The next release of Ubuntu Linux could have a very different interface than regular Linux desktop users are used to seeing. Ubuntu Founder Mark Shuttleworth today announced that the Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwal release would use the Unity interface as its default Linux desktop shell. To date, Unity has been available to Ubuntu users as a netbook-focused user interface.
Shuttleworth announced the dramatic change at the Ubuntu Developer Summit (UDS), which kicked off today in Florida. In addition to the new desktop, Shuttleworth also announced a new effort to enable Ubuntu users to sponsor open source projects with financial donations. Shuttleworth’s overall goal is to continue to improve the quality of Ubuntu Linux as well as the broader ecosystem of open source projects on which it relies.
The move to Unity on the desktop will provide Ubuntu users that have 3D capable hardware with a new desktop experience that is different than the typical GNOME desktop. Though Unity is not technically part of the GNOME project, Shuttleworth noted that Unity is a shell for GNOME and it will run all the same applications that run on GNOME today. He also stressed that Ubuntu remains committed to GNOME, and the move to use Unity for Ubuntu 11.04 should be seen in a positive light.
“We’re working hard to re-assure folks in the GNOME community that our intent is to continue to support the values of GNOME as a project,” Shuttleworth said during a press conference.
Shuttleworth added that Ubuntu today puts a tremendous amount of effort into the GNOME project. Unity in some respects is a competitive effort to the GNOME Shell project which is expected to debut in the GNOME 3 release in 2011.
“The shell is simply the piece that is used for launching applications and for switching between running applications,” Shuttleworth said. “All of the applications are the same. There are developers within GNOME that just focus on GNOME Shell and that’s the piece that we won’t be integrating, but the rest of GNOME will fit perfectly into the Unity environment.”
Shuttleworth noted that Ubuntu developers have participated in the GNOME Shell effort, though they have taken a divergent view on a number of issues including how application menus should appear in the system. As well, Shuttleworth said that GNOME Shell has taken some technical decisions in its stack that do not align with Ubuntu’s direction. Lastly, Shuttleworth said that GNOME Shell is not yet a technology that is ready for wide usage.
“GNOME Shell is somewhat behind and we couldn’t ship it in this release,” Shuttleworth said. “We needed a solution now.”
Shuttleworth also dismissed any notion that Unity could lead to an open core model for Ubuntu where proprietary software is baked into versions of the Unity interface.
“We have absolutely no plans for any proprietary extensions to Unity,” Shuttleworth said.
Funding Open Source Software
With the 11.04 release, Shuttleworth also expects to debut a new system that will enable Ubuntu users to sponsor open source software projects with financial donations. The new sponsorship system will be built into the Ubuntu Software Center which was recently expanded in the 10.10 release, to enable users to purchase commercial software.
“In general we have a policy that where we are benefitting from open source and we can attribute that benefit to a particular upstream project, we share the benefits with those upstream projects,” Shuttleworth said. “This is a general mechanism for individuals to support projects and we will provide a mechanism for that flow to happen.”
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.