By far the biggest Ubuntu spin-off of all is Linux Mint, which is already attracting emigrants from Ubuntu – earlier this year, for the first time, Mint got more page views than its progenitor on Distrowatch. Although it also offers its own KDE, Xfce and LXDE-based flavours, the mainline Mint favours GNOME 2 – although it rearranges GNOME's two panels into a more Windows-XP-like one. Mint also adds in multimedia codecs, Flash, Java, DVD playback support and other common proprietary additions as standard for a smoother experience.
It also increasingly diverges from Ubuntu's choice of components, for instance retaining the Pidgin chat client that Ubuntu replaced with Empathy as of 9.10. Interestingly, the latest Ubuntu has movied to Mint's preferred Mozilla Thunderbird as its email client, rather than the Outlook-like Evolution.
But of course, Mint too faces moving on from GNOME 2. Mint 13, which should be out this November, will be based on a customised version of GNOME 3.2, but not Fallback Mode. As its maintainer, Clem Lefebvre, says:
"Gnome Fallback Mode is basically an adaptation of gnome-panel, which looks like Gnome 2 but is based on GTK3 and is incompatible with Bonobo and panel applets.
"So the first thing to consider is this: Panel applets need a rewrite to work in Gnome Fallback Mode. MintMenu, for instance, works in Gnome 2, but it doesn’t work in Gnome Fallback or in Gnome Shell. We can make it work in Gnome Fallback and we can make it work in Gnome Shell, but we then need a rewrite.
"The second thing to consider is that Gnome Fallback isn’t here to stay. The Gnome devs don’t want it there and people who like Gnome 2 don’t like it anyway. Eventually you’ll see Gnome Shell gain compatibility with less powerful graphics card and Shell will be the only way to run Gnome 3. It’s not a bad thing, since Gnome Fallback Mode, from a usability point of view, really isn’t an interesting desktop. So going forward, we’ve got Gnome3/GTK3 being actively developed and improved, we’ve got Gnome2/GTK still there for us to use but not gaining new features, and we’ve got something called Gnome Fallback Mode which is just that, a 2D fallback mode, and which is going to disappear."
The issues facing Mint are a microcosm of those facing Ubuntu in general. Even if it wasn't Ubuntu's fault that GNOME 2 is dead and gone, it was Ubuntu's problem – and that of every other GNOME-based distro. Everyone else seems to be just going with GNOME 3 and hoping that, like KDE 4 did, it overcomes its initial teething troubles.
The future for Ubuntu has never looked less certain. Although the simple, colourful Unity desktop appeals to novice Linux users, it's alienating existing users. Although Shuttleworth himself says that the Unity shell is perfectly suitable for power users, many are unhappy at having to relearn a new desktop when they were happy with the old one. Even if they desert to remixes such Xubuntu, these depend for their existence on their upstream distribution – Ubuntu itself. Less-technical users might find Mint inviting, while the more adept could go to Debian, which offers a wealth of alternative desktops. Indeed, Mint itself has a still-experimental version based directly off Debian, which bears the warning: "Debian is a less user-friendly/desktop-ready base than Ubuntu. Expect some rough edges."
Ubuntu is gambling that Unity will attract floods of new Linux users in such numbers as to outweigh those abandoning it for its spin-offs and rivals. If it's correct, then Ubuntu will continue its rise to near-total dominance of the Linux desktop. But if it's wrong, it will leave the Linux world more fragmented than ever. ®
Why the fuss?
It amazes me how many people don't get it.
It's not because Gnome 3 exists. If they'd taken the Gnome 2 code-base, forked it, announced that Gnome 2 needed a new maintainer because they wouldn't be working on it any longer, then the world would be a happy place. The maintainer would have been found. Some of us would stick to Gnome 2. Others would enthusiastically embrace Gnome 3. System managers could install both on multi-user systems, and let their users decide when they log in.
This is the strength of open-source. Diversity, choice, and no-one forcing us to use new software that we don't like.
The Gnome people broke the "rules". They developed Gnome 3 in such a way that you couldn't choose. They pretended it was an upgrade, when it was a brand new interface with little if anything in common with its predecessor. They did to us for the sake of ego-building, what Microsoft did to us for the sake of making more money for Microsoft. And frankly, compared to the gulf between Gnome 2 UI and Gnome 3 UI, the jump from XP to Win 7 is across a mere crevice.
That's why the fuss. If the open-soure community had any laws, Gnome would have broken a lot of them. Thank heaven that XFCE exists. It feels like a step backwards, but only a step. And now it's attracted a whole lot of new users including Linus, it might even get improved.
Foot shooting for beginners
Mage is correct, unlike previous posts of the form "Unity, live with it".
One of the unspoken goals for Ubuntu was to create a credible alternative to Windows. I run Ubuntu since I had one too many crashes that wiped a complete disk partition under XP. I move the wife to Ubuntu since Vista was just too damn unstable. She is not a fan, but in her mind it is less hassle than Vista was (or "my first computer" as she liked to call it).
If you're a geek, then Unity or Gmome 3 is great. A whole new raft of desk top tools to play with. Personally, I hated Unity and went back to Ubunto 10:04. Some of the device management packages just did not work under 11:04 and Eclipse was a real nightmare.
What would this do in a business? Well, cause chaos. Why have most companies stuck with Win XP? The main reason is the cost of upgrade in terms of retraining. Changing 300 desktops over a weekend and having 300 users complain on Monday is not good for business. Some of the places I know are still on XP. Windows 7 is possible late 2012. They stay on an old OS because they are in business to make money, not to play with some muppet's idea of a new paradigm for a desktop.
Canonical have gone the same way. Unity is too big a change. And with no fall back alternative for Gnome 2 users, who would want to put this in instead of XP or Windows 7? There is a backlash against Unity - its not good on large screens. So will Canonical change again? Many hope so, but its far from a pleasant thought. So business will stay away. IMHO what Canonical should have done is let you choose whether you run the new, super, flash Unity, or the old boring but familiar Gnome 2, or for the uber-geek, you can have Gnome 3. Their problem is that they have forced a change on to their user base, and that has broken the trust.
Some people (eg, my wife) just want to run a computer, do their work, browse the web and send emails. They do not want to have to learn something new. These people simply won't upgrade until something makes them. Like having a new PC. And then, if they have to learn something new, why not go to Windows 7?
I have moved to Ubuntu 11:10, but with Cairo-Dock, not Unity. This means that I am in control of how my desktop works. The family hate it, because they can;t find anything (this is a "good" thing!)
I do agree with the first poster - let the desktop wars begin.
Some errata and thoughts
You failed to mention Fuduntu and Fusion Linux. Both are Fedora 14 remixes. Fusion is unahsamedly pro-Gnome 2.3 and the chief developer talks of wanting to find a way to use one of the Gnome 2.3 forks in order to keep the familiar 2.3 UI.
The situation with KDE is not really like the current one with Gnome.
KDE 4 was a departure. It took some of the configurability away, but kept to the basic Taskbar, right click, etc, accepted UI standards. That's that main argument with Gnome 3/Unity - they have thrown most of the UI standards out of the window - a monumental act of hubris.
If Shuttleworth thinks Ubuntu is going to attract hordes of new users he is mistaken. The point of UI standards is that they held true across OS's. Pretty much everything was in the same place whether you used Windows, OSX or Linux and anyone with half a brain could find their way around. This has now been abandoned. Many people disliked OSX because of the contextual top bar on the screen (easy to use once you'd got the hang of it), but, regarded as unnecessarily tricky by new users. So how will these same people cope with Unity/Gnome 3 that has done away with so many more of those standards?
It's alarming, to say the least, to see how Linux is diverging. Each distro suddenly seems to be going off in its own direction. This is not going to be good for Linux, because the end result will be several distributions, each incompatible with the other, each with its own set of tricksy methodologies and idiosynchrosies and the only winner will be Microsoft. One wonders how much MS have to do with this sudden divergence and enthusiasm for abanoning good design and anoying thousands of customers, many of whom have proved loyal over the years.
In the end, arrogance and stubbornness might just be the undoing of Linux.
And the winner will be Microsoft and everyone else will be the losers.