Six years after making Unity the default user interface on Ubuntu desktops, Canonical is giving up on the project and will switch the default Ubuntu desktop back to GNOME next year. Canonical is also ending development of Ubuntu software for phones and tablets, spelling doom for the goal of creating a converged experience with phones acting as desktops when docked with the right equipment.
Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth explained the move in a blog post Wednesday. "I’m writing to let you know that we will end our investment in Unity8, the phone and convergence shell," he wrote. "We will shift our default Ubuntu desktop back to GNOME for Ubuntu 18.04 LTS," which will ship in April 2018.
This is a return to the early years of Ubuntu, when the desktop shipped with GNOME instead of a Canonical-developed user interface. Shuttleworth's blog post didn't specifically say that phone and tablet development is ending. But Canonical Community Manager Michael Hall confirmed to Ars that the Ubuntu phone and tablet project is over.
"Work on the phone and tablet is also ending, the whole convergence story, really," Hall said. "The desktop will continue, but like it was in the pre-Unity days where we took what upstream [developers] designed and developed."
Ubuntu phones and laptops never became popular with hardware makers, carriers, or consumers, and software development seemed to be slowing down. While Unity 8 was shipping on phones and tablets, it has never been stable enough to become the default on the desktop, which uses Unity 7. Canonical's work on creating a new desktop display server, Mir, has also been slow.
By switching to GNOME, Canonical is also giving up on Mir and moving to the Wayland display server, another contender for replacing the X window system. Given the separate development paths of Mir and Wayland, "we have no real choice but to use Wayland when Ubuntu switches to GNOME by default," Hall told Ars. "Using Mir simply isn't an option we have."