In the last year, one of the biggest announcements in the Linux world was Canonical’s discontinuation of the Unity desktop environment. Now, it looks it is coming back.
The Situation Thus Far
Originally created to improve Ubuntu’s usability on smaller netbook screens, Unity became the default desktop environment on Ubuntu after Canonical had a falling out with the GNOME team. However, after seven years of development, Canonical Founder and CEO Mark Shuttleworth decided to switch from Unity back to GNOME 3.
Since that announcement, Unity 7 has been put in maintenance mode. Canonical planned to support Unity until 2021 because that’s when support was scheduled to end for the 16.04 LTS (Long Term Support) release.
But it looks like that will change.
Snowball Starts Rolling
In October, a user named Dale Beaudoin (username ventrical) made a post on Ubuntuforums.org asking for advice on how to create a test iso of Ubuntu running Unity.
This led to a different user making a post on the Ubuntu community forum calling for developers to continue developing Unity.
In this second post, Beaudoin mentioned the possibility of seeking the creation of an official flavor of Ubuntu with Unity. (The creation of an official flavor would give the project access to all kinds of support from Canonical).
The feedback to Beaudoin’s suggestion was overwhelmingly positive. Many users were interested in keeping alive the desktop environment they had used it as the default for many years. Most said that they had gotten used to Unity and had trouble making the new GNOME 3 desktop work the way they were used to. Some even reported issues with GNOME’s plug-ins.
The idea of creating an official flavor of Ubuntu using Unity received quite a bit of support, and not just from users. Martin Wimpress, the creator of the Ubuntu MATE flavor, offered his assistance. Will Cooke, Ubuntu Desktop Manager, also offered to help. A former Unity stack developer offered to help with development.
The Man Who Started It All
I was able to catch up with Dale Beaudoin and ask him a few questions.
In early November, Beaudoin received permission from Canonical to distribute Unity. He submitted a proposal to the Ubuntu Technical Board for the creation of an official flavor. He hopes to receive a reply soon.
When I asked Beaudoin why he liked Unity, he said,
“Unity is unique in many ways. Mostly it is unique in assistive technologies. Of all the mixes and distros I have tested, Unity uses the least amount of mouseclicks to navigate through the desktop. This is so awesome because it reduces RSI and persons who are prone to RSI can experience the effervescence of the Unity desktop while getting real work done. It is also the most user-friendly DE that helps persons who are transitioning from Windows migrate to the Linux based system which has always been a difficult stack to sell from a FOSS marketing perspective.”
How to Help
For those who wish to help the project, Beauboin recommended that they join the Unity7 Maintainers Team on Launchpad. They are looking for programmers to help maintain the project, but also those with concepts and artwork to share and testers.