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30

GNOME 3 vs Unity: Which is right for you?

by Gareth Halfacree

With so much controversy surrounding the recent release of GNOME 3 and Canonical’s Unity, there’s only one way to resolve things: a head-to-head battle royale. Gareth Halfacree investigates which next-generation desktop environment might suit you better to set the record straight once and for all…

GNOME 3 and the GNOME Shell have their fans, who castigate Canonical’s Unity – and vice-versa. There are also those who decry both, claiming that a move to icon-based launchers represents a dumbing-down of the classic GNOME user interface. Worries over compatibility and extensibility cause further concerns, until nobody is quite sure what’s going on any more.

It’s time to set the record straight, and we here at Linux User think the best way of doing that is with a good old-fashioned head-to-head challenge. We’ve taken the reference implementations of both GNOME 3 and Unity – the official Live CD and Ubuntu 11.04 respectively – and given them a good going over, ranking them on familiarity for existing GNOME users, performance, compatibility, features, and extensibility.

We’ve also spoken to those in the know to get the insider view on matters. For GNOME there’s Federico Mena, co-founder of the project and GNOME 3 developer. Fighting for Unity we have Neil Patel, Canonical’s technical lead for desktop experience. Both will be offering their own insights and opinions to help settle the matter once and for all…

We’ve broken down the feature into the key areas of usability GNOME 3 and Unity move away from the GNOME 2.x (not to mention KDE) ‘norms’. You can use the links below to jump through sections…

Familiarity - Both GNOME 3 and Unity are very different beasts to GNOME 2, but which takes the most learning?
Performance and Compatibility - Having a whizz-bang user interface is great, but not if it comes at the cost of performance…
Features – With the problems out of the way, which of the two offers the most feature-rich user experience?
Extensibility – Devs and advanced users will be pleased to hear that both offer possibilities for customisation – but which wins out?
And the winner is… – we’ll round-up the pros and cons of each, but there’s got to be a winner. This is it…

Continue to Page 2: GNOME 3 vs Unity – Familiarity

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    • kornelix

      My worry is that Gnome3 and Unity will require applications to have different code if both desktops are to be well supported, i.e. integration with the task bar, notifications, the menu system. The Linux ecosystem continues to fork, and standards and compatibility are not something the developers can be bothered with.

    • Gnome3really

      why does everyone think gnome 3 is not gonna be good? Unity is a great system but it’s not for everyone, you as a user have a choice to either install it or not. Personally i think it’s a hugh step forward and hope they get gnome 3 working stable i would like to see change as long as they keep it open-source. Ubuntu in my opinion is one of those distro’s that wants step forward and possibly out-do other Operating Systems and everyone in the linux community no matter what distro you use knows that linux needs that next step. This is all in my opinion, sorry if no one agrees but i am for it.

    • Jumping Ship

      Well, I can say that I gave gnome 3 a decent chance with Fedora 15, and I found that the “shell” interface got in my way more than anything else. I did find it to be mostly stable though. The interface itself is terrible for my little computer, with its 1024×600 resolution. The breadcrumbs are huge and use way more screen space than they need too.
      I then gave Unity a chance, and didn’t like it either, it was just as annoying as gnome 3. Unity also ran much slower on my machine. Also, I’m a bit confused about why Unity exists. Isn’t it just a mod of the default gnome 2? If so, then isn’t it doomed to fail in the long run, as applications and updates will eventually cease to be developed for gnome 2/Unity? I don’t know, but I’ve been an Ubuntu user since 6.06 or whatever.
      I tried to KDE 4.6, and found performance to be sup-par, and I thought it was still very buggy.
      As for now, I am using mint 11.
      If a clear winner doesn’t show itself in the near future, I will have to do the unthinkable, and dust off the 11 year old Windows XP disc I have in my basement. I’m already downloading the XP drivers for my system now…

    • Nathan Hulse

      It is unfortunately that GNOME 3 is being besmirched because of GNOME-shell. GNOME 3 running with Compiz actually provides a lighter, faster solution than GNOME 2 and Compiz. It is a step forward and alot of hard work has clearly gone into rewriting the codebase. Furthermore, with GNOME 3 it is possible to install the components you want whilst pulling less dependencies than required by a similar GNOME 2 setup.

      Ultimately, when complaining about Unity, we should remember what Canonical often appear to forget; Ubuntu is really just another Debian deriviative. Theres quite a few GNOME/Debian based desktop distros out there that haven’t gotten too big for their boots. If Canonical think that pandering to the lowest common denominator phone user is a progressive direction for the desktop, leave them to it. The rest of us could benefit from this by regarding it as impetus to learn how to customise our DEs to ones own liking ;-)

    • Alecks

      I haven’t used Gnome 3 but have used Unity since the 11.04 beta release and I can honestly say I’m surprised with how I use it. At first I didn’t like it but I went and figured out the basic key-bindings I needed for a few things and I actually find myself moving around faster.

      Alt+Tab as everyone knows
      Ctrl+Alt+t for a terminal
      Super (Windows key) + type in an application search + enter (example: Super+calculator+enter)
      Ctrl+Alt+Arrow key to switch workspaces
      etc…

      Ever since I started using Unity I’ve used the GUI significantly less, which is, ironically, a good thing. Plus it works with my Radeon Mobility card, which was surprisingly unexpected.

    • Alecks

      One more thing, I also love the saved vertical screen space since I’m on a laptop, max resolution of 1280×800.

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    • DaveW

      I played around with Unity a bit back on my my 9″ eee netbook when it was first put on the Netbook Remix. I absolutely hated it. I have not tried Gnome 3 but from the screenshots I have seen and what I have read it is not any better.

      I described Unity to an on-line friend who decided to try it. (warned him actually) His take was as good a description as I could have found: The Fisher Price interface.

      So for now I am staying with Ubuntu 10.10 on my bigger laptop. It will probably remain there for the life of the computer. Hopefully when it dies there will be something else.

    • TTTVX

      Gnome 3 and Unity both feel dumbed down and ideally suited to an average crApple user.

    • Jay Geli

      Gnome 3 is not ready. Tried it in F15 and it does not feel right. I mean its supposed to speed up the user interaction with the desktop but changing wallpapers is a hundred clicks away (I may be exaggerating). Also, where is the trash icon? emptying the trash takes a command line to do,. Where is the minimize button on the windows? You have to right click on it to show up then click again. Gnome 3 to me is a confined space and lacks functionality for desktop users. It is more for touch portable devices.

      Unity still provides me with the functionality that i need and a lot faster than gnome 3 with my shortcuts and sidebar.

      These 2 are still in their early stages and currently there is no winner yet, lets give it a few months or so and we will find out.

    • http://www.ronybc.com ronybc.com

      But GNOME was better than this before… They changed the interface utterly like asking users to walk with hands from now on… and shave with feet..! because it is version 3… and there is surprising changes as expected.

    • Tom

      I’ve toggled between Gnome or KDE as my exclusive personal OS for about 4 years… have done the multiple distro thing, mass customization, blah blah blah… but do not consider myself a computer geek… just a side hobby. I am not bitter at all about the changes occurring… in fact has provided me more new tweaks to learn about. I was finding Gnome 2 boring and stale, in all candidness Here in mid-September, both new systems have had numerous updates to help shake out a lot of the daemons. And my winner is: Gnome Shell. Many of the benefit points have been covered above and in the article (by all that have pointed out the benefits… other than saying it’s snappiness us much better than Unity and blows away KDE on my old system, for which I give 2 thumbs up!!), so won’t restate. My only real issue with Unity, and it is fundamental, is the hide & seek panel just is not intuitive enough… it frequently pops up when I’m just trying to close a window, or does not pop up when i want… this “feature” really annoys me. For me, gnome shell delivers consistency of intended action, and that is a fundamental requirement for my OS.

    • Nasser

      Just a comment on Greg’s comment!
      Is too radical to completely abadon ubuntu for unity!
      after all uo can install gnome and relog in in gnome desktop using the command:
      {> sudo apt-get install gnome}
      you can add to gnome a launcher or docking bar like docky, cairo or awn.
      Ubuntu is’nt only about a desktop! its is about the best hardware support and best repository applications.
      Nasser

    • Robert Allen

      My only problem the change lately, is the wifi, I’ve tried both and there there a new feel to linux, but with different cards to see what people on forms and sure enough it seems everyone of the issues there is a issue I can revert to a version with gnome 2 on it and it works like clock works, I think to some degree they rushed unity and gnome 3 on us to evolve with the displease meant of windows and the high dollar mac’s but I think were still a long ways off before they can get people to care. Don’t get me wrong I still plan on building a eco friendly htpc off of linux to save money but till they get bugs fixed and such I’m on a stand still

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    • http://scribbledhere.wordpress.com/ Chandrashekhar

      I have become a fan of GNOME 3 :P I dont know but the basic idea of keeping it all simple has been thrown out in Unity.. I find it too hard to configure. With GNOME 3, I dont want to configure (except the fonts and the basic theme).
      GNOME 3 surely wins hands down :)

    • Jack1059

      I have no idea what gnome 2 or 3 are and as a non power user (linux newbie) I can say I just want my d$%^m computer OS to work. Unity was a pain for me to use. Too inflexible and non intuitive. I loaded linux mint, enjoy the way it lays out the programmes for me to find. And thats the key thing Ubuntu has lost sight of with unity. They seem to have tried too hard to make a ‘new’ UE, rather than making it intuitive for your average user. Good luck to them though.

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    • http://www.ronybc.com ronybc.com

      And its 12.04.. waited an entire year…

      If i could came to see a GNOME3/UNITY developer.. I’ll buy (imagination) him/hur a car with touch screen gear SHIfT INTERFACE mounted on the topmost ceiling (not detachable, it is hard copper wired software! soldered..!! way under to some BGAs). And force to drive that wonderful -latest-version- thing for a while and wud tell.. enjoy.. there is no going back. And, wait for the next big version (4) with touch screen steering control… ass well.

      AWKWARD.

      obuntoo.. you became the distro queen.. and bitch-distructing it all..? Whohhh… please… no more F-fleatures please. Since 11.04… freeze the F-upgradato routine… and feeds the downloaded ISOs to /dev/null, INSTEAD, all the alpha, beta and gamma versions, desperately.

      Don’t swallow that ‘normal’ interface, that i were avid using for so many years. It is so difficult to switch the interface to some nice crap. Please read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_%28psychology%29

      M$ paid.. drama? (suspicion)

    • Matt

      Gnome 3 vs Unity
      And the winner is…
      KDE4!

      It can’t be XFCE, etc. Why? Because GTK versions before 3.0 are dead now thanks to GNOME.

    • Dassie

      I’m still running Ubuntu “Lucid Lynx”, which has Gnome 2.

      When support for it ends next year, I will probably switch to Debian, and that after more than 5 years of Ubuntu. I don’t like Unity and I don’t like Gnome 3.

      Wait, Debian “Wheezy” is going to be Gnome 3? Dang.

      And so, GNU/Linux turned into Microsoft Windows… giving the “end user” no longer a choice.

    • fake

      They both suck!
      KDE is the best!

    • MT

      I have been using Fedora + Gnome since FC1, and before that, on Redhat. My old laptop can’t handle GNOME3 graphics and now I use Fedora 17 + LXDE.

      LXDE is perfect for me.

    • http://linuxdreambox.wordpress.com Ade Malsasa Akbar

      Hello, GNOME, Unity, all DE in Linux take my interest enough. I am a Linux desktop enthusiast. Now I collect the ideas for them on my new blog http://linuxdreambox.wordpress.com.

      My opinion: it is best if there is 1 distro with 1 absolute desktop environment with 1 user experience. This type of OS is needed by so many newbie user who don;t care with system (only care “jobs done”). Similiar with Jack said on 2011 above.

      However, for me, privately, I can use all desktop environment. I like new technology and it is not like such people, I accept GNOME 3 as is. Hey, at least, GNOME is still free. And I am relax user :) Haha.

      Thanks :D

    • Francoise Labelle

      I tried Gnome-shell for some time when I noticed that Audacity was extremely slow and sluggish. Since I’m a musician and need it daily, I tried Unity and the problem was solved. Behind the surface Gnome-shell had severe problems.

      After using Unity (12.04-12.10) for over a year, I got it to do most of what G-s has to offer, sometimes better, and with complete stablility (exposé on a corner and launcher auto-hide more efficient than g-s).

      I recently tried G-s remix (12.10) and was surprised at the lack of tools for theme customization. I reinstalled Unity 12.10 and Gnome-shell. When I tried to edit panel.ccs to get transparency: it broke G-s beyond repair!! I got rid of it.
      I have to admit that ATI is partly to blame because their driver for HD4200, not bleeding edge, does not support 12.10 (it’s version of xorg) !!!
      But Unity works fine under 12.10 (with or without proprietary driver). G-s may be fine when stable.

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    • monster221

      i currently use mint with mate. i used cinnamon, which is a gnome 3 fork as you know, and was ok with it til i tried to theme… most of the cinnamon themes dont theme the windows, so i was mixing and matching gtk3 themes with cinnamon themes. i said forget all that and switched to mate. i had been using gnome 2 so mate works rather well for me.

      as far as touch ui goes i think you ought to consider kde plasma active and the contour interface that can run on top of it. if you ask me it has unity and gnome shell beat. i personally dont really like kde plasma as a desktop interface except their compositing which is great, i prefer mate over everything so far, but as far as touch goes it is far ahead of everything else.