This is a guest post from Will Cooke, the new Desktop Team manager at Canonical. It’s being posted here while we work to get a blog setup on unity.ubuntu.com, which is where you can find out more about Unity 8 and how to get involved with it.
Understandably, most of the Ubuntu news recently has focused around phones. There is a lot of excitement and anticipation building around the imminent release of the first devices. However, the Ubuntu Desktop has not been dormant during this time. A lot of thought and planning has been given to what the desktop will become in the future; who will use it and what will they use it for. All the work which is going in to the phone will be directly applicable to the desktop as well, since they will use the same code. All the apps, the UI tweaks, everything which makes applications secure and stable will all directly apply to the desktop as well. The plan is to have the single converged operating system ready for use on the desktop by 16.04.
We learned some lessons during the early development of Unity 7. Here’s what happened:
- 11.04: New Unity as default
- 11.10: New Unity version
- 12.04: Unity in First LTS
What we’ve decided to do this time is to keep the same, stable Unity 7 desktop as the default while we offer users who want to opt-in to Unity8 an option to use that desktop. As development continues the Unity 8 desktop will get better and better. It will benefit from a lot of the advances which have come about through the development of the phone OS and will benefit from continual improvements as the releases happen.
- 14.04 LTS: Unity 7 default / Unity 8 option for the first time
- 14.10: Unity 7 default / Unity 8 new rev as an option
- 15.04: Unity 7 default / Unity 8 new rev as an option
- 15.10: Potentially Unity 8 default / Unity 7 as an option
- 16.04 LTS: Unity 8 default / Unity 7 as an option
As you can see, this gives us a full 2 cycles (in addition to the one we’ve already done) to really nail Unity 8 with the level of quality that people expect. So what do we have?
How will we deliver Unity 8 with better quality than 7?
Continuous Integration is the best way for us to achieve and maintain the highest quality possible. We have put a lot of effort in to automating as much of the testing as we can, the best testing is that which is performed easily. Before every commit the changes get reviewed and approved – this is the first line of defense against bugs. Every merge request triggers a run of the tests, the second line of defense against bugs and regressions – if a change broke something we find out about it before it gets in to the build.
The CI process builds everything in a “silo”, a self contained & controlled environment where we find out if everything works together before finally landing in the image.
And finally, we have a large number of tests which run against those images. This really is a “belt and braces” approach to software quality and it all happens automatically. You can see, we are taking the quality of our software very seriously.
What about Unity 7?
Unity 7 and Compiz have a team dedicated to maintenance and bug fixes and so the quality of it continues to improve with every release. For example; windows switching workspaces when a monitor gets unplugged is fixed, if you have a mouse with 6 buttons it works, support for the new version of Metacity (incase you want to use the Gnome2 desktop) – added (and incidentally, a lot of that work was done by a community contributor – thanks Alberts!)
Unity 7 is the desktop environment for a lot of software developers, devops gurus, cloud platform managers and millions of users who rely on it to help them with their everyday computing. We don’t want to stop you being able to get work done. This is why we continue to maintain Unity 7 while we develop Unity 8. If you want to take Unity 8 for a spin and see how its coming along then you can; if you want to get your work done, we’re making that experience better for you every day. Best of all, both of these options are available to you with no detriment to the other.
Things that we’re getting in the new Ubuntu Desktop
- Applications decoupled from the OS updates. Traditionally a given release of Ubuntu has shipped with the versions of the applications available at the time of release. Important updates and security fixes are back-ported to older releases where required, but generally you had to wait for the next release to get the latest and greatest set of applications. The new desktop packaging system means that application developers can push updates out when they are ready and the user can benefit right away.
- Application isolation. Traditionally applications can access anything the user can access; photos, documents, hardware devices, etc. On other platforms this has led to data being stolen or rendered otherwise unusable. Isolation means that without explicit permission any Click packaged application is prevented from accessing data you don’t want it to access.
- A full SDK for writing Ubuntu apps. The SDK which many people are already using to write apps for the phone will allow you to write apps for the desktop as well. In fact, your apps will be write once run anywhere – you don’t need to write a “desktop” app or a “phone” app, just an Ubuntu app.
What we have now
The easiest way to try out the Unity 8 Desktop Preview is to use the daily Ubuntu Desktop Next live image: http://cdimage.ubuntu.com/ubuntu-desktop-next/daily-live/current/ This will allow you to boot into a Unity 8 session without touching your current installation. An easy 10 step way to write this image to a USB stick is:
- Download the ISO
- Insert your USB stick in the knowledge that it’s going to get wiped
- Open the “Disks” application
- Choose your USB stick and click on the cog icon on the righthand side
- Choose “Restore Disk Image”
- Browse to and select the ISO you downloaded in #1
- Click “Start restoring”
- Boot and select “Try Ubuntu….”
- Done *
* Please note – there is currently a bug affecting the Unity 8 greeter which means you are not automatically logged in when you boot the live image. To log in you need to:
- Switch to vt1 (ctrl-alt-f1)
- type “passwd” and press enter
- press enter again to set the current password to blank
- enter a new password twice
- Check that the password has been successfully changed
- Switch back to vt7 (ctrl-alt-f7)
- Enter the new password to login
The people working on the new desktop are made up of a few different disciplines. We have a team dedicated to Unity 7 maintenance and bug fixes who are also responsible for Unity 8 on the desktop and feed in a lot of support to the main Unity 8 & Mir teams. We have the Ubuntu Desktop team who are responsible for many aspects of the underlying technologies used such as GNOME libraries, settings, printing etc as well as the key desktop applications such as Libreoffice and Chromium. The Ubuntu desktop team has some of the longest serving members of the Ubuntu family, with some people having been here for the best part of ten years.
How you can help
We need to log all the bugs which need to be fixed in order to make Unity 8 the best desktop there is. Firstly, we need people to test the images and log bugs. If developers want to help fix those bugs, so much the better. Right now we are focusing on identifying where the work done for the phone doesn’t work as expected on the desktop. Once those bugs are logged and fixed we can rely on the CI system described above to make sure that they stay fixed.
Link to daily ISOs: http://cdimage.ubuntu.com/ubuntu-desktop-next/daily-live/current/
IRC: #ubuntu-desktop on Freenode