Unity? (was: What's your favorite distro, and why?)

Olli Ries olli at olli-ries.com
Sat Dec 7 07:30:31 MST 2013

On Sat, Dec 7, 2013 at 1:18 AM, Dan Egli <ddavidegli at gmail.com> wrote:

> On December 5, 2013, Michael Torrie wrote:

> > Mint seems to be gaining in popularity because 1) it doesn't have Unity
> > and 2) it gives other desktop environments like LXDE and XFCE and Mate
> > more first-class attention (KDE used to be supported but that's now
> > forked off into its own distro, SolidXK.
> Okay. I guess that shows how long I've been out of the game, but What is
> Unity? From what I can gather it seems to be a display environment/window
> manager ala KDE/Gnome/XFCE/etc... but if is, why is it so hated? What was
> it intended to do that it's apparently not doing?

Unity is a Desktop Shell which was designed to work on desktop, phones,
tablets and other computing devices through different modes that adapt to
the environment Unity is running in. This will become especially important
when we will be able to use our overpowered smartphones as desktop/laptop
replacement by hooking it into a display and attaching a BT keyboard, aka
"device convergence"
The intended benefit is that the User Experience is the same across all the
formfactors by retaining all the key UI elements (launcher, dash, switcher,
etc). Nobody out there has done this well (e.g. MacOS vs iOS, Android vs
ChromeOS) and Ubuntu is trying to do a good job there. The input for all
that is extensive user research where design concepts are put in front of
users and are then iterated based on their feedback. A lot of the design
features first seen on Unity are creeping into other OSes, e.g. MacOS'
renewed notifications or Google Hangouts triangle indicators for active

In addition, Unity features "scopes" which provide an extension mechanism
for additional local or remote data source, think of a plugin that gets a
query string and spits out json which is then rendered in the "dash", an
overlay menu for quick access to local and remote data. The most
controversial "data provider" is the so called "Amazon lens", where Unity
tries to give you proposals to a search string that seem relevant. This is
mostly intended for media content, e.g. search for "metallica" and get your
local music and the new album from Amazon, which can be purchased via
Ubuntu One or Amazon. Either case will generate affiliate revenue that will
help sponsor Ubuntu. The criticized concerns around security have been
addressed and using affiliate revenue to sponsor a project is quite common
amongst Linux distributions (think of default search engines in the default
browser of any OS).

Unity will ship in version 7.x in 14.04. That version is based on a toolkit
Nux that Canonical has sponsored/developed. Going forward (Ubuntu Touch
13.10 and ongoing, Ubuntu 14.10 and ongoing) Unity will ship in version 8,
a rewrite and rearchitecture to address earlier concerns (speed, resource
consumption, design/usability) which is based on Qt/QML, Ubuntu's toolkit
of choice.


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