Ubuntu 13.04, which debuts next week, will have an official GNOME version. That news slipped under the radar for most folks, but it should please some Linux desktop users who don't like Canonical's Unity interface. And it could also impact Canonical's big aspirations of "Ubuntu convergence" across all devices offered by channel partners.
When Unity first replaced GNOME to become the default interface for the desktop version of Ubuntu two years ago (in Ubuntu 11.04), Canonical faced a lot of dissatisfaction from users. They complained that Unity didn't work well on older hardware, was buggy and was, well, different.
Two years later, it has become very clear why Canonical made the switch to Unity, which it created itself. Since Unity -- especially in its current version, which runs much more smoothly than the buggy early releases -- lends itself not only to traditional PCs but also devices like phones and TVs, it is a key part of Canonical's plan to turn Ubuntu into a truly cross-platform operating system.
GNOME: Hello Again
Yet those there are who still prefer the GNOME interface, which has been one of the most popular Linux desktop environments for over a decade and remains the default choice in many mainstream distributions besides Ubuntu. For these users, the upcoming Ubuntu 13.04 release brings good news because it will be the first since 11.04 for which an official GNOME-based variant of Ubuntu is available.
Called (simply enough) Ubuntu GNOME, this version of Ubuntu has existed as an independent project since last year. But as of April 2013, it will have its first official release alongside Canonical's other iterations of Ubuntu.
GNOME, Unity and the Channel
If you don't care too much about GNOME, this news probably won't seem very interesting either. Yet from a broader channel perspective, it's worth noting because it thickens the plot of Canonical's quest to place the same Linux-based operating system, with a common interface, on PCs, phones, tablets and TVs.
The decision to offer GNOME officially once again, of course, doesn't mean Canonical can't also forge ahead with its efforts to make Unity ubiquitous on mobile devices as well as desktops. But it is a sign that the company is willing to make concessions in what has historically been a pretty unilateral approach on its part to the channel. It remains dependent on upstream partners like the GNOME project, and it continues to take seriously the requests of users who don't like the default Ubuntu product.