So what’s the big deal? Why wouldn't I want a nice, new and shiny Unity desktop. What about Gnome 3? Why is Gnome 2 so great? I'll give you a little background...
My initial perception of Gnome
I started 'playing' with Linux in the late 90's as a teen. I never really got anywhere with it, but I remember things like installing MesaGL libs so that I could play Quake, though I could already play Quake just fine in Windows 95. Flash-forward to 2003.
I installed Fedora Core 1 on my machine which shipped with Gnome 2.x. I hated it, and always made sure to go out of my way to get KDE 3.2 and higher running (that is of course after manually editing my Xfree86.conf so that I could have a working desktop). These were the old days to me. I remember hunting on FreshRPMs.net and RPMfind for hours to satisfy dependencies just so I could run a single application.
Around the release of Fedora Core 4, a friend told me about Ubuntu. I am stubborn, so when I find something I like, I stick with it. Finally I decided to install it on a spare disk. The Ubuntu layout was very close to stock Gnome, which I had never experienced as an old-school Fedora user. I fell in love with it.
My initial move to Gnome
One reason that I stuck with KDE for so long is because the media apps were so mature. I used Amarok very early on, played videos with Kaffiene, and started to organize my photos with DigiKam. This sort of applications were not available in Gnome, and since I like consistency, I just stayed away from it. Around the time of Ubuntu 6.06, great GTK+ application for desktop users started to emerge. Exaille, F-Spot, Banshee and more. I think if it had not been for Ubuntu, the Gnome desktop would have never seen the need for such media-rich applications.
I am not as much of a tinkerer anymore and see a lot of value in something that “just works”, thusly I do not deviate from Gnome. It still seems like the same old Gnome, but it doesn't feel dated to me, and it is fast! I still use Gnome 2.x on my laptop running 11.04. It is not a bad machine. It is a dual-core Athlon with 4gigs of RAM and dedicated graphics, but Unity makes it fall apart, and run hot! Any type of real productivity is stifled by the performance hit I take running Unity. So, I still run “classic”, which runs magnificently with all of my custom Compiz settings. It honestly doesn't make much sense to me.
In Unity, I am still running GTK2 applications, and then I have Unity which I consider to be 2 panels and a few lenses. So whats the big deal? Why does it run so poorly? At any rate, I am not ready to replace my laptop. I know that it is aging, but I like the keyboard, the screen and the trackpad. I am used to it.
Now you can ask me the obvious... Do you really expect a next generation desktop to run on hardware that is on the verge of obsolesce? Of course I don't. But if it's 2 panels and a bunch of GTK2 apps, then yes, I think that it should run amicably. But it makes me very scared for 11.10. Why? GTK3 is why. When I go to upgrade (which I will, whilst crossing my fingers), I will be ready to take the performance hit, but I will not be ready for all of these featureless gnome 3 control panels.
Now let's get one thing straight, I like Unity, ALOT, but that love didn't develop until I bought my new machine. The new machine can handle anything. It's hexa-core with 16gb or RAM and a pretty nice video card, but even still, when I upgrade to 11.10 I know exactly what will happen. My Dust theme will stop working because it's GTK2. Will my Faenza icon-set work? Probably, but I can't be too sure. What about my Nautilus plugins? Will application that are still GTK2 be consistent with the new GTK3 ones or will they still have a dust theme. Will there be old control panels for GTK2 and GTK3?
I think I am the only one out there saying this, but I wish 11.04 were at LTS release.
What about the future?
And then there is the biggest question of all; with Gnome 3 receiving poor reviews in every corner of the globe, what will be their motivation to continue? Will Gnome refocus itself on Unity or continue down the same stubborn path as the KDE community? You can say what you will about Unity, good or bad, but there is one thing that you cannot argue with; it really is made of easy. Unlike Gnome 3 which is made of frustration and desperation from a group pressured by the community to innovate. The Unity team has it all right. It is just really simple.
Moving to Unity is still scary and comes with a lot of baggage for those concerned with free software and its future. For now, Unity is exclusive to Ubuntu, and Ubuntu (canonical) is focused on monetizing it's operating system. Sure, it's free, but is it free? How long until Ubuntu stops using repositories altogether and starts bundling dependencies into executables like Mac OS X? What happens when new users are tricked into purchasing a pre-packaged version of the gimp from the Software Centre? Honestly though, I have no where else to go...
GTK3 creates an uncertain future for every DE that depends on it. What will become of XFCE? How can it maintain its status as a lightweight DE if its version of Thunar is based on GTK3? It cannot. What about LXDE? The foot-print (no pun intended) of Gnome 2.x is enormous and affects millions of users worldwide. I don't think we can expect LXDE and XFCE to continue releasing if it has to depends on packages maintained by the Mate project. In fact, I believe the Mate project is dead in the water.
Why I use Ubuntu/Gnome 2.x in the first place?
I will try to tread lightly on this next topic, but it ties directly to the reason that I switched to Ubuntu in the first place, and have no real desire to use any other distro. Repos and mainstream PPAs. There are a lot of great Linux distros out there. They all have some kind of package manager, and they all have some sort or redeeming quality. The 2 biggest ones are Debian and Red-Hat.
Do I care if I have to install the Gimp by typing “yum install gimp” or “sudo apt-get install gimp”? Absolutely not. Both package managers are very capable when it comes to resolving dependencies. There is only one difference. Software. Ubuntu and Debian have the biggest communities, so they have the largest amount of prepackaged software available. Since that is what I want on my system (software), I go for the biggest selection.
So the real question is; Does Unity sound the death-toll for mainstream free-software? Only time will tell. However, the branding is there, and if I saw a nice Ubuntu desktop in a store with it's on sales displays and brochures, I would seriously considering buying an Ubuntu machine as a regular everyday consumer.
Goodbye Gnome 2.x
For now though, I'll start saying my final goodbyes to my Application, Places and System menus. I'll say goodbyes to drag and drop themes. I'll say goodbye to my good old panels, which I can put anywhere on the screen and have as many of as I want. I'll say goodbye to all of the stuff that I cluttered my panels with, that are in whatever location I felt like putting them... Let's say goodbye to extreme UI performance on modern machines. And finally, Let's say goodbye to every single control panel that we know so well that have all disappeared in Gnome 3.
To me, Gnome 2.x will always represent what will be my golden years as a Linux user. A time that I will always fondly remember and never forget.
Goodbye Gnome 2. I'll miss you.