The Gnome 3 Meteor: Revisited


This article was originally published on 09/20/11 at


I want to revisit this article for a couple of reasons.  First and foremost, I think enough has changed in the last 6 months to invite some commentary.  Journalism is sometimes just the ability to speculate widly and then put those crazy, wide-eyed presumptions onto paper.  That said, not everything in this piece came true, and at the same time some of this things are still developing.

The point of this piece is to make a point.  It’s a point that I don’t think I made clear the first go ’round.  So, now I plan to make it right.  :)

In the Android world, there is a bit of an epidemic caused by greedy manufacturers who seem eager to prove that they have a distinct product.  Carriers go out of their way to make their mark on devices too.  This is called fragmentation.  The same thing is happening on the Linux desktop right now.  Of course the big difference here is that mega-corporations aren’t involved and there aren’t very many chinese suicides (that we know of).  The biggest fragmenters  are Canonical (Ubuntu), and Mint.

Ubuntu has put together a clumsy desktop environment that fails at managing windows in the same way as vanilla Gnome 3.  The difference here is that Unity is such a stretch from Gnome 3, users are not able to even stay current with Gnome 3 if they have Unity installed.  In fact, the upcoming 12.0r release contains a mix of Gnome 3.2 and 3.4 packages to suit the agenda of Unity.  This is fragmentation, plain and simple.

I mention later in the article Linux Mint’s plans to recreate a traditional desktop using Gnome 3 as a base.  Well, that day has come and gone.  It’s here, and it’s ability to exist is nothing short of amazing to me.  Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu, relies on Gnome, relies on Ubuntu’s staggered release set of packages for Unity, and is somehow available to be installed on other distribution.  Those distributions, Fedora, SuSE and the like, don’t have this problem of having to stagger packages to make something unnecessary work (Unity).  Welcome to this brave new world of broken packages.  Be prepared to be careful what you’re installing.

To a lesser extent Elementary OS furthers the fragmentation.  Both Mint and Elementary fragment the Gnome 3 universe while fragmenting Ubuntu which is already a fragmentation of Debian.  How long until we get some distros that are based on Mint?  Why the hell now, we’ve come this far already.  Back on point.  The Elementary OS, while not as hot as Mint, is a much more ambitious fragmentation, going so far as to draw up their own user human interface guide and provide original software.

This point that I was trying to make in the piece was that, while ironic, users may flock to Ubuntu to gain choice, though the nature of its package’s make it impossible to truly be free.

Lastly, I made the claim that users of Gentoo and Arch users may flock to Ubuntu in fear of Gnome 3 breaking this machines during a rolling update.  Perhaps even to gain a few extra choices in desktop e environments.  Well, I was wrong about that one.

OK, read on.


Beware Of Flying Rocks

It’s been a long time since a desktop environment has caused so much controversy in the FOSS universe. How long? It is really hard to say, since the last time I can recall any kind of user backlash and retreat was over half a decade ago when the KDE project announced KDE 4.0. Alot of people relate the release of KDE 4 to the release of Gnome 3, drawing all sorts of wild parallels; but I say that these 2 releases could not be any more different. Now this article is not about KDE, but at the same time, a clear line in the sand must be drawn in order to explain what Gnome 3 really is.

About Dean Howell

Aside from being a huge Sega fan, Dean is an LPIC certified Linux professional with over a decade experience. In addition to spending his free time burning through the classics from Sega and evangelizing open source, he's also the editor-in-cheif of The Powerbase.
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  • Zeeshan

    To me it looks like xfce/kde will take over from gnome/unity.

    • Jediafr

      IMO : It was one of the most confusing post i’ve read in years !

      Kde is a valid and worthwhile alternative now (V4.8.x)
      Hell it worked for me and i spent years loathing it while using my good ole Gnome2…
      The fragmentation is the RESULT of Touch-based Guis enforced upon the users by Unity and Gnome3…
      Some may argue that the Linux D.E landscape has always been fragmented.

  • Guest

    Fragmentation? That’s knwon as fork, and (almost) anyone in open source world considers it a bad word.

    • David Dreggors

      I am not sure that “fork” is really considered a bad word by (almost) everyone in the open source world.

      Think about LibreOffice (a fork) that kept OpenOffice from being abandoned or turned into a commercial product by Oracle when they bought Sun. For that matter there is a few other Sun projects (MySQL comes to mind) that are being forked because Oracle is either abandoning, silently killing off, or openly going commercial on. If Oracle is not killing it or commercializing it, there was at least enough concern that they would to have forked. A fork is not a bad think always, it keeps good software alive.

      Seriously, some of the great distributions of today are themselves a fork of an earlier distro that is now gone.

      Granted, if done poorly, or in poor taste/timing motivated by greed or control then yes… that is bad.

  • Fewt

    RHEL offers GNOME 2 in 6.x. As long as that is the case, and I can pull patches downstream, Fuduntu ( will keep GNOME 2.

    We don’t even have GTK3 in our repositories, because we currently don’t want or need it.

    What does a lack of GTK3 take away from our users? Not much. We have Linux kernel 3.2.13, Chromium 17, Thunderbird 11, Firefox 11, LibreOffice etc etc.

    Can’t stand GNOME 3? Dislike Unity? We may have the distribution for you.. Come help it grow.

  • fasd

    You’ve got one thing right: you’re speculating. And let be clear on something, do you actually saying that Arch users are heading Ubuntu without knowing it?

    • lordpenguin

      fasd, in the forword, it says:

      “Lastly, I made the claim that users of Gentoo and Arch users may flock to Ubuntu in fear of Gnome 3 breaking this machines during a rolling update. Perhaps even to gain a few extra choices in desktop e environments. Well, I was wrong about that one.”

      Can’t even get through the first page without opening your mouth?

      • fasd

        Sorry my bad, I didn’t give foreword to much attention

  • Chris Davlin

    This post is really confusing… all I can think of in response is that KDE will maybe gain some traction as gnome/unity/gtk (d)evolve. But then, of course, KDE is bloated and crashes all the time… right? Wait…

  • Anonymous

    I have no idea what point you were trying to make.

    I switched to Linux Mint w/Cinnamon desktop, because both Unity and Gnome 3 suck.

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  • ScionicSpectre

    I won’t lie- this whole situation is one massive clusterf#@*. However, it’s fine so long as we standardize a few things so we can use each others’ applications without wanting to puke at the sight of them.

    KDE is great because they have the Oxygen theme ported to GTK, and Qt has QGtkStyle. There’s a long history of KDE and Qt developers making it easier to have a consistent look across the desktop. The main issue is when we get into applications that have incompatible design patterns. I love what elementary is doing, but GNOME 3 applications will look gross in elementary (and any other DE without a way to hide menus). No matter how good the design of the new GNOME 3 applications will be, they will only look as intended in GNOME 3. We need to standardize menus and backport the changes that allow you to export menus over dbus. We need to allow developers to display these menus differently based on the environment (you already can, but it would be nice if this were an official feature of GTK Application and the like).

    So long as we keep an eye on collaboration, OR each DE has some amazing default applications and the third party stuff like GIMP remains good-looking between desktops, I don’t think this kind of fragmentation really matters. We just can’t keep doing the ‘abandon apps that work without even making them look good on the new pretty thing’. Elementary, Ubuntu, and KDE all have GTK 2 themes to remain consistent by default. Ironically, GNOME, the direct relative of GTK, doesn’t. It’s just gross. It’s enough to make me run back into KDE’s arms, even though GNOME 3 has the best interaction I’ve used, and KDE feels like chewing on pebbles in comparison (especially with the excessive use of icons in titlebars and menus- so glad I can turn that off).

    TLDR, we’ll be fine so long as we make preparations to keep our applications cross-DE without looking like ogres.