The vision was right but the execution was far too late.
The Unity desktop was launched back in 2010 and has been a target of criticism ever since. It broke many of classic desktop design principles, by moving the task bar / dash to the left, along with windows buttons. It took them a few releases to make it stable and then it basically stopped evolving, now sitting at version 7.5.
The reason for the stagnant development was Canonical's vision to seek mobile and desktop convergence with Unity 8 - a new desktop environment suitable for desktops, tablets and mobiles with the ability to provide desktop features from a mobile device, when connected to external peripherals. Sounds familiar? This is the very same thing that Microsoft has been actively failing with Windows 8 and 10. And the Unity 8 was delayed release after release and now finally got killed by Mark Shutlleworh.
The device convergence seems to be a tough nut to crack. As said, Microsoft was not able to develop a desirable solution and Apple has not ventured into this direction. The latest attempt comes from Google, who is bringing Android apps into Chrome OS environment, which seems like the most promising solution so far, even though it is not providing means to extend mobile user experience to the desktop.
Why killing Unity 8 is a good thing
This decision has a significant impact to the Linux open source ecosystem.
- Gnome is re-crowned as the king of Linux desktop. All major distros are again running on Gnome, which will be the default environment for Ubuntu 18.04 LTS, due in a year. Gnome has stabilized and improved over the years and is definitely superior to the current Unity 7.
- Canonical will most likely cancel the Mir display server too. Again a very good thing, reducing needless fragmentation and Wayland can finally replace X, as it has in the latest Fedora release.
- Ubuntu 18.04 LTS will be very good. High quality Ubuntu base combined with the best available desktop environment. For some reason, the Ubuntu's flavors (like UbuntuGnome) always have bugs that are not found in the main edition, possibly due to Unity dependencies.
- Ubuntu and Canonical get their focus back to desktop, server and IoT. The mobile market is currently impenetrable.
This is an excellent call by Mark Shuttleworth, even though it happened years too late. It has been poisonous for the Linux ecosystem that the best and most popular desktop Linux operating system has diverged from the generic code baseline, developing their own desktops and related technologies. Now Ubuntu gets back in line, spearheading user friendly desktop Linux development. Gnome gets full focus and more user base.
Goodbye Unity, you won't be missed - welcome back, Ubuntu!