An open letter to Mark Shuttleworth: Long Term Support for a broken GUI

Dear Mark Shuttleworth,

I’ve been thinking about how to write this comment for the best part of two weeks, and in the end I decided that an open letter was the best way.

You might ask, who am I? No one. I’m your average Windows user. Former Macintosh, actually, who regularly takes Ubuntu out for a spin, just to see if we can ever get back to the bliss that 7.04 was.

Anyway, Mark, with the Precise Pangolin upon us – and that’s an LTS release – shall we chat about Unity a little bit?

Dear Mark,

An OS X-like sort of a dock, actually on the left side of the screen, was a bright, marvellous idea! But then you made the menu-bar disappear. If I’m right, this would be the third release sporting the disappearing menus. I understand that the whole “global menubar affair” caused quite a stir in the Penguin community, but I think it works fairly well on OS X – and has been doing great since the first Macintosh arrived, some 28 years or so ago. The only difference being that those menus stay there – it’s actually a fundamental cornerstone in that UI.

Why this obstinately different behaviour with Unity? After all, the global menu-bar is still there: but it’s empty 99.99 percent of the time. Let’s consider the large screen sizes we’re getting used to on a desktop system: a mouse trip to the upper-left corner of the screen just to make the menus appear, and then travel back, let’s say, to its middle to click on what you were looking for in the first place, is not a very pleasant experience. It’s cumbersome. 

But then, Mark, you might say that the HUD, the only UI change Pangolin will bring, will solve this problem. You just type what you’re looking for in an application, and the relevant options will be automagically offered to you. That’s a nice idea! But it doesn’t solve the problem at all. The menus are still hidden, and I, the user, am supposed to blind-type what I need. Good luck with that!

Dear Mark. In its present state, Unity attracts a lot of criticism. Some of it is unfounded, some of it – sadly – is spot on. Yet, you just leave it broken. Because that’s your Vision. It’s the curse or the blessing, depending on your opinion, of a “benevolent dictator” – not unlike Steve Jobs.

Mark. Don’t get me wrong. The company is yours. You have every right to follow your divine Vision, please, prove me wrong. I’m going to ask you, humbly, for a favour instead: would it be such a financial drain to come up with an officially supported Gnome3 spin? Removing LightDM, Unity, QT & Overlay Scrollbars, and installing GDM & Gnome can easily be done – if you know your way around a terminal and you know which packages to install and remove. But that’s not really “Linux for Human Beings”, is it?

Furthermore, vanilla Gnome3 is little more than an empty canvas. Extensions are what really make it shine. Canonical could include some of the most popular, or perhaps even build some of its own. There’s no consumer distro that really takes advantage of Gnome3’s capabilities; why not be the first?

Despite my criticism about Unity, I’m not asking you to drop it at all. But I think that with very little effort you could give your users even more choice than they enjoy today.