Ubuntu dumps GNOME for Unity

Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth has confirmed that the Ubuntu Linux distribution is making its biggest change ever - a move away from the GNOME desktop.

Ubuntu has been based on the GNOME user interface since the distribution began, and while alternatives - such as the KDE-based Kubuntu spin or the xfce-based Xubuntu spin - have been available, GNOME has been at the heart of the operating system's look and feel.

Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, has been putting its feelers out for alternatives, however - and the release of Ubuntu 10.10 earlier this month saw a home-made user interface dubbed Unity debut on the Ubuntu Netbook Remix distribution.

Now, however, Shuttleworth has made a surprising announcement: far from being a netbook-specific development, Unity will become the default user interface for the Ubuntu distribution starting with the release of 11.04 next year.

Although the user interface will be shared between Ubuntu Desktop and Ubuntu Netbook Remix, there will be differences. When run on a desktop or laptop with high-resolution display, Unity will use a multiple-window approach that mimics the way GNOME works in Ubuntu today. When installed on a netbook, however, Unity will default to showing a single application at a time in a pseudo full-screen mode.

The news of the move to Unity across the board came during Shuttleworth's keynote speech at the Ubuntu Developers Summit, where ComputerWorld quotes him as stating: "Unity will become the default when we're sure that it will work."

Shuttleworth went on to claim that the move is because: "users want Unity as their primary desktop. Lots of people are already committed to Unity - the community, desktop users, original equipment manufacturers, they all like Unity. They're happy to ship it."

Canonical won't be abandoning the GNOME project, however. Shuttleworth went on to explain, "Unity is a shell for GNOME even if it isn't GNOME shell [a competing user interface from GNOME]. We're committed to the principles and values of GNOME."

It's a risky move by Canonical, which could backfire if its users find the move to a new user interface too jarring - although, given the open source nature of the project, an Ubuntu 11.04 spin that ships with GNOME will almost certainly appear.