Canonical's Move to a New Display Environment Is A Sign of More Change to Come

by Ostatic Staff - Nov. 05, 2010

Only days after announcing that Ubuntu will change its default desktop interface to Unity, Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth has announced on his blog that the Wayland display environment will take the place of the existing environment. Wayland is compatible with X applications, but, as CIO notes, there are risks in making the leap to a new display environment. Why is Ubuntu suddenly experiencing so much disruptive change?

There has been much discussion of the impact on the GNOME community that Canonical's decision to go with the Unity desktop environment will have. We just noted that GNOME Foundation Executive Director Stormy Peters has moved on to Mozilla.  Now the display environment is being swapped? What gives?

It's important to note that there have been many changes for Canonical and Ubuntu in the past year or two. Noted blogger Matt Asay took the reins at Canonical as COO. Asay has a deep understanding of the rise of mobile technology, how open source applications such as Firefox have become fierce competitors, and the business realities of open source. I don't doubt that he is a big part of the changes we're seeing at Canonical.

Also, though, the environment for Linux has changed dramatically. Look at the success of Google's Linux-based Android mobile OS. One interpretation of its success is simply that Linux doesn't even need the computing desktop to succeed. Canonical is aiming for unified experiences across phones, tablets, computers and other hardware platforms--a smart way to think. This differs radically from the old world, where companies with operating systems tended to focus heavily on the computing desktop. 

CIO, in discussing the move to Wayland, gets it right here:

"My gut feeling for Canonical moving so aggressively in this direction is the rise of ultra-mobile computing. Shuttleworth wants a piece of the netbook and tablet PC action and the standard PC interface (GNOME, KDE, Windows, etc) just won’t cut it."

I don't doubt that there will be more disruptive changes at Canonical, but the changes may very well streamline Ubuntu and optimize it for use cases that most people don't think about so often--especially mobile ones, and ones on emerging hardware platforms. Some are already heralding the move to Wayland as showing "guts and leadership," while some folks posting on Mark Shuttleworth's own forum think it's the kiss of death.You have to hand it to Canonical, though: The company is never boring.