You might expect other distributions to be as divided about Ubuntu's new Unity desktop as users are. That is, at least among the vocal, you might expect to find that the condemnation slightly outweighs the praise, but that both sides are passionate in their beliefs.
However, that is not the case. If anything, developers working on other distributions are surprisingly lukewarm about Unity. Most are in no rush to package Unity -- if at all -- and many express technical or practical objections to it. Others are waiting to see how Unity is received, but even the handful that have definitely decided to package it express no great enthusiasm.
It's a lackluster response that may not only suggest Unity's future, but also an increasingly isolated position for Ubuntu in the free and open source software community.
Last week when I surveyed major distributions and Ubuntu derivatives about their plans for Unity, only two replied that they were planning to include it as a default in an upcoming release.
The developer hacktolive, who maintains Super OS, a Ubuntu-derivative, said that he plans to ship with Unity as the default desktop because, "I always try to stick as much as possible to Ubuntu." At first, hacktolive says, he questioned using Unity as a default because of the hardware-accelerated drivers that it requires, but relented after learning that Ubuntu shipped with a fallback desktop that resembles GNOME 2.32. The developer added that "I also liked Unity (minus some details), so I think it is an evolution."
The only other distribution that mentioned that it was planning to ship with Unity was Tuquito, a Ubuntu derivative developed in Argentina. According to Mauro Torres, Tuquito's decision, like Super OS's, is that "we try to follow the same line [as] Ubuntu." However, in a decision that suggests some uncertainty about Ubuntu, Torres added that Tuquito plans to ship two versions, one with Unity and one with GNOME, "so that people can choose."
No doubt other distributions whose representatives did not reply are shipping Unity, or will do so eventually. However, what is striking about the responses I did receive is how unenthusiastic the decisions to ship Unity sound. The support seems qualified at best.
By contrast, the major distributions are in no hurry to include Unity. They will probably include it eventually, but dependency problems and Unity's still-rapid development are hampering efforts to package or discuss it.
At Debian, work with Unity is being done by the Ayatana Packagers, a project to include Ubuntu technologies in Debian. The intent is not to promote Unity as the default interface in Debian, but, according to project administrator Evgeni Golov, to encourage "freedom of choice, where the user has to decide whether he wants GNOME 3, KDE 4, Xfce, LXDE, Elementary, Enlightenment, MeeGo, Unity, awesome, GNUStep, twm, fluxbox or whatever strange mix of those (and other) components on his machine."
Golov explains that the effort has been slowed by dependency problems, including some with libraries not maintained by The Ayatana Packagers. He adds that "another problem is that at the moment Unity is moving fast with bug fixes and new features," which means that packaging a stable and current version is difficult. However, Adnan Hodzic, who filed the Intent to Package, still hopes to have Unity ready for the next official Debian release. Golov suggests that including Unity would help to change Debian's image of being slow to include new technologies.
Other leading distributions are facing similar delays. At Fedora, Red Hat developer Adam Williamson is packaging Unity because "I wanted to check it out and figured packaging it should be about as easy as installing Ubuntu. It wasn't, but by then my native stubbornness kicked in and now I want to package it more or less because it's there. I doubt it'll work terribly well . . . it'll sorta more or less work but have lots of rough edges and not be something the upstream Unity team would be happy to show off."
Williamson stresses, though, that his efforts are personal. "There's been exactly no distribution-wide discussion of this; it's not some kind of official approach to Unity or anything like that. Fedora as a whole has no policy or opinion on Unity. Ditto for Red Hat."
In openSUSE, Nelson Marques embarked on a solo effort of his own, and, like Williamson, soon found himself running into difficulties. Problems with the dependencies on Compiz and the Zeitgeist, as well as the supported video drivers actually made him abandon his efforts for a time, although he has since returned to them.
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