Some users might even feel good about calling this a solution to the whole Unity alternative issue. Wrong.
What's actually possible is for users to either default back to an older GNOME experience or remove Unity in its entirety instead. Using the PPA solution is a hack, nothing more.
Some of you might be quick to point out that, to a degree, the Linux desktop is basically a series of hacks. This may be true, but this isn't the position that Canonical's taking with their push to offer Unity. Unity alternatives shouldn't require people to hack past the default Ubuntu desktop.
Opportunity and compromise
To prevent this piece from becoming nothing more than a spotlight on a problem with Ubuntu, allow me to suggest a compromise.
When I visit Ubuntu.com, I'm instantly bombarded with the feeling that it's a "Unity experience" only. Why not make a greater effort in highlighting some of the Ubuntu derivatives?
The derivatives page provides some great GNOME desktop alternatives. Yet what I find annoying is that the derivatives webpage link is at the bottom of the homepage footer in the smallest text possible. No one is ever going to think to look there for an alternative to the Unity desktop.
This is a real shame, considering many might otherwise like the Ubuntu core but wish to try a different approach to the desktop environment.
Canonical feels strongly about using GNOME 2.x with their Unity desktop shell. Yet many existing users will find themselves less than impressed with the limits placed within the Unity experience. Why not provide plenty of detail about the desktop environment alternatives out there?
I don't mean buried in the existing website, but during the installation. Why not mention that if the Unity thing isn't working out, users can indeed try some of the great derivatives using the Ubuntu core? I simply don't see this as being such a big deal that derivatives can't be given more of the spotlight.
After all, if Unity goes over as badly as I think it might, wouldn't it be a good idea to have some alternative desktop environments at the ready?
Desktop split testing
Another possibility is that in addition to more outward support for Ubuntu derivatives, Canonical might have been wise to try some desktop split testing. Wouldn't it have made sense to have done testing with both Unity and GNOME 3's shell? Surely if GNOME 3 is so devoid of what the users want, testing both options would only serve to shore up Canonical's views?
I want to reiterate something that will likely come up later. First, I enjoy using Linux on my desktop and have been an Ubuntu user for many years. I'm thrilled to see the Ubuntu developers take a stab at something new, even if I find it to be painful to use. Where I have a gripe is in the fact that the developers based their desktop on a very singular view. Others will disagree and that's perfectly fine with me.
Lastly, if split testing is something that just doesn't make any sense as it requires too many resources, why not at least give the Ubuntu derivatives some extra emphasis? What better way to absorb any potential PR fallout pointing to alternative desktop options using the Ubuntu core?
At the end of the day, nothing covered here is the end of the world. If Unity is a smashing success, I will be thrilled for all those involved. But if I'm right and this becomes the Windows Vista of the Ubuntu experience, I fear that not utilizing at least some of my suggestions above will yield some nasty blow-back for everyone involved.