5 Developments After Ubuntu Unity Fiasco

Canonical has announced its decision to terminate the Ubuntu Phone project, along with further development of the Unity 8 desktop environment, and will integrate GNOME 3 as its primary desktop. This likely means other related projects, such as Ubuntu’s own Mir display server, may also be abandoned.

This news rocked the entire Linux world last week, and its aftershocks can still felt. While the specifics of how this will impact the wider Ubuntu community, much less the rest of the Linux world at large remain uncertain, let me attempt to shine a light on those details which we already know, and their likely upshot after Canonical announced its departure from their convergence plan.

CEO Jane Silber resigns as founder Mark Shuttleworth takes the helm again

Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth

Canonical’s founder, Mark Shuttleworth, returns to the helm as current CEO Jane Silber resigns. In 2010, Jane Silber took charge as CEO of Canonical and has been a key player in the company’s growth as Ubuntu collaborated with giants like Netflix, eBay, Walmart and Microsoft. Under her guidance, Ubuntu became a significant player in cloud-based systems.

Unfortunately, her efforts to bring Ubuntu to mobile devices didn’t go as well. While it may not seem as though such a sweeping set of changes could have occurred amicably, those hoping for bitter moments will be disappointed, at least as far as her farewell note indicates.

Massive layoffs at Canonical

Layoff at Canonical

Canonical did put hefty resources into the development of Unity, Mir and other related projects.

The discontinuation of these projects clearly resulted in significant layoffs in the Ubuntu team, with estimates topping 30% of the 700 strong staff.

There were some Canonical staff who were able to migrate to other projects, but most of those affected were left with few alternatives. The suddenness of this announcement caught many off-guard. Those who departed were compensated with “sort of” severance packages whose specifics depended on the region to which the employee in question belonged.

External investors as Canonical faces financial trouble

External investors at Ubuntu

The whole situation started because of the desire for external investors.

Mark Shuttleworth decided to seek potential external investors, and these investors determined that Canonical was overstaffed and “some projects” lacked focus, noted The Register.

Evidently, ”some projects” included everything to do with Canonical’s dream of convergence: Unity8, Ubuntu Phone, the Mir display, and so on, which is how the chain of events started. In Shuttleworth’s own words:

“We can’t go through that market process and ask for outside investor money when there’s something that big that doesn’t have a revenue story. That’s the pinch we got into.”

This, of course, begs the question of who these external investors are. Hopefully, the list does not include Microsoft, though it’s entirely possible, considering the recent closeness between the two companies.

Unity 8 might be continued unofficially

ubports team
UBports team has forked Unity 8

Perhaps the most immediately evident benefit of open source is that any project may be peer-reviewed by anyone. When it was officially discontinued in 2011, the GNOME 2 project was picked up and forked, quite successfully, and became the MATE desktop environment, which has also led to the creation and sustained development of another, highly popular desktop: Cinnamon.

The good news, for Unity8 fans, is that UBports, the team which works to bring Ubuntu Touch to a variety of mobile devices, has likewise forked Ubuntu’s desktop environment.

Considering Canonical has pulled resources from this project, the path for continued third-party development of Unity will not be easy. It is my hope that they are successful and can become another shining example of the power of forking, like the MATE project.

Ubuntu GNOME to be merged with Ubuntu

Ubuntu GNOME concept
Ubuntu GNOME concept

When Canonical announced it would use the GNOME Desktop as its default, beginning with Ubuntu 18.04, it was only natural to raise questions about the future of Ubuntu GNOME.

Ubuntu GNOME is (was) an official “flavor” of Ubuntu, having brought the GNOME Desktop to the distribution already. Ubuntu GNOME made the following announcement in their blog post:

“…there will no longer be a separate GNOME flavor of Ubuntu. The development teams from both Ubuntu GNOME and Ubuntu Desktop will be merging resources and focusing on a single combined release, that provides the best of both GNOME and Ubuntu. We are currently liaising with the Canonical teams on how this will work out and more details will be announced in due course as we work out the specifics.”

What do you think of Ubuntu’s future?

One can only wonder if this was all done merely for the sake of attracting external investors. Was it really worth it? Interestingly, Mr. Shuttleworth did not go for IPO. Could have helped? As someone who is not an expert in such matters, I can only presume (and hope) Mark Shuttleworth and the rest of Canonical’s upper management have thought these matters through.

What do you think about all of this? Is Ubuntu is headed in the right direction? Should have tried harder to make Ubuntu Phone a viable platform?

Comments

  1. When you lie with dogs, you get fleas. This lesson has to be relearned by anyone who takes big money (Microsoft?).

  2. i am a new user
    for those laid off a new o.s. for you!
    its called oppor-tunity
    there get back to work!!!

  3. I am a Ubuntu desktop user and have always liked the Unity desktop, so I’ll be sorry to see it go away. However, I was always skeptical about the phone and convergence idea, and it seems as if Ubuntu has made a solid business decision in moving away from it. Cooperating with Gnome also seems like a sensible idea. I wish them well and hope that Gnome adopts some of the better Unity features. Sympathy for those laid off.

  4. This is both sweet and bitter news. Bitter in the sense for the employees at the company. I feel for them personally as I’ve gone through similar situations like that with sh*ty severance too. However, it’s sweet news as those individuals can now grow elsewhere, the reverting back to GNOME for a desktop default has been a long time coming and in all honesty…Unity8 with Convergence and all that crap really wasn’t getting anywhere to start. Canonical were trying to be like Apple or Microsoft too much, they forgot about their biggest part: the community of Ubuntu.

  5. I wonder who are these external investors at Canonical. I hope it’s not Microsoft

    It’s not Microsoft, the outside investor is Bank of Singapore who offered a $300 million investment for Canonical to make all these changes. I know this because I was one of the ones who got the axe and I had the inside scoop. Whether or not they actually go that route I don’t know.

    Also the last time I checked the internal directory before all my accounts were shut down by the IS team the number of employees had gone from 760 to 659. I also know they were less than half way through the sh*t list. Many of the people let go had nothing to do with Unity/Mir/phone/tablet. This was handled very poorly.

    Yes the severance package was sh*tty (a month pay in the US for > 4 years with company).

    I started at Canonical when all the phone stuff started to take off. I thought it was pretty worthless then which is why I focused on the cloud business. Unfortunately that didn’t matter for a lot of people as this crap affected all of the teams in the company when it really shouldn’t have.

  6. The “one size fits all” concept was never going to work, and Unity is useless for serious work. Good riddance. Shame
    they didn’t go for Cinnamon as the desktop.

    • “Unity is useless for serious work”
      You either never did some serious work or used Unity for a few months.

  7. It’s too bad, although it makes sense, but I can’t shake the idea that Ubuntu and Canonical are going to have a tough time shaking off the Microsoft bad image association. This move was poorly done and the timing is awful. One concrete result it had is that it pushed me in Debian territory. I will avoid Ubuntu from now on if Microsoft is in the picture. I’m hoping the forks will thrive away from mega-corporation pockets, at least, for now. Money is needed, but history has taught that these giant companies foul everything the invest with.

    I’m still hoping for a solid Linux smartphone OS. Android is good, but we need something much more open, safer and more secure, something Android isn’t with its too-close ties to Google. Not sure if Firefox is still going ahead with its phone OS or also dropped it.

  8. I think you made a mistake in this article:

    When Canonical announced that it will use GNOME as its default desktop starting Ubuntu 17.04, it was only natural to raise questions about the future of Ubuntu GNOME.

    Ubuntu 18.04 *will* have GNOME, not 17.04

  9. I think it’s sh*tty that an “open” project such as Unity is “suddenly” shut down & hundreds of people fired/displaced. How was it “open” to do such a sneaky thing? The top-dogs didn’t just wake up one morning and say, “hey, let’s axe Unity”….Really disappointed. It sure does smell like Micros*ck’s MO to me.

      • I believe they have made a decent choice in ending development of said projects.
        I think it is more reasonable to video call the employees if they are long distance, especially if they have money issues. What? are you going to use more resources unnecessarily? I’m sure it is a bum deal for the people that didn’t get severance packages, but I’m pretty sure they will make it somewhere else as they got those positions in the first place by merit.

  10. Phone was dead the day it was announced. Ubuntu must resume what it does best: integrate existing Linux pieces. Many new Linux things are very manual.

    • I wouldn’t say it was dead on arrival. It was a bold move which didn’t work out. People still love apps and the idea of providing everything in web-app without the need of installing a dedicated app didn’t really click.

  11. Good move all around. The phone/convergence idea was never going to take off and it was a brave move by Shuttleworth to end the project and cut his losses although it’s a shame that Unity will die also.

    Canonical should instead focus on it’s core business platforms: server, cloud and desktop. And by ending Unity and focusing on Gnome, it will consolidate the desktops and hopefully it will mean a better Gnome desktop experience.

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