April 5th, 2012

Gnome Shell and Unity target different markets

I was annoyed by rants about which one is better, whether Gnome Panel, Unity or Gnome Shell. Paradigm of using computer has changed, so I am going to review only shells.

Gnome Shell is not community project, neither is Unity

I know, Gnome folks say, shell is community project, but that is simply not true. Community can only affect things, that are not main pillars of design (reason why everybody is forking).

It is all about Red Hat and Canonical goals and visions. Gnome community wants to see Canonical contributing into Gnome, but why should they do so?

Companies behind projects are totally different (I know Canonical “dabbles” into servers too), Mark Shuttleworth (Canonical) is simply not Red Hat, and vice versa.

To clarify differences between audience, lets look at Fedora vs. Ubuntu:

  • touchpad tap clicks disabled by default in Fedora (even when there are more laptops sold than desktops)
  • Ubuntu has nicer font, installer
  • Fedora uses vanilla Gnome (with Shell)
  • Fedora does miss Turn off button (visible only with Alt key)
  • handling of notifications

Paradigm of working with computer has changed

In past, I run Gnome Shell, managed all multiple windows, used workspaces. But time has changed and so did I. Nowadays, majority runs one window per application, and use tabs (Firefox, Nautilus, Terminal, Thunderbird), there is no need for superior windows management, this is what Unity is focused on.

Gnome Shell

To understand its design, we need to look who is behind it.

It is Red Hat, so I understand, they develop environment they need to use (I believe, they would be okay with Gnome Panel, but developers love to do new stuff, they are not keen to keep polishing same thing for 10 years).

Obviously, shell is designed for heavy windows and workspaces management, and does it very well. One thing I love so much are clear menus in notification area (I mean top right one).


Aims for basic users, like my mum, grandmum (even she never used computer ;)) and so on. These people need to see icons on launcher, they just click on them and use apps, they do not manage windows, they usually use at most 2-4 applications in one moment.

They do not use menus, HUD (even it is handy), just launch browser, email app, maybe some music player and that’s all. They do not change settings (maybe background) and they tend to break stuff accidentally.

My family's desktop after year.

Applications matter

They are what we use all the time and they should be beautiful and easy to understand and use. I give you some examples of minor things, that annoys a lot:

  • Totem - when you launch app, you see playlist on the right side. Why not recent videos with thumbnails all over screen? Also when I open video, I want to see video, not panel on the right side (default settings).
  • Rhythmbox - user interface is simply ugly and not intuitive even the app is quite stable.
  • no usable RSS reader (I am writting new one now, hope it will be usable :D)
  • Evolution - interface is totally messy (I understand, it is not focused for basic users)
And few examples of apps I like:
  • Empathy - huge improvement from past, nicely integrated with many services.
  • Nautilus - after UI refinement it is much easier to use, also has tabs.
  • Shotwell - easy to understand, works nicely with cameras, but needs better integration with Picasa and so on.
  • Terminal - love tabs, so I can have only one window, or max. 2 of them with tabs.
  • Gnome Documents - written in JS, nice interface, works perfectly.

What will happen?

I do not know, but I predict, that Unity will be adopted by many users in Ubuntu. Gnome Shell, MATE, KDE, Cinnamon and others will stay in geeky market.

I believe, Ubuntu will drop Compiz and maintain only Qt version (it seems I was wrong). So I wish each shell/panel to have happy users and spread it in the world. But we should not forget, that people use it because they can do stuff.

Also we must be better then others to attract users and provide them beautiful apps.

Please, no flame wars, I consider myself as Ubuntu fan (wonder? Ubuntu Feisty Fawn was my first distribution), but I have tried to look at it from top. Also I appreciate Red Hat’s and Canonical’s work.

4 Responses to “Gnome Shell and Unity target different markets”

Author: Tchalvak

Your english and grammar made this post really hard to try to read…

Luckily I only came here trying to find a way to force Nautilus to only open up one window with multiple tabs instead of opening multiple windows all the time.

Author: admin

Thanks for feedback, I will proofread it again and improve.

I have checked your issue, and probably you need to patch nautilus itself. (If you find any easier way, please let me know)

Author: Aleks


Just use the STANDARD Keyboard shortcut:


(Press Control Keyboard and at the same time ‘T’ (tee) letter key)

Author: admin

Hi Aleks, I think, he needs it on startup (when you middle-click on icon in launcher).

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