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Gubuntu 12.04: Ubuntu Gnome Shell Remix Review

I have been a Gnome user from the very first day I started using GNU/Linux. Whether it was Fedora, Debian or then Ubuntu what I was interacting with was Gnome. The underneath OS was irrelevant to a great extent  depending on who the user was. The reason I liked Gnome was its ease of use and simplicity. Gnome on top of Ubuntu was a perfect combo as Ubuntu also strives to keep things simple for an average user. I would say that I was actually a Gnome user and not an Ubuntu user.

Why Gnome 3 Shell Sucks!
Everything changed with Ubuntu 11.04 when Unity ‘replaced’ the upcoming Gnome 3 Shell. It was a new interface developed by Canonical. There was no way for me to use the Gnome 3 Shell under Ubuntu 11.04. Only option that I had was to either get used to Unity or look elsewhere. Millions of other Gnome users like me faced the same situation. Those who started looking elsewhere may have tried Fedora or openSUSE, but those are different beasts and needed a bit of learning curve to tame them. So, when an Ubuntu user tried Fedora and did not find Software Center or PPAs or easy installation of codecs his experience was bruised. Before he could enjoy Gnome 3 Shell he had to go through the challenges a non-familiar OS poses so to him Gnome 3 Shell experience was bad. Based on this experience he would say “Gnome 3 Shell sucks“.

On the other hand Unity enjoyed the same ease of use of Ubuntu which was based on Gnome’s latest technologies. Even if they did not like Unity that much, it ‘worked’ better than Gnome 3 Shell because they were using it with the distro they were used to. Put Unity on Fedora and give it to them and the same users who love Unity would say “Unity Sucks’. Gradually Gnome users adopted and started to like Unity.

At the same time Linux Mint decided not to go the Unity route and created their own Shell on top of Gnome 3 to offer a Gnome 2 like interface. Their goal was to help millions of those users who did not want to learn new tricks only to do the same things. The rise of Linux Mint is an evidence of how powerful and efficient Gnome 3 Shell could be.

Ubuntu Gnome Shell Remix

Where Is Gnome 3 Shell Based Ubuntu?
Since Ubuntu is going in its own direction by picking the technologies that suites its goal, it is to a great extent no more a pure Gnome distribution. That raises the question ‘what is there for a long time Gnome/Ubuntu user?’ How can he get the pure Gnome experience enhanced by the ease of use and simplicity of Debian further polished by Ubuntu?

Many Ubuntu users would suggest you can easily install Gnome 3 Shell on top of Unity. That defies the whole purpose of Linux (the lean and mean OS) as:
1) You end up with a ‘bloated’ system with packages and dependencies you don’t need.
2) Gnome (Ubuntu) user like ease of use so don’t expect them to add PPAs and then install a dozen of packages and then to select their shell from the login screen. It should work out of the box.

I have been advocating Ubuntu since 2005 and have installed it on PCs of dozens of users. I offer ‘free’ support to them and am aware of their computer knowledge. Forcing them to do all that just to use Gnome 3 Shell will reinforce the view that Linux is difficult to use. What we need is a pure Gnome based Ubuntu distribution which brings the best of both worlds. Something users can download and install.

Ubuntu Gnome Shell Remix
I came across a project called Ubuntu Gnome Shell Remix, created by Jan Hoffmann. This project offers a pure Gnome 3 Shell experience on top of Ubuntu without Unity or other unnecessary packages. So, you get the best of both worlds — the ease of use, stability and applications from Ubuntu and simple, yet customizable, Gnome 3 Shell experience.

You can download the iso files of 32bit and 64bit UGSR from sourceforge. The file is around ~800MB so you won’t be able to burn it on a CD. You can either burn it on a DVD or create a Live USB and boot from it. The boot time was impressive, while Ubuntu booted in 25 seconds, UGSR booted in 46 seconds, neck to neck with Kubuntu where as openSUSE 12.1 booted in 1 minute. It must be noted that openSUSE is still using the old Linux kernel and not the new one which brings impressive performance boost so I will compare boot time of openSUSE with Ubuntu once openSUSE 12.2 is out.

The installation of UGSR was similar to typical *buntu installation so you won’t feel any difference. Once installed you will be greeted by the familiar Gnome 3 Shell interface.

Ubuntu Gnome Shell Remix

Ubuntu Meets Gnome 3 Shell  
With Ubuntu Gnome Shell Remix you benefit from the huge Debian/Ubuntu repositories and get access to a wide range of applications and packages. You enjoy the technologies developed by Ubuntu such as Ubuntu Software Center and Ubuntu One. In addition you also benefit from the great work done the huge Gnome community as you can customize your desktop by using Gnome Extensions which allow you to tame this beast the way you want.

Ubuntu Gnome Shell Remix

Applications. Applications. Applications
UGSR comes with Evolution mail client, Rhythmbox, LibreOffice, Firefox and many other applications default in Ubuntu. In order to installed applications of my choice the first thing I did was to install Synaptic packages manager. I don’t find Ubuntu Software Center useful as at times it doesn’t install needed packages and I found it to be slower than apt-get or Synaptic. Try installing iBus from USC and it won’t even install the m17 engine needed for Hindi launguage.

I went ahead and installed Thunderbird, VLC, GIMP and some other packages using Synaptic Package Manager. I then headed to the extensions.gnome.org and installed some of my favourite extensions, including the one to move clock, add shutdown option to the user menu and much more. My system was configured and customized the way I wanted it to be within 10 minutes. It was much more customized that Unity.

Ubuntu Gnome Shell Remix

Awesome Hardware Support  
When I connected my new Galaxy Nexus phone Gnome’s Nautilus detected and mounted it for me and I was able to transfer data to and from my Android device. It also detected and mounted my Nikon D7000 camera. Detecting and connecting my HP printer/scanner was a breeze.

Many time ill-informed users attribute the out-of-the-box hardware support to a specific distro which is incorrect. When you plug in your printer, scanner or web camera and it is detected by your Ubuntu, it is due to the hard work done by the Linux kernel developers, most notably Greg KH, who travel around the globe meeting and convincing hardware vendors to support Linux. So, it’s not Ubuntu that works with your webcam, its Linux, the kernel, which makes that possible. So next time when you plug in your printer and it just works thank Greg KH and Linux developers.

Ubuntu Gnome Shell Remix

Areas Of Improvements
Ubuntu Gnome Shell Remix is a great attempt but there are some areas or improvement. I wonder why Jan left out Gnome Tweak Tool which is very important for customizing Gnome. I think UGSR should come with Gnome Tweak Tool pre-installed along with some useful extensions, such as ‘Shut Down’ option in the user-menu to enhance the user experience and leave less for them to do.

Do We Need Gubuntu or Ubuntu Gnome Shell Remix?  
We are discussing the need of Gubuntu or Gnome based Ubuntu on our Google Plus page (we invite you to join the discussion). So the question is ‘do we need Gubuntu?’ I think we do. It’s extremely easy to install KDE, Lxde or Xfce on Ubuntu but then you end up with a bloated system with packages and libraries you don’t need. That’s why we have Kubuntu, Xubuntu, etc. These flavours offer Ubuntu users with the pure experience they want from their favourite desktop environments. Gubuntu will do exactly what a Gnome user would want. It will offer a pure Gnome 3 Shell experience and nothing else.

Jan Hoffmann, the developer of UGSR says, “The remix is closer to a pure Gnome experience. You don’t get some Ubuntu modifications that don’t fit in, such as the overlay scrollbars. And of course it is more convenient if you can just install the system and it is immediately ready.”

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Ubuntu Gnome Shell Remix is Jan’s attempt at offering Gnome 3 Shell experience with Ubuntu. He has done a great job. Now, the question I have for you is do we need UGSR to evolve into a full blown GnomeOS or Gubuntu? Will you use it? If you are a developer will you help maintain and enhance the project? What should be the name of the Gnome Shell based Ubuntu?

Swapnil Bhartiya

A free software fund-a-mental-ist and Charles Bukowski fan, Swapnil also writes fiction and tries to find cracks in the paper armours of proprietary companies. Swapnil has been covering Linux and Free Software/Open Source since 2005.

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