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On Ubuntu, Unity and Windows

Posted by evanx on March 21, 2013 at 10:48 PM PDT

This morning i enjoyed an article entitled "There Is Ubuntu, There Is Linux And Then There Are Others", and here i rehash my comment there.

Chris Jones' article discusses how Microsoft and Canonical haven't listened to what their users want, which is the traditional "Start" desktop ala previous versions of Windows, GNOME 2 etc, not to mention KDE. Hence Windows 8 is not breaking any sales records, and Linux Mint's Cinnamon is more popular than Unity.

The Wider Picture: Unity rocks

Actually, I find that the Unity launcher is very similar to the Windows 7 dock, except that it is on the left, which to my mind makes better use of today's wide screens. Vertical space is best used by applications rather than the shell, in my blinkered view ;)

My Windows 7 laptop screen is wide enough, but lacking in the vertical department. So I put the dock on the left, just like Unity :)

My screen at work is too wide for all intent and purposes, to be honest. But at least Unity makes best use of the available vertical real-estate.

I hasten to add that the Unity search and notifications are top-notch, and Ubuntu update and security is great. So, to my mind, it's the best desktop OS and shell, bar none.

I believe that Unity is designed for end-users by a team of UX experts hired by Canonical in London, rather than designed by developers. So i expect it to be "better" than GNOME and KDE for the "mainstream."

Although i have used both KDE and GNOME extensively since their genesis (and i wrote this article on me mum's GNOME 2 pewter), these days i'm a Unity convert. For sure, there are some things not yet 100% for me, but that might just be me, or might just be "not yet." I know they have a decisive leader, professional designers, and a passionate community in attendance.

When i started using bleeding-edge Unity a year or so ago (Ubuntu 11.10), it was falling over every day, which didn't suprise me. What was suprising is how quickly it stabilised for 12.04. I suspect this is a consequence of their prescription for testable code. Interestingly, this is one of primary reasons offered for developing Mir, and abandoning their Wayland plans. Other reasons appear to be agility for shell development, and supporting Android graphics drivers.

So here we have a brand new OpenGL-based shell, and unified display server, written from the ground up for a converged 3D-graphics world, with a dogged insistence on automated testing. I bow in admiration of their efforts, as much as i enjoy the fruits of their labour.

The Legacy: Windows

Having said all that, i'm still too lazy to reinstall my Windows laptop, as per my cheeky 2006 article, My Desktop OS: Windows XP ;) Incidently the person in that picture recently contacted me out of the blue. He is a most affable chap named Leslie Wilcock, and provided some background information which i posted as a comment :)

Certainly the Linux desktop, in particular Ubuntu, has come a long way since then. In another 2006 blog, A tale of two CDs, i gave very low scores to Linux desktops of the day ;)

Last January i tried Fedora with GNOME3 and KDE, but reverted to Ubuntu with Unity, despite its instability at the time. Fedora's installer looks and feels so dated which is off-putting from word go. KDE also felt dated, while GNOME3 seemed too fandangled, so there's no pleasing me ;) For my tastes, nothing is as slick as Ubuntu, from the installer through to the Unity shell. It looks beautiful and feels modern.

2013 is the year of the Linux desktop, by my personal metric which is: i really want to reinstall my Windows laptop with Ubuntu, at last ;) And in full confidence that i won't be missing a thing, but gaining a lot.

Besides all the strides made by Linux and streamlined by Ubuntu, the public's insatiable appetite for cloud apps like Gmail, Google Talk, Google Docs et al, further enables the Linux desktop. Hey Microsoft, we don't need your Windows no more!

Microsoft are being pummelled by Linux from both sides, on mobile and the cloud, while ChromeOS and Ubuntu are taking jabs at their desktop market in the middle.

The Bigger Picture: Unification

And now please allow me to opine on the big picture.

The benefits of a unified interface across phone/phablet and desktop in particular, will accrue. MS and Canonical are betting on this. That's not to mention the three other "screens of our lives" namely tablet, TV and IVI.

MS and Ubuntu desktop users are rankling at the change, but as users inevitably grow more attached to their phones than desktops, this strategy will appreciate. Consumers want commonality between their desktop and phone, and producers want a unified platform for both.

On the Linux front, Canonical is more agile and community-based than Google, and best espouses this unified vision. Canonical could replicate the success of Android and ChromeOS, with the crucial advantage of a unified platform. I hope they can induce developers of mobile apps. QML being Javascript-based, is well-chosen, in my opinion.

A big part of the big picture is cloud apps and services. Their integration with mobile and the desktop can make or break those platforms, going forward. Google currently own the cloud with Gmail and Google Docs, so they're sitting in the driver's seat right now. But nothing stays the same in this wonderful industry of ours, as exemplified by Microsoft and Apple's rollercoasting, and the rise of Google. The future is open, and opensource, so everyone can play.

Android is dominant. ChromeOS is rising. Tizen and FirefoxOS are exciting. But Ubuntu will be the first unified post-PC OS.

The Other Story

I was about to publish the sequel to Password Salt today, but now that will have to wait for next week, so stay tuned :)

On a related note, we read this week that a recent Cisco update "leaves users considerably more susceptible to password cracking," since "Cisco's new method for converting passwords into one-way hashes uses a single iteration of the SHA256 function with no cryptographic salt." I don't believe it! ;)