Ubuntu 18.04: Unity is gone, GNOME is back—and Ubuntu has never been better

In Category Linux News Posted by err0r On 01/17/19 Comments 0
Canonical recently released Ubuntu 18.04, the company's latest iteration of its popular Linux distribution, nicknamed Bionic Beaver. Ubuntu 18.04 is a Long Term Support (LTS) release and will receive updates and support from Canonical until April 2023. But more notably...

Unity is gone. GNOME is back. And Ubuntu has never been better.

The demise of the company's Unity desktop, which Canonical abandoned to focus on its work for server and IoT systems, comes nearly seven years after it first replaced GNOME 2. While the Unity user interface was very much a love it or hate it experience, it was (for better or worse) the thing that defined Ubuntu for nearly the past decade. You might think the end of Unity would leave Ubuntu rudderless and drifting, but I'd argue it has done just the opposite.

Bionic Beaver marks the first time LTS release users get a look at Ubuntu's new GNOME-based desktop. And for the first time in quite a while, Ubuntu feels like a distro that is firing on all cylinders, turning out what might be its strongest release ever, in an LTS package no less. Not only is 18.04 well worth the upgrade—especially for those coming all the way from the last LTS release (16.04)—it's worth checking out even if you use a completely different distro.

If you've been using last autumn's 17.10 release, you're already familiar with the new, slightly customized version of GNOME arriving to replace Ubuntu's Unity desktop. That said, 17.10 was very much a test release, one that had some serious hiccups thanks to an installer bug that wiped out some hardware. With 18.04, the testing is over and polish has been applied (and in some cases things have reverted back to even stabler options). In my several months of testing throughout the beta release cycle, 18.04 has performed rock solid.

While much of the work for this release has gone into the transition from Unity to GNOME and making sure that's a smooth experience for desktop users, that's far from the only story here. In fact, that effort isn't even the most interesting part of what's new in 18.04. Much of what's great in this release isn't aimed at the desktop. Rather, server users deploying Ubuntu on any one of the major cloud platforms will really enjoy this latest iteration.

That reality might be a little disconcerting to desktop users, many of whom are already convinced Ubuntu is going to abandon the desktop in favor of the more profitable worlds of server and IoT, but I don't think that's the case. If nothing else, Canonical knows developers need a solid desktop on which to do their work, so Ubuntu is unlikely to get rid of its desktop just because it's less profitable. While it's purely anecdotal, most developers I've met and worked with who used Ubuntu did so because they got used to it on a server first. That's why it makes sense of Canonical to focus on servers: not only is it where the money is, it's where a good portion of its desktop users is coming from.

Even if the desktop became a purely communally driven project with very little input from Canonical—which, again, I don't see happening, but hypothetically—I think it's in a better position to survive, even thrive, with its new GNOME interface than with Unity. GNOME certainly isn't going anywhere, and while Canonical has already started contributing upstream, the bulk of the work being done is well outside Canonical's influence. By comparison, Unity was solely the work of Canonical developers.

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