Ubuntu Unity vs. Gnome 3, A Developer’s Perspective

Ubuntu has been my primary operating system for 3 years running. It has the well deserved reputation of being the most user friendly and ‘desktop’ oriented Linux distribution. However, I recently made the switch to Fedora. I thought I’d add my 2 cents to the barrage of opinions regarding the now heated battle between Ubuntu 11.04, featuring the compiz based Unity desktop, and the Gnome 3 driven Fedora 15.

Why did I switch? After all, I thought Unity was pretty good. It removed the ‘start’ menu concept that has prevailed for the last 2 decades with a search based concept that works quite well. It borrowed the OSX model of focus/context sensitive application menus on the top panel. Good stuff. The bad? Compiz; the sub-system responsible for taking all the 2D GUI stuff and putting it in an OpenGL context so it can be warped, overlayed, blended, etc. Unity is implemented as a Compiz plugin and that’s like building on mud. It’s easy to crash and has a nasty tendency to mess up OpenGL applications. All my OpenSceneGraph apps (including simple demos) stoped worked on the version of compiz released with 11.04. This is nothing new. There has been a history of problems with compiz playing nice. It must be respected for being ‘a first’ for Linux, but it’s not ready for the ‘prime time’ on a development box that must be stable. Additionally, I began to have fairly severe stability problems with the Eclipse IDE (Helios) upon the update to 11.04. It would just randomly crash, usually upon indexing a large C++ project.

Enter Fedora 15 and Gnome 3. Gnome 3 has many of the same features as Unity but does not require Compiz. It uses a completely different OpenGL compositor that, although not as feature rich as Compiz, appears to play nicer with other OpenGL apps and doesn’t totally bork OpenSceneGraph (a must have for my work). As an added bonus, Fedora 15 ships gcc 4.6 whereas Ubuntu 11.04 is still on the 4.5 line. In contrast to Ubuntu 11.04, Eclipse (Helios) has behaved solid thus far.

My takeaway is Fedora is a bit more developer friendly while Ubuntu still may be the better choice for pure desktop users. The base installation of Fedora is sparse by comparison to Ubuntu and users unfamiliar with repositories, package managers and how all that junk ties together may have a harder time getting a fully functional Fedora box together.

One thought on “Ubuntu Unity vs. Gnome 3, A Developer’s Perspective

  1. I had the same feeling as you and now Im happy with Fedora15 and Gnome3. Gnome3 is awesome, simple, fast and the features are there just with a simple click. Eclipse works nicely and all the programs in general.

    Nice blog by the way.

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