Saturday, May 14, 2011

Ubuntu Studio Moving to XFCE

As outlined in my last post, the Ubuntu Studio team is currently establishing goals for Ubuntu Studio 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot and I believe we have some incredible ideas for improvement.  One notable decision is to use XFCE as Ubuntu Studio's desktop environment (DE).

I would like to take this time to explain the rationale for this particular consideration.

User Experience
As most reading this blog should be aware, Ubuntu has recently moved from using GNOME 2 (aka GNOME panel) to Unity as the default DE.

Unity represents a huge paradigm shift in work flow, usability, and user experience.  Stability is also another realistic consideration as Unity is a new technology.

Ultimately, the outcome was appreciable concern regarding how Unity would affect the typical Ubuntu Studio user’s work flow.

The consensus within the team is that Unity was not an optimal choice for Ubuntu Studio at this time.

Sustainability
Unfortunately, Ubuntu 11.10 will apparently not ship with the ‘classic’ GNOME desktop (i.e. GNOME panel), which is currently Ubuntu Studio's DE.  While not officially announced, I think this is the logical outcome given GNOME 3's release and there are many, many articles giving voice to the same conclusion.

The unfortunate yield is that the gnome-panel package within the Ubuntu repositories would soon likely begin to suffer bit rot given that upstream (GNOME Foundation) and Ubuntu would both decrease and ultimately stop support and maintenance.).

Therefore, it quickly became evident that staying with GNOME panel as our default DE did not represent a viable choice for project sustainability.  I found this !disturbing (haha @bkuhn).

We could not currently move 'forward' with vanilla Ubuntu, nor could we maintain the status quo.  We needed to find an alternate DE.

Enter XFCE
Several DE’s were discussed but XFCE was chosen because it offered appreciable advantages that other DE's could not.

Some advantages would be more immediately tangible to users. For example, XFCE represents a familiar desktop metaphor (@Fab thanks) for users and provides a more resource friendly environment than GNOME, KDE, or (I would expect) Unity.

Other advantages would more tangible to the Ubuntu Studio team (and perhaps to users later on). A large potential advantage is to develop working relations with the Xubuntu team, which could reduce the work load on the limited Ubuntu Studio team but also increase the actual development yield.

And ultimately, some benefits of this relationship might eventually include a graphical installer and a live image, both of which have been desired by users.

Conclusion
It appears that XFCE seems to provide the most familiar user experience without significantly changing user's work flows while also ensuring sustainability at this point.

Although, we have also taken this opportunity to explore updating the DE's user interface and are seriously considering leveraging the appreciable advantages of AWN.  Cory Kontros has done some wickedly cool stuff and I have been consistently using something similar to his prototype for several weeks with exceptionally good experiences.

I believe that Ubuntu Studio 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot should therefore be one of the most exciting and effective releases in some time given the proposed changes and updates that are planned.  I hope you feel so too.
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