In a bombshell blog post today (via OMG Ubuntu), Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, the maker of Ubuntu, announced the company will stop investing in its “Unity” user interface for Linux and instead move back to GNOME as a default for the next major version of Ubuntu. This also ends work on Ubuntu phones, which has been a major focus for the company in recent years.
“The choice, ultimately, is to invest in the areas which are contributing to the growth of the company,” Shuttleworth writes.
Canonical’s Ubuntu is one of the many shining success stories of the grand Linux experiment. It’s nearly ubiquitous in the server world, it’s available in Windows of all places, and it’s a very polished and user-friendly desktop operating system in its own right. But Canonical’s attempts over the past few years to branch out into phones and tablets have been a near total failure.
Instead of building another iOS or Android, Canonical’s “convergence” project, which attempted to build a server, desktop, phone, and tablet OS all from the same Ubuntu core, was reminiscent of Microsoft’s Windows 8 missteps. Unity was never good enough or familiar enough to compete with iOS or Android for mainstream users; Ubuntu’s core users — Linux enthusiasts — chafed at the touchscreen-ification of the desktop; and the general Linux community complained about Canonical’s go-it-alone style, which favored reinventing the wheel over working on more broadly accepted open-source projects solving the same problems.
Also, the latest version of Unity, Unity 8, has been delayed for a couple years now as Canonical worked to reinvent another part of the Linux ecosystem with its own display server, Mir. Fedora recently shipped with GNOME running on top of the Mir competitor Wayland, which was a major win for the decade-long attempt by the Linux community move past the ancient X Window System most Linux desktops rely on.