GNOME 3 is out: will Ubuntu reconsider?

The open source GNOME project has released the next generation of its desktop environment, GNOME 3, with new features and a redesigned interface, but will its flagship Linux distribution, Ubuntu, choose it above its own Unity?

GNOME’s developers say the new desktop interface “takes elegance to a new level” with less clutter making it the “most beautiful GNOME desktop ever”.

It has a new theme, font and “carefully crafted” animations.

GNOME 3 introduces “GNOME Shell”, a new window display and activities management interface that uses the Mutter compositing window manager.

The activities overview is accessible using the top-left hot corner or Windows key and provides a single place to access windows, applications and messages.

GNOME Shell has been criticised for requiring compositing and that it ends a long-standing tradition of GNOME being able to use multiple window managers, but the developers say this is made up for with better usability.

The Dash show which applications are running and the workspace switcher can be used to group windows and the familiar “minimise” button has been removed from window titles as the developers say it’s now irrelevant.

GNOME 3 integrates messaging into the desktop where messages can be directly responded to from notifications so a conversation does not require repeated window switching.

GNOME 3’s application layout looks a lot like KDE’s Plasma Netbook interface than a traditional cascading menu.

Many of the new GNOME 3 features and concepts were also introduced with KDE 4, which received criticism for being too radical a change from its previous version, but so far the GNOME 3 reception has been positive.

The Ubuntu split

Ubuntu’s adoption of GNOME as the default desktop since the distribution started was suddenly overturned late last year when Canonical decided to ship its own Unity interface (based on the Netbook edition) as the desktop of choice.

The next release of Ubuntu due this month will have Unity as the default, but will also ship GNOME via a “Classic” login option.

The separation of Unity and GNOME is part of a long-running split between Canonical and the wider GNOME community, which it criticises for not accepting its software development into the mainstream project.

However, with this level of innovation happening in the GNOME community, Ubuntu may be forced to reconsider its decision or risk another fork of the Ubuntu distribution based on the “vanilla” GNOME.

A lot will depend on the success of Unity as the default Ubuntu desktop and how much Canonical is prepared to invest in its ongoing development.

The GNOME project is online at:

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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