What will the new GNOME desktops mean for other Linux desktops?

Jack Wallen
Mar 11, 2011
Updated • Dec 2, 2012

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.

Growing pains

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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  1. jura said on January 3, 2012 at 11:27 am

    LXDE gains far more attention than the Enlightement desktop as far as alternatives are concerned.

  2. Kev said on April 30, 2011 at 2:38 am

    Out of the box Gnome on Ubuntu 11.04 sucks. Pity, I was just getting used to it.

  3. rijnsma said on April 15, 2011 at 12:36 am

    woohoo sayd:
    March 11, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    i am using Ubuntu 10.04 LTS (Lucid Lynx) on all my machines desktop/laptop at home, but after this LTS release is up (in 04/2012) I will switch to a RHEL derivative (CentOS or Scientific Linux) because I am sick of so many changes and updates which are not necessary (like Unity).
    My idea.
    After about 7 years of Linux (PCLOS, Mint, LMDE Mint, Ubuntu and many others) in multibootconfigs I’m becoming a little to terms with Linux on ext3, ext4 with Grub 1 en after that now Grub 2 (don’t use it, but Grub 1 PCLOS MBR for all distro’s), livecd’s, usb’s etc etc. Upgrades in the Linux world are much too fast and do too much or in other periods too little. This is a lot of overload. Debian has the right pace for me. And please not too much change, I have to work with my computer. It’s not only a hobby… And by the way: don’t do with Gnome what we dit experience with KDE. It was hell.

  4. Siegfried said on March 31, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    Well, I’m pretty much against Gnome3 and the new Gnome Shell because I read the PDF release description by the developers of Gnome. It’s really a bunch of nonsense when compared to the existing Gnome which is, in my opinion, as perfect of a shell that one could hope for … for power users, users who want eye candy, computer newbies, and those who want to switch from Windows or Mac to Linux/Ubuntu instead. Gnome3 will not make things easier on people, especially not new computer users.

    Unity on the other hand, will be a very welcome change in conjunction with the possibility to run either Gnome or Unity. I think Unitiy will be the perfect desktop to start out with, for new users, seniors, handicapped people, and so on … people who can later jump into the Gnome desktop if they feel like tinkering and customizing a bit more … without right away switching to another Linux distribution altogether.

    So from my point of view, Ubuntu for all platforms with Unity and Gnome together spells … perfection! Perhaps finally that needed doorway to get the World to take much more (deserved) notice of Ubuntu will be opened much wider, while helping to drop those virus, spam, and worm invested minefields that MS has been offering us all these years at unbelievably over inflated prices ….

  5. allan said on March 12, 2011 at 2:47 am

    @author: “The jury is still out on how Unity will fare upon first release, but it will not be on par with GNOME 3.”

    IT WILL NOT BE ON PAR WITH GNOME 3. How sure are you to pre-judge things? Has GNOME 3 already released a stable version? And I’ve been testing it for months, and I i think it is still far away, especially the icons in the dash. While I have never use Unity yet. I am not against to both Desktop shell, but I just want them to compete within GNOME while GNOME folks were thinking that Unity vs. GNOME 3. It should not be. Your bias is so obvious.

  6. woohoo said on March 11, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    i am using Ubuntu 10.04 LTS (Lucid Lynx) on all my machines desktop/laptop at home, but after this LTS release is up (in 04/2012) I will switch to a RHEL derivative (CentOS or Scientific Linux) because I am sick of so many changes and updates which are not necessary (like Unity).

  7. Mark said on March 11, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    I like Crunchbang and the openbox they work like a dream you don’t need all the other bloat that KDE and GNOME offer.
    A move towards Android kind of thing is not bad as well.

  8. Anon said on March 11, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Users swarming out to other distros just because of Unity? You sound like predicting the future there. I disagree though, people is lazy and changing distribution is not something you see from those users you talk of.
    I am not particularly interested in Unity as I am a KDE user (in default Ubuntu), but as far as I know, there is a supposedly easy way to switch to classic GNOME desktop. So…unfortunately, KDE and other distros won’t probably earn new users flocking to them because of Unity.
    Also, who knows, if human collectives are one thing, it is “unpredictable”. Many might find the “smartphone-like” interface better to work with.

  9. Zac said on March 11, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Unity in Ubuntu is darn good. Also it’s so easy to switch if you dislike. You are being overly negative with no vision typical of the stereotype old-school Linux user who dislike change. Unity will do more good for Ubuntu, not held back by the slow progress of gnome 3.

  10. Sashin said on March 11, 2011 at 10:27 am

    I’m pretty sure Unity will do a great deal more good for Ubuntu than bad… it’s much more intuitive and quick to use than the current desktop paradigm…

  11. Yosh said on March 11, 2011 at 8:05 am

    It will be interesting indeed. I think you left out one option, which is to keep your current version of Ubuntu. I have to admit, I am thinking of switching to Mint 11 when it comes out, but you know … that is just me being lazy. In some ways, however, I feel that if I don’t really try these two new desktops out, I am not really adding to the cause. Like you succinctly wrote, with Linux, you have a lot of options to find your fit.

  12. DanTe said on March 11, 2011 at 5:05 am

    What Linux desktop needs is an interface like Android (Linux mobile). Than there will be a big quaking shift in the computing world. Average users will actually be comfortable switching off Windows and turning on Linux than.

    1. Yosh said on March 11, 2011 at 8:08 am

      That would be interesting. I read an article that HP was considering adding WebOS to their PC’s and thought that would be interesting. But, as you mention, whether it is that or Android or something like it, that would be something. Right now it seems like the moves Gnome and Unity are making are somewhat just stretching the old paradigms – but, we will see.

  13. Ellipsis said on March 11, 2011 at 4:00 am

    Ubuntu 11.04 ships with the classic Gnome environment and it easy switch to it (even the default in many/most cases that don’t have third party 3D graphics drivers installed).

    Simply on the login screen choose the option: Classic desktop. There done no command prompt, no additional downloads… 2 clicks thats it. It isn’t too hard.

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