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Ubuntu republic riven by damaging civil wars

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After Sounder was closed, the signal-to-noise ratio on the main Ubuntu community support mailing list dropped noticeably. With no official place for off-topic conversations, those on Ubuntu-Users quickly grew more discursive. This has, inevitably, included a fair amount of discussion of, and complaining about, Unity – especially now that people are realising that they have no choice.

The rumour is that Shuttleworth is not happy about this and would be happy to see Ubuntu-Users closed down, too.

This would leave only the regional lists in each country running – worldwide, Ubuntu users seeking community support would have to use Web fora or IRC instead.

Some are interpreting these signs – the growing discontent and the subsequent closure of one and maybe two of the main online communities – as the beginning of the end for Ubuntu.

But if so, where are its disgruntled users going to go?

If they hope to stay with GNOME 2, they're in for disappointment. It's looking pretty dead. Two forks were announced soon after GNOME 3 appeared: EXDE and Mate, of which the former seems to have already ground to a halt. The KDE community had a similar response when KDE 4 appeared in 2008 – so many preferred KDE 3 that it was forked to create the Trinity project. It's still alive, but despite considerable dissatisfaction with KDE 4.0, most KDE users just kept using KDE 3.5.10 until KDE 4 was stable and then moved to the new version.

The same might happen with GNOME. GNOME 3 users whose PC's graphic card isn't up to snuff for the GNOME Shell get Fallback Mode instead, which looks very much like the classic GNOME 2 two-panel desktop – but the resemblance is only skin-deep. Fallback Mode is meant just as an emergency standby and it's a lot less flexible or customisable than GNOME 2 was. But still, one option for frustrated Unity-haters will be to install GNOME 3 and choose Fallback Mode.

If they head off for other distributions, they're in for a disappointment. The biggest rival to the Ubuntu family is Red Hat's Fedora, but it is a major supporter of GNOME 3, so along with a strange new packaging system and a different community and approach, they will find a desktop even more unfamiliar than Unity. OpenSUSE is one of the few distributions shipping the last-ever release of GNOME 2, version 2.32 – but its future plans include GNOME 3. Both mean getting to grips with the alien RPM packaging system instead of Ubuntu's Debian-derived one, too.

Then there's Debian itself, the distribution upon which Ubuntu is based. Debian 6.03, the current version, still uses GNOME 2.30 – but Debian 6 doesn't include any non-free drivers, so getting your hardware working is significantly harder than on Ubuntu. It's improved a lot in recent years, but Debian is still substantially less friendly than Ubuntu.

Which brings us back to the welter of Ubuntu remix editions. Following in the footsteps of Kubuntu there have been hundreds of tweaked versions of Ubuntu. A handful have been officially taken under the company's wing and share the prestige of being official editions. The original remix, Kubuntu, the KDE-based version, was the first. Accompanying it are three special-purpose derivatives: the education-focused Edubuntu and Ubuntu Studio for media creators, both using the GNOME 2 desktop, and Mythbuntu, designed for building a Linux-based PVR.

Then there is Xubuntu, which uses the Xfce desktop. Xubuntu has been around since the first LTS release of Ubuntu, 6.06, but it stands to receive a lot more attention in the near future. Xfce is ostensibly a slightly lighter-weight desktop than GNOME, but the difference isn't dramatic. However, it's straightforward to configure Xubuntu to look and work very much like classic GNOME 2-based Ubuntu, and this is already attracting Unity-phobes.

Joining the stable as of the 11.10 release is the relatively new Lubuntu, which aims to be very lightweight and uses the rather Windows-XP-like Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment, LXDE. Lubuntu has been around since 10.10 but it's only now gained official approval.

The vast majority of remixes remain outside of the official project, such as Bodhi, based on the graphically-sophisticated Enlightenment desktop.

Inevitably, there's already a GNOME 3-based flavour: UGR, the Ubuntu GNOME Remix. Beware, though; in their own words, "this project is very experimental and unstable."

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