With all the changes happening at Canonical, you might wonder what this means for the future of desktop Ubuntu, besides the return to the GNOME desktop.
There hasn’t been this much news about a single Linux distro in like forever. Well, maybe when Caldera, operating under the name SCO, sued IBM for a cool billion, but other than that…nada. One thing’s for sure, the announcements that have been coming out of the Isle of Man for the last couple of weeks mean that Canonical has forever changed its course.
It also indicates that Mark Shuttleworth has decided that it’s now do or die time — you know, put up or shut up, money talks and bullcrap walks and all that. This means that from this point forward, Canonical will no longer be a company focused on the desktop. From here on out, it’s enterprise all the way, baby.
That’s probably going to work out well for enterprise users of Linux — time will tell. It doesn’t bode well for down in the trenches users of desktop Linux. From here on out, at Canonical, desktop Linux will be job number two. If that.
In an article I wrote a week ago for another publication, I looked at the tea leaves and determined we’ll probably eventually be kissing the factory made Ubuntu desktop we’ve all learned to love or hate goodbye. At the time, I thought “eventually” meant several years down the road. Now I’m not so sure. That day could come sooner, maybe next year.
“Going forward, it appears, Canonical will be more tightly focused on profitability, which in addition to job cuts, will mean eliminating projects that aren’t being monetized. This means the desktop edition is probably destined to eventually be dropped, especially since users will have the numerous independently developed (and officially sanctioned) “baby *buntus” as options.”
Since those words were written, part of this has already come true. The Ubuntu GNOME crew announced on Thursday that beginning with 18.04, the word “GNOME” will be dropped from the distro’s name and it will become the “official” Ubuntu desktop release.
“[T]here will no longer be a separate GNOME flavor of Ubuntu. The development teams from both Ubuntu GNOME and Ubuntu Desktop will be merging resources and focusing on a single combined release, that provides the best of both GNOME and Ubuntu. We are currently liaising with the Canonical teams on how this will work out and more details will be announced in due course as we work out the specifics.”
In other words, the developers of Ubuntu aren’t simply going to switch-out Unity for GNOME in Canonical’s mainstream release, they’re going to drop responsibility for the release in the lap of Ubuntu GNOME’s community developers, and offer an as-yet-to-be-determined amount of help. Since the “baby *buntus,” or “official flavors” of Ubuntu, are Canonical’s answer to Red Hat’s and SUSE’s “community editions” (Fedora and openSUSE), this means that beginning next April, Canonical will have the opportunity to distance itself from its desktop edition.
We’ve been here before. In 2003, when Red Hat dropped its desktop distribution, Red Hat Linux, to crank-up Red Hat Enterprise Linux and reinvent itself as an enterprise only company, it created the “community” desktop distro Fedora, in which the community has a say in how it’s developed, even though it’s owned by Red Hat — which pretty much controls its development by proxy.
SUSE was also a distro that was used and marketed as both a server and desktop distro. That changed after it was bought by Novell, which repurposed it as a distro developed exclusively for enterprise use. It also developed a “community” desktop offshoot, openSUSE, with a slightly different take from Red Hat. openSUSE is much more autonomous, with SUSE basically supplying essentials such as server use, but otherwise leaving community developers alone..
There’s no telling how things are going to work out between Ubuntu prime and its desktop development. At this point, it’s not even clear that Ubuntu will be distancing itself from its desktop edition as Red Hat and SUSE did — Shuttleworth would certainly like us to believe it won’t.
If there is going to be a split, we’ll probably begin to see signs of it before the end of next year. If Canonical starts to require a support contract before Ubuntu Server can be downloaded, it’ll be a dollars-to-doughnuts bet that a split between the desktop and server is in the works.
In that case, Ubuntu desktop users will be the losers. Desktop Ubuntu becomes something akin to openUbuntu, or perhaps Fedubuntu. It might become, like Fedora is for Red Hat, something of a testing ground for Ubuntu Server, or it might simply be a bone thrown to keep all the FOSS supporters at bay, like openSUSE.
Again, time will tell.