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Ubuntu demotes Gnome for Unity netbook look

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Ubuntu's netbook look is coming to desktop PCs, as the Linux distro demotes its long-standing default Gnome interface.

Natty Narwhal, aka Ubuntu 11.04, due next April, will set the Unity multi-touch interface as the Linux's default interface, Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth says. Unity was introduced only this month with Maverick Meerkat for netbooks.

"It will appear to be a fairly substantial shift in the interface," Shuttleworth told press after a conference keynote at the Ubuntu Developers' Summit in Orlando on Monday.

The shift will leave Gnome loyalists angry at the change in an interface that's been a staple for six years, and it will give some opensourcers fresh reason to grumble at Canonical.

Shuttleworth tried to soften the news, saying that Gnome would continue to be used as the interface's framework in version 11.04, while noting that it's only the shell that won't be visible. Also, existing Gnome and KDE applications will work without modification.

The familiar Gnome tile-look-and-feel will still be available as a non-standard installation. And your PC will need to be capable of working with 3D-based graphics to use Unity as the default - otherwise, it's back to 2D and Gnome for you.

'Gnome shell is some way behind'

But Shuttleworth made it clear that the Gnome shell is not heading in the direction that Ubuntu wants in its approach to how applications are used and presented on screen.

He said the Gnome shell had taken some technical decisions in its use of GL graphics and 3D that "we found it difficult aligning to".

"We are not trying to lead folks in a different direction, but the Gnome shell is some way behind. I'm not sure it will be ready in this or the next release," he said.

"We conceived some work a time ago focused on netbooks that we want to bring to desktops. We took a divergent view on some key design issues - where the application should appear, how one searches for applications and how the applications should be presented - they weren't embraced by the designs in the Gnome shell."

The Unity interface will mean a new application dock and launch bar, multi-touch use of applications - through the screen hand via devices like the mouse and track pad - and less clutter of the screen space. According to Shuttleworth, Unity is already appeared on PCs as people had wanted the clean interface and lightweight application launcher.

Canonical is slowly developing a love/suspicion relationship with some in the open source community. People love the distro, but Canonical has said or done things that have left some suspicious that Shuttleworth is putting commercial success ahead of citizenship.

Canonical was accused of riding on Gnome's coat-tails last month when it emerged the company ranked sixteenth in a list of contributors to the Gnome Project, even though Gnome is Ubuntu's default desktop. Red Hat and Novell topped the list of contributors.

Shuttleworth personally addressed Gnome criticisms last month, saying he took the decision to focus on new areas of Linux rather than simply throw more code into an existing project.

Last year, Canonical and Shuttleworth were both accused of using Debian to suit their commercial interests after the Debian Project - on which is Ubuntu based - agreed to freeze development cycles in a way that would have helped planned, new releases of Ubuntu. Again, Shuttleworth was forced to repel boarders.

Looking to the Ubuntu 11.04 server, Shuttleworth said Eucalyptus would remain the officially supported architecture for people spinning up private clouds on their Ubuntu systems.

Canonical will provide official support for the Amazon-like Eucalyptus, but not OpenStack even though OpenStack will be available in Ubuntu 11.04 next Spring. According to Shuttleworth, OpenStack is not yet mature enough for Canonical to support and Eucalyptus remains the Canonical's official solution for providing "cloud in a box."

OpenStack APIs had been added to the new Ubuntu server by members of the OpenStack community working on Ubuntu. OpenStack is a cloud compute, storage, network, and management architecture announced by Rackspace and NASA Ames Research Center in July.

Instead, you will be able to use OpenStack only after you've fired up Eucalyptus and then dragged in OpenStack APIs using the familiar Apt-Get package tool.

Java

Shuttleworth has pitched into the firestorm around Steve Jobs' decision to disenfranchise millions of Java developers on the Mac by "deprecating" Java in the next version of OS X.

The Mac has become a staple for coders not wanting to use Windows PCs and there's a growing view that Linux, particularly Ubuntu, could be come a good destination of disaffected Mac developers kicked off their platform by the Apple cult leader.

"Java is a first-class-development environment for us. Eclipse is a first class citizen on the Ubuntu desktop," Shuttleworth said. "Java developers would find they are quite comfortable in an Ubuntu environment - we have no plans to deprecate or move people away from Java."

Ubuntu runs OpenJDK. The old Sun JDK and runtime environment were dropped from the Ubuntu multiverse with version 10.04 this year, but you can still install the code. ®

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