Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth recently announced that Ubuntu will be ceasing development of the Unity 8 desktop environment and dropping its Ubuntu touch development for phones and tablets.

So what’s next for the popular Ubuntu Linux operating system?

A few years ago the developers made a bet that the next big thing was mobile. They were largely right, but Ubuntu hasn’t had much of an impact in that space. So now Canonical is focusing on a different next big thing: cloud services and Internet of Things products.

But millions of people still run Ubuntu on desktop computers, and Shuttleworth is starting to describe what the company’s shift in focus will mean for those users.

Shuttleworth made some comments in a long thread on Google+ that make a few things clear:

  • While the mobile team is disbanding and Canonical is focusing on more profitable spaces including servers and devices, the company will continue to focus on “delivering a high quality desktop for everybody to use.”
  • Canonical will be investing in Ubuntu GNOME, which is currently available as a “flavor” of Ubuntu, much like Lubunxu, Xubuntu, or Kubuntu. But starting with Ubuntu 18.04 LTS, it’s likely that Ubuntu GNOME will be the default version of the operating system.
  • While Unity 8 is going away, Canonical may develop a theme that helps GNOME look more like the discontinued desktop environment.
  • The new “snap” package system will continue to be available in future versions of Ubuntu, as well as for other GNU/Linux distributions including Fedora, Debian, and openSUSE.
  • While the default desktop environment is changing to GNOME, Unity 7 packages will still be available in the archive for people who want to use them. And Unity 8 might not be entirely dead either… as third-party developers consider forking it (although there’s talk about moving from Mir to Wayland).

Meanwhile, Canonical is reportedly laying off some staffers that had been working on Unity, and there may be a leadership shakeup in the works.



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19 replies on “What’s next for Ubuntu Linux?”

  1. The unified desktop/mobile environment didn’t work for Microsoft either.

  2. I use Ubuntu Budgie. Seems like a nice look and feel and all the support of Ubuntu. I’m not really a Gnome 3 fan. I prefer MATE or even Cinnamon over GNOME 3. That said, they aren’t really trying to enhance UI on MATE or Cinnamon. Gnome 3 looks dated too. Elementary, Deepin, and Solus OS have the best UI in my opinion. The Manjaro Deepin spin is quite nice.

  3. I know Distrowatch isn’t the best measuring stick of a distro’s popularity, but before Unity Ubuntu was at the top of the list (by a large margin) at Distrowatch. Shortly after Unity made its debut Ubuntu started dropping in popularity. Now Linux Mint is at the top of the list. With Ubuntu changing to Gnome, I wonder if Linux Mint will have a challenger for the top spot.

  4. Never really cared much for Unity, and TBH I haven’t even given Unity 8 a chance. The first iteration put me off so much I started using Ubuntu GNOME and I never looked back. Having said that, I don’t like the fact that users will have one less choice for DE.
    On the other hand, Mir and Ubuntu Phone were failures just waiting to happen.

  5. I’ve been using Ubuntu for many years and don’t really care what desktop GUI runs. Unity worked fine with me, as has Gnome and KDE. I use windows at work and have an apple air notebook for travel and mobility. Who cares what it is, as long as it is user friendly and looks OK. My biggest concern is that Education is still dominated by commercial closed operating platforms where it should be open. Ubuntu hasn’t been able to gain any momentum in Education despite having the moral imperative.

  6. Seems like someone down at Canonical has poor judgement and zero leadership skills. It’s the investing time and effort into something that the world obviously wants and uses then to avoid looking incompetent by failing they just slam on the breaks and cancel the project. Bad Leaders make Bad Organizations.

  7. Yes, a lot of people use Linux but they use distros that do not have the unity desktop. For quite a while people have shunned Ubuntu with unity in favor of Linux Mint KDE Ubuntu, Zorin and Ubuntu Mate. I use Ubuntu Mate because it is similar to Gnome II. Thank God unity is done.

  8. Linux distros could’ve ruled the mobile scene, but they missed the boat by a long margin.
    Android isn’t really Linux, just to make that clear.

    Most of the problems with Linux is that there’s too many developers, working and developing on things that are gimmicky, complex, or don’t solve immediate issues. Also having two thousand developers do 20 hours of coding in a year is not the equivalent of say 100 full-time developers working to get a specified project completed. And when there is an issue worked on, there’s a duplication of effort as everyone wants to put THEIR version of the solution. Too many chefs spoil the broth.

    While I love the choices and customisability, people (developers) need to put aside their ego and admit where the short-comings are. The biggest blow to Linux happened in 2008 with the failure of MeeGo… but if for those short 2 years… we had the likes of Debian, RedHat, Canonical, and SUSE come together and make a unified platform…. then it really would’ve been a 3-4 horse race in the industry:
    – iOS, Android, WindowsPhone, “MeeGo”.

    And the funny thing is that Linux distros are powerful. A mobile-based Linux system could’ve easily scaled from Watches->Phones->Tablets->Car consoles->TV Consoles->PC’s. But major Linux company doubted the future of high-resolution displays with touchscreens, until it was too late.

    Why the foresight/hindsight?
    – iOS was lacking immensely in software capabilities even during the 4.3 version in March 2011.
    – Android was a tangled and fugly mess during the 2.3.4 version in April 2011.
    – Windows Phone missed the boat by half-a-decade, and 8.1.2 was far behind in October 2013.

    So there was a vacuum created by the industry, and a clear chance for something like MeeGo to take momentum. Apple’s great devices were too simplistic until it wasn’t. Google’s solutions were a Wild West until they standardised and chips fell into place. MS left a vacuum with their Windows 8 debacle, and basing Windows Phone 7 off Windows Mobile 6/CE. A lot of industry enthusiasts saw this coming, but the higher-ups at said companies didn’t, weren’t receptive to the warning/opportunity, and ultimate reacted with the reflexes of a sloth bound to lose a Tai Chi battle.

  9. Unity is the reason I opted for another distro. Happy to hear about Snap support continuing. Still… confused about the future of touch. While I thought mobile was a long way off, I really hoped to see Ubuntu (or other) performing well enough on 2-in-1s. Too many people group small devices (phones) and large devices (tablets) into the same category but they are completely different animals.

    The m10 tablet was really just a large phone with all the experimental phone features built-in, including convergence. 2-in-1s are a very exciting category and I hope Canonical clears up a few things regarding this.

  10. I am a big Ubuntu fan, I hope all goes well for the company after the changes. Unity was fine for me, and I am just now trying their Gnome DE, it seems great too, desktop linux has a future I think in certain corporate environments, and will always be a niche for techie home users.

  11. My company has been trying to get IT supported Linux desktop and notebooks rolled out. They chose Ubuntu LTS as the distro to support. I think Unity is a nice DE for desktops/notebooks. GNOME, KDE and other DEs just look too cartoony. Some of them tried copying Windows 10’s simplified design but still comes off as a UI for a kid’s toy.

    With that said, I use Xfce (Xubuntu) on some of my computers but it definitely falls under the toony look. I also don’t run it on any HiDPI displays.

    1. Dandy for you.

      I feel the exact opposite. That’s why alternatives exist.

    2. Redhat makes a very good profit supporting both gnome and kde. They have been doing that for many years. Completely professional. If Shuttlewoth could go back in time, Ubuntu should have targeted the education market instead of giving it to Chrome and Google. I run Ubuntu on my Chromebox and it is a superior experience.

    3. The only linux os that looks professionally competent next to OSX/Windows is Elementary which is an Ubuntu fork and unlike most other linux projects they care a lot about the UI.

      Really the best thing Ubuntu could do is put the Elementary guys in charge and have it replace Ubuntu.

      Almost everything else in linux land is stuck in a time warp with UI’s from a decade or more ago or just plain old ugly UI’s to begin with as they don’t get it (linux mint has a stock 3DCG wallpaper right out of the 90’s). Of course there in lies the problem as you have linux nerds go that’s fine we like choice except no-one else does and it wont appeal beyond those groups.

      Looks matter for an OS.

        1. Update: the language on elementary’s blog post has been updated; most notably, the ‘cheating’ part is gone. They’ve also pointed out that the change in their download flow will be part of their new website — it’s not active yet. Ultimately, the whole situation underscores just how dicey things can get when you try to solicit funding for an open source project.

    4. I find KDE Plasma 5 to look WAAAAY more professional than Unity. To each their own.

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