The big news at the Ubuntu Developer Summit? Moving to Unity as the default interface for Ubuntu Desktop with Natty Narwhal (11.04), rather than GNOME Shell.
Earlier this year, Canonical representatives had to deny that they were forking GNOME with the work on the Unity interface. (Quick disclaimer, I'm a GNOME Member and help out with GNOME PR.) Unity is a Canonical-sponsored project that was initially delivered for the Ubuntu Netbook Remix. GNOME Shell is the interface being developed for GNOME 3.0, which was delayed to spring 2011.
Apparently, Canonical were being asked the wrong question. During the opening keynote, Mark Shuttleworth has announced that Canonical is committing to making Unity the default desktop experience "for users that have the appropriate software and hardware." Unity requires compositing to work properly, which means users need functioning 3D support to use the interface.
Unity will require quite a bit of work between now and April, 2011 to get Unity into shape as the default desktop. While the Ubuntu desktop 10.10 received glowing reviews, the netbook release much less so. Canonial partner and system integrator System 76 chose to stick with the 10.04 LTS release on its netbook line, saying the interface was "slow and in many ways confusing to use."
What happens with GNOME at this point? Shuttleworth says that Unity is "a shell for GNOME, even if it isn't GNOME shell." He added that he thinks it's good to have "competition" between GNOME Shell and Unity, and referenced Monty Python's Life of Brian as an example of factionalism in a community. Shuttleworth says "we're all in this together," even if there's differences of opinion.
It will be interesting to see how the larger community reacts to this. I'll be covering this more extensively throughout the week, so stay tuned.
Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years covering IT. Formerly the openSUSE Community Manager for Novell, Brockmeier is a longtime free and open source software advocate. He has written for many publications, including Linux Magazine, Sys Admin, Linux Pro Magazine, IBM developerWorks, Linux.com, CIO.com, Linux Weekly News, ZDNet, and many others.