It's almost time. Soon a new paradigm of GNOME is going to drop onto the desktops of suspecting (and unsuspecting) users. When this does there is going to be reaction. As with any major change to the computer industry, users are going to have both negative and positive reactions. Some will go so far as to switch distributions to avoid this change. Some users, on the other hand, will seek solace elsewhere. What exactly does that mean to the landscape of Linux? Let's don our speculation caps and take a look.
It has been brought to my attention, by one of the GNOME contributers, that Ubuntu 11.04 will now offer a classic GNOME option in the log in menu. This will not be the default option, but it will allow new users to select the traditional GNOME desktop. Hopefully this will be enough for users who do not appreciate the changes Unity brings.
Probably the biggest knee-jerk reaction will be users migrating to other distributions. Ubuntu Linux is probably going to see the largest amount of users jumping ship. Why? Ubuntu Unity. Although users will be able to install an alternative desktop, many users who choose Ubuntu aren't at that level of ability. Remember, Ubuntu is the Linux of choice for most new users. And when a new user is greeted with the completely different (and less effective) desktop of Unity, they will abandon the distribution in favor of, say, Kubuntu, Linux Mint or PCLinuxOS. My guess is another option will make itself available soon after the initial release of 11.04. Someone is going to create a spin of Ubuntu with the traditional GNOME desktop.
This will, however, be prime time for other distributions to sway new users. I fully plan on offering up more Linux content geared toward those distributions as this happens.
There is one particular desktop that will probably see more gain as a result of the migration to the new GNOME 3 and Unity desktops. That desktop is KDE. Remember, KDE went through it's major evolution quite some time ago and has now settled into a very stable, reliable desktop that is as polished as anything GNOME has ever released. KDE will gain serious ground with the new GNOME.
Other desktops that stand to gain new users are Xfce and Enlightenment. Although Enlightenment does vary quite a bit from the standard desktop, it can be configured to look and behave in similar fashion. Xfce enjoys the same ability. Both heavily rely on panels and menus similar to the traditional desktop. Both are also very light weight and are deeply rooted in Linux' past.
I don't want to come across as being against the new desktop metaphors. I embrace change. I think GNOME 3 has a lot of potential to be something the desktop has yet to be. And when touchscreens are the standard, a new desktop aligned with the changes GNOME is bringing to the table, will be a must. Remember when KDE 4.0 first hit the desktop it was a disaster. The main reason for that was KDE 4.0 was an entire rewrite of the code base. When it was first released it was nothing but a bug hunt in the making. GNOME 3 will not suffer this same fate. The jury is still out on how Unity will fare upon first release, but it will not be on par with GNOME 3.
Ultimately the immediate reaction will be for new users to jump ship. But I would ask that new to Linux users give these desktops a chance before they do. And, after a trial period, you do not like what you see, install a new desktop on your system and try that out. That's the beauty of Linux - there are so many options available to you. If you don't like Unity, try GNOME 3. If you don't like GNOME 3, try KDE 4.6. If you don't like KDE 4.6, try Enlightenment. Eventually you will find that desktop that really speaks to you.
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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.