Why Distros Are (or Aren't) Using Ubuntu's Unity: Page 2

Why do distributions decide to use or not use Unity? The answers aren't what you'd expect.

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Posted February 28, 2012

Bruce Byfield

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Much the same sentiments were offered by Clement Lefebvre, Linux Mint's lead developer. At first, Lefebvre found the whole idea "a really strange question," adding "I can't think of a single reason why this would even be considered."

Given Linux Mint's efforts to fork GNOME 2 with MATE or else to re-create it on top of GNOME 3 with Cinnamon, this response is hardly surprising -- Linux Mint has chosen to focus its efforts elsewhere, and its priorities are proving so popular that, for several months, Linux Mint has received more page views on Distrowatch than Ubuntu. To many, Linux Mint is now Ubuntu's chief competitor.

However, Lefebvre later expanded:

"I'm not sure there's much to say about it. It's not useful to use . . .just [like] Enlightenment and Fluxbox. These desktops have a small following, and they're popular [within] niche audiences. If there's enough of a demand, we consider supporting them in a dedicated edition (we did so for Fluxbox). So far there's been no demand for Unity."

Interestingly enough, on Linux User and Developer Lefebvre has mentioned a personal dislike, saying "I don't like Mac OS, and that's probably the main reason I have no interest in Unity," although he also says his personal reaction does not affect Linux Mint's policy towards Unity.

Jos Poortvliet, community manager for openSUSE, gave a more detailed answer. According to Poortvliet, openSUSE did have one community member named Nelson Marques working on porting Unity. Marques abandoned working with the default version of Unity a year ago, but did manage to get Unity 2-D in reasonable order before refocusing his attention Mate.

Currently, three other developers are committing patches to Unity in openSUSE, but whether the next release will include it is still undecided. The code is listed on openSUSE's build service as failing to compile "because currently compiz isn't on the repo with the necessary changes."

By comparison, Razor-Qt, a much newer and lesser-known desktop than Unity, has two developers, and is an official project rather than a private project like Unity.

In the end, though, Poortvliet concludes that there is no reason that Unity won't be added to openSUSE so long as people are interested in doing the work and produce quality work:

"Our policy is that our name is OPENsuse [his emphasis], and if people want to do something and come up with quality stuff (which isn't illegal or anything like that), they can do it. Barriers to contribution in openSUSE exist -- sometimes it is hard to figure out how to do things; our documentation can be rather shallow, and we have some German directness which can be off-putting. But we don't put up artificial barriers or bureaucracies, committees, steering groups or (benevolent or not) dictators."

Other developers in other distributions could be quoted, but their remarks would just be more of the same. There would be occasional expressions of dislike, but mostly a sense that packaging Unity is something they mean to get around to some day, but not today.

How the Mighty Have Fallen

Unity remains central to Ubuntu's plans. However, if these reactions show anything, it's that Unity has managed to capture the imagination of only a minority in the free and open source software community. While a handful appreciate its innovations, and some express a dislike -- possibly based on Ubuntu's previous interactions with the greater community -- the majority see nothing in Unity that is compelling or worth making it a priority for their distributions.

To that extent, Ubuntu might be called a failure. But, considering Ubuntu's efforts to get a toehold on every hardware platform available, that may not matter: Canonical, Ubuntu's commercial arm, seems more interested in attracting new users than in enticing community support. And, perhaps, Ubuntu's popularity is great enough that this strategy will make Canonical profitable at last.

Still, the lack of strong support is a sad reversal of a few years ago, when Ubuntu's priorities, such as usability, influenced the entire community. The reaction to Unity suggests that today Ubuntu is increasingly insular, its developments of interest primarily within its own circles. If so, then I can't help thinking that both Ubuntu and the greater community are the worse for the situation.

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Tags: Linux, Ubuntu, Unity

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