it.”
That last part is important. Shuttleworth has told me that Dell, which he said had sold several million Ubuntu desktops, laptops, and netbooks, supports the project. In addition, Canonical has desktop deals in place with Lenovo and Acer. These arrangements may lead to these, and other, major PC OEMs finally releasing Ubuntu desktops in the U.S and European markets.
In short, Unity is Shuttleworth, and Ubuntu’s attempt, to capture not just a bigger share of the now stagnant desktop market. Its Ubuntu’s shot at capturing a lion’s share of the netbook, desktop, tablet, and smartphone markets. The master idea is that users, and OEMs, will want one interface for all user devices. Or, as Shuttleworth put it, “There will be no fault-line for OEMs between desktops.”
Some people in GNOME circles would disagree, but be that as it may. Just as Ubuntu is based solidly on Debian, so Unity is based on GNOME.
Under Unity’s hood, there are several technical differences. Instead of GNOME’s Mutter windows manager, Unity uses Compiz for the windows manager. On top of this, Ubuntu developers use Zeitgeist, a framework that tracks and correlates relationships between the user’s activities to supply applications with contextually relevant data.