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Ask the Readers: Ubuntu UI Deathmatch – GNOME vs Unity

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Mark Shuttleworth recently announced that Unity will become the new default UI for Ubuntu’s desktop and netbook editions starting with 11.04. What we want to know this week is if you agree or disagree with the decision.


Original, unmodified photo from

Ubuntu’s 10.10 netbook edition already shipped with Unity as the default UI this past month while the desktop version retained GNOME. Both UIs are in a state of evolution…GNOME is working towards a 3.0 release while Unity is working on stability/usability issues. You may be asking yourself what the big deal is right now…why not just keep things as they are in 10.10 and continue development on both?

Part of the problem stems from differences in what Ubuntu and GNOME envision or want in future UI releases. One of the hot topics in contention is the inclusion of Global Menus, Ubuntu wants them and GNOME does not. Another area of disagreement is over the use of Mutter as a window manager. Ubuntu’s developers are dissatisfied with Mutter and the decision has been made to use Compiz for Unity development and better performance. Ubuntu also plans to place a high focus on improving multitouch support in conjunction with Unity.

Now if you happen to prefer GNOME you may be feeling rather unhappy at the moment. The good news is that the standard Gnome shell will continue to be available as a non-default installation option in Ubuntu. So you do have options available whichever UI you happen to prefer.

For better or worse there it is. What we want to know is which UI do you prefer. Do you think the decision to switch UI shells was good or bad? Perhaps you do not care for either one very much and would prefer something different. And maybe it does not matter just as long as Ubuntu works for you. Let us know what you think in the comments!

[polldaddy poll=”4028822″]

Akemi Iwaya is a devoted Mozilla Firefox user who enjoys working with multiple browsers and occasionally dabbling with Linux. She also loves reading fantasy and sci-fi stories as well as playing "old school" role-playing games. You can visit her on Twitter and .

  • Published 11/3/10

Comments (32)

  1. SuAlfons

    None of my computers or virtual machines were able to run the netbook UI. While the physical computers feature an older 6X00 Nvidia graphics, the virtual machines offer no 3D acceleration at all.

    None worked even after putting the non-free nvidia-drivers on :-(

  2. Asian Angel

    @SuAlfons – You are not the only one who could not get the Unity UI to work in virtual. :( No success here for me with it either…

    As far as one UI versus the other with regards to layout and style, I find that I do prefer GNOME over Unity. ^__^

  3. Jonneh

    Why not have a compromise?
    When I was using 10.04, I installed a package (can’t remember the name; something like ubuntu-netbook) that let me choose at the login screen whether or not I wanted to launch the Netbook UI or the standard Ubuntu Desktop.

    I think the Netbook UI at that time might have been based on Gnome, though, but it’s still something to think about if it can be done.

  4. Kyle

    I really liked the Unity interface on my eeepc. That said, I couldn’t use it. It needs tons of polish. The options for customization are just not there yet. It disapoints that Ubuntu is going with something so non-production ready. If they get those it there, it will be great for the small real estate a netbook screen has to offer. Until then, 10.04.

  5. trm96

    I don’t even like Unity on Ubuntu’s Netbook version so I defiantly don’t want it for the desktop version… I say give us an option during install.

  6. Tom

    Being new to Ubuntu, I have to say, “Anything but Gnome” – It just seems like sort-of half-baked, unfinished “orphanware” – A little Googling shows people griping about its inability to even remember window positions going back for a LONG time, and the developers acting unresponsive & unconcerned.

    Time to put it to rest, and try something new.

  7. Mistiq

    I don’t think this is a good time to ask this question, as far as I can tell neither one of these UI’s (Gnome Shell and Unity) are ready for primetime.

    From what I understand, Ubuntu 11.04 will be running a heavily modified version of Unity and that’s 6 months away from being released so I’d give it time. From everything I’ve heard about Unity (no personal experience) people can see potential, but it has a lot of rough edges (which makes that 6 month development time sound good) and with Gnome Shell, people say some nice things about it, but don’t really seem to care for it as much.

    As long as I have access to Compiz, I’ll make do with whatever they release.

  8. dom

    I have to agree with Tom. Logging in, I never know what Gnome will serve up. Panels vanish or duplicate themselves, icons break horribly and the rest is left with a loose, clunky feel. I can’t remember a time when it was ever any different. Ubuntu and linux in general will be better for this change. Roll on April.

  9. Dave

    I have never been able to try Unity for a few reasons, but making the switch to an unproven environment on desktop machines is a mistake.
    Right now, its a Netbook UI. I hear it works well, but its not a Desktop UI yet. And in 6 months every Ubuntu user who keeps up with current releases is being asked to Beta test it. Right now there is no way for the average user to try Unity out.
    Make it an option during install. This will allow it to be tested on a wide scale (more than a beta test) but only by the willing. Then, maybe by 11.10 it will be ready for default deployment.

  10. Danny

    I just hope that Linux Mint will not follow Ubuntu into this madness.

  11. Mohan

    I am looking forward to Unity as it is something, but as to how useful it is…I don’t know that yet.

  12. asdf-chan

    I bet it’s not going to run with a Radeon Mobility 7500 without config. I guess that will be the end of lightweight uis.

  13. Vern

    Its not Gnome vs Unity, but rather Gnome Shell vs Unity. Gnome is still there, but Ubuntu will be using Unity instead of that over bloated, Gnome Shell.

  14. john3347

    At least we will have a mainstream English language name with “Unity”. This is one big plus to English speaking users. I feel that the wierd (and totally non-descriptive) names that Linux distributions use to label everything is a negative to its adoption in many countries.

    Danny, I read that LinuxMint has already switched to Debian rather than Ubuntu base for its next version. I do not know what UI it will be using.

  15. Johnboy


    I agree with the give us the options part…I think we should be given the choice to pick from either at the install level and leave it at that…dont be like microsoft and give us the decision… ;)

  16. David

    i think there are a few others im agreeing with when i say that it should be an install option. suse ships with both kde and gnome. why cant ubuntu? if ubuntu is so much concerned with freedom then wouldnt it stand to reason that this decision be included.

    as for my beef with unity, i think it is trying to be too much like macintosh which i cant understand.

  17. Johnboy


    Exactly, what happened to being different and giving the user the choice…eh? lol

  18. Camilo Martin

    Unity is buggy, unstable, and beta-quality (or even alpha-quality). It has tons of problems. But if those problems are sorted out, I’d like it as an OPTION.

  19. herbie643

    well I have to say that I installed it on a Toshiba, almost 2yrs old, and it worked fine. HOWEVER, I use Gnome because of the rightclick on the Desktop. I have all my shortcuts defined there. I have keyboard shortcuts set up. In Unity, lost 80% of the shortcuts, no rightclick on Desktop. In Gnome you can bring up 2 Firefoxes, Unity, NOPE. Just makes the window move.
    I’ll stick with Gnome.
    BTW, I run LMDE all the time now, just tried Ubuntu to see if I would switch. Nope, not going to.

  20. Hopeless

    Neither one! I’ve never really liked GNOME but was prepared to embrace it as what was looking to be the new “standard.” Guess I’ll have to wait another decade or so for the geekdom to decide on that one. In the meantime, I bet Ubuntu looses it’s foothold as the dominant distro while they all decide stupid issues like this too.

    Frankly, what I’d like to know is if GNOME is so bad then what exactly is wrong with KDE? Then again, how about Xfce, LXDE, Ice, or one of those?!!!

    No wonder more mainstream users haven’t migrated away from Windows. Linux (and Ubuntu) can’t even provide descent video driver support for anything other than NVidia either. And now Ubuntu’s developers are talking about changing desktops?! (WTF?)

    And don’t get me started on any multimedia Linux editions either. I mean with their convoluted front end / back end configuration and totally geek-speak support for what seems to be the only TV tuner application MythTV! Windows Media Center has MythTV beaten by light years simply because WMCE is way easier to set up and use. (I said don’t get me started.) So you Ubuntu developers now want to muck it up with another “prettier” desktop?! GIVE ME A BREAK!

    Please! choose ONE DESKTOP and stick with it. Let other Debian-based distros add their flavors with other desktops. (OH! That’s right, Ubuntu is based on Debian! I wonder if Slackware users or “King Volkerding” have issues like this? I think I’ll go bang my head on the wall now…)

  21. bigpicture

    I had anticipated some day being able to replace Windows with Linux. That is when you can install Linux and it just works. That all pivots on the User Interface, the look and feel, functionality and the slickness with which it works. Instead of 50 different programs and UIs that essentially do the same thing, only one is needed if it is quality and featured. Instead of 50 different kinds of drivers only one that works properly is all that is required.

    Unfortunately so long as these UIs are being developed by the geek kingdom that will never happen and I don’t even consider Linux an option any more. Maybe Google is eventually going to come up with a OS/UI for the masses, but that will require an understanding of what the masses want and need. Currently the geek kingdom only develop for themselves and not the masses, and if Ubuntu wants to mass market they need to go their own way. They are starting to realize that now.

  22. Zack

    @David Ubuntu does give you the choice between desktop environments. If they didn’t, Kubuntu (KDE) and Xubuntu (XFCE) wouldn’t exist… Also, how is Ubuntu trying to be like Mac? The only thing Mac-like is the menu buttons being switched to the left. If you’re referring to a dock, that’s added on by all the users that like the Mac dock, not Ubuntu.

  23. Pete

    @Zack Actually, if you take a look at Unity it really does act like Mac OS X – File menu in the same panel as the notifications, window decorations on the left, dock… need I go on? However, I don’t believe this is a bad thing at all – Gnome’s UI was really getting stale and all the alternatives are in the same situation. I think Enlightenment could really do well if they got any serious developers behind it and really made it look and act professional, but sadly until that happens it doesn’t stand a chance. I think for Unity to take off, Canonical needs to (1) be really original and revolutionary – which they are very clearly going for. (2) they need to start really appealing towards getting more serious developers. Offer a more solid Software Center experience, make some open source API’s that add some great functionality, etc. And (3) put as much focus as possible on unifying the tablet, netbook, and desktop experiences. They could really benefit by getting developers in on this concept – excellent compatibility with tablets, desktops, and netbooks. Most of the time, a touch-based application can be carried over to a more traditional paradigm without losing any quality. This is where I think that Ubuntu’s usefulness resides – getting the best possible experience seamless across all of these different kinds of devices.

  24. Denis

    Unfortunately, the move to Unity was forced by the fact standard Gnome 2 with panels won’t be supported and will be replaced by the Gnome Shell which is even more unusable than Unity.

  25. Denis

    > excellent compatibility with tablets, desktops, and netbooks.
    You seem to like general words too much. Try to realize why didn’t Apple unify iOS and Mac OSX UI. That’s because it’s impossible: touchscreen on 30 inch display is too physically hard to use. Netbooks is another story. They proved to be a deadlock in device evolution: they both too inconvenient in work and entertaiment. The tablet + Macbook Air-like notebooks is much better solution.

  26. shad


  27. ringo

    i prefer how lighter much better, when you develop a desktop generali your desktop getting bigger and heavier… so, i use lubuntu, it act better then xubuntu in my opion. if unity comes i try it. two panels of gnome i dont lilke will seee ..

  28. Leed

    Tuned with Compiz and Emerald I really learnt to love the Gnome 2 UI.

    But seeing what Gnome 3 wants to bring, I may just as well try out Unity. The whole concepts seem familiar to me. Only that Unity seems to have some improvements in the Background, looks cleaner and wastes less space.

    As much as I’m going to miss gnome 2, I don’t want to hang around in an outdated Environment… so I guess I’ll give Unity a try.

  29. Leed


    I would like to see the day, where a Windows Installation comes out of the box, never causes trouble, is easy to repair and has the optimal settings pre-set.

    In some areas Linux installation can take some work… but in general, everything just works, everything is free, all updated get done at one place, no Virus stress, no need for stupid driver discs on new hardware. And most of all, if something brakes, it can be fixed, it doesn’t just stop working.

    As a user of both Systems, I clearly prefer the comfort of Linux.

  30. Zach

    Unity is kind of a mixed bag for me. On one hand, the UI is awesome. On the other, it’s even more bloated than KDE. I think I’ll stick with XFCE for now.

  31. Surge

    Unity is a spiffy lightweight, clean, easily usable environment with excellent design. Mostly.

    It is also essentially non-customizable, does not work well with previously available customizations (e.g. compiz, applets), breaks a lot of workflows (notifications, panel applets) and does not seem to be getting wide app support (many apps do not play nice with Unity). I have also managed to break Unity several times in the last week (but not as often as KDE the week before, by a long shot…), so stability is not quite here yet.

    And given what I read about gnome 3 so for, it appears to be a questionable path too. Mabbe I oughtta get a mac… At least there won’t be choices :)

  32. Steve

    Unity is a heap of hacked together pieces (of shit). Gnome Shell admittedly looked pretty awful early in development but it’s an order of magnitude better than that POS Unity now.

    I hope Unity fails miserably. I hope Canonical fail miserably.

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