Dear Mark Shuttleworth: please tell the truth

Note: this post/site will likely be up and down today – it’s getting much more traffic than usual and high traffic seems to trigger some kind of httpd leak on my server, which exhausts the RAM. I almost never get high traffic so I don’t really care enough to investigate and fix that; I just let it go. I’ll restart httpd every so often to clear things. News sites, if you want to cover this story, probably a good idea to excerpt my post extensively: I hereby place this post under CC BY to allow you to do so. Please at least include all the references I cite so I don’t have to re-type them in comments.

I’ve been trying to keep my cool regarding this whole Mir kerfuffle, but some stuff really gets my goat.

To keep this short and to the point:

Mark, Unity did not exist before GNOME Shell. Please stop claiming it did.

Mark’s comment is dated 2013-03-10 4:33 PM, if it is not removed: it does not appear possible to link directly to a comment on Google+. Text of Mark’s comment: “nonsense. Unity existed before Gnome Shell. And the design of Unity was clear up front, it’s Red Hat’s team that wandered all over the place before shifting to a design that bears a startling resemblance to Unity.” Mark, ‘initial stable release’ is a largely arbitrary milestone, and not what developers mean when they say ‘exist’. GNOME Shell was in existence, under active public development, and being used on people’s desktops before Unity got its first commit. Muddying the waters by saying Shell changed its UI is irrelevant: it was very clearly a single continuous project throughout. I know, because I was running it the whole time.

Edit: as a supplemental reference, here is a video uploaded 2009-05-13 showing GNOME Shell compiled from git by a third party, with the top panel – complete with ‘Activities’, notification area at top right, user menu at top right, and a full screen overview triggered by moving the mouse to top-left with applications down the left hand side and a display of workspaces and windows taking up the rest of the space. If that’s not GNOME Shell, I am a hippopotamus. The first commit to the Unity repository is dated 2009-10-15: five months earlier, Shell was in a state where someone who is not part of GNOME at all could check it out of git, build it, run it, and see something that is clearly an early version of the Shell that exists today.

Edit: please, no-one cite the dates given on Wikipedia. Those are the dates of the first official stable release. Mark explicitly used the word existed, in a context which made it clear we were talking about the early gestation of both projects, not their stable release dates. Linus released the Linux source code in April 1991 and version 0.01 in September 1991, but did not release 1.0.0 until 1994: it would be absurd to suggest that Linux ‘didn’t exist’ until 1994.

Mark, please stop claiming you “innovated when we created Ubuntu on a six month cadence”. You did not.

Mandriva was on a six month release cycle from the release of 8.0 or 8.1 (in 2001) to the release of 2010 (in 2009), with the sole exception of an experiment with a 12 month cycle between the releases of 2006 and 2007. Various release were early or late by <1 month, but it was a consistent cycle with releases targeted for March and September each year. Edit: as supplemental references, here I am in September 2003 – long before I worked for Mandriva – writing “Mandrake is released every six months”. And here is someone else, in January 2004, writing “Mandrake’s Cooker, the perpetual-work-in-progress distro that becomes the next final release of Mandrake every six months or so”.

You make these claims regularly, despite them being debunked multiple times in the past. Please stop.

43 Responses

  1. Vincent Vega
    Vincent Vega March 11, 2013 at 1:48 pm | | Reply

    Damn, this early video of Gnome Shell from youtube seem so much more usable than current gnome shell. Normal tray and less insane paddings.

  2. Kevin Kofler
    Kevin Kofler March 11, 2013 at 2:13 pm | | Reply

    Fedora has also been doing 6-month releases since before Ubuntu even existed. And Ubuntu’s mission statement at that time looked almost plagiarized from Fedora’s. (I haven’t checked how they have evolved since.)

  3. GS
    GS March 11, 2013 at 2:43 pm | | Reply

    Please reconsider what you are doing with GS and make something else for GNOME 4. This is not troll post i am serious.

    GNOME 2 was great but GNOME 3 + GS is useless and pleas admit this and move on.

  4. GS
    GS March 11, 2013 at 3:09 pm | | Reply

    “Having said that, I think GNOME Shell is great, I’ve used it since before GNOME 3.0 came out, and I think the benefits of the major changes are becoming clear in releases like 3.6 and 3.8. That is entirely a personal opinion, though.”

    I loved GNOME 2 and i am not saying GNOME 3 should be the same as GNOME 2 but GNOME 3 with GS failed. No sane Microsoft, Apple or Android user will migrate to it and Linux mobile/desktop surely can’t compete with GNOME + GS in the state it’s now (3.8 included).

    “In any case, this post is not about whether GNOME Shell is any good. It’s a simple question of factual accuracy: Mark is saying things that simply are not true. It bugs me as a historian (my degree is in history) more than a ‘software guy’, actually. The history of our community is still pretty disorganized and ephemeral, and when a big fish like Mark says something and keeps saying it, there is the danger that it becomes the ‘accepted truth’ despite not, in point of fact, being correct. His comment about Unity ‘existing before’ Shell got 31 +es, and I have since seen it repeated as gospel by other people. Despite the fact that it is absolutely, clearly, and incontrovertibly not the case.”

    Fair i have nothing against the truth/facts and if this are the facts i can accept them. P.S. From my point of view GS/Unity/Cinnamon are products of migration to GNOME 3 where a lot of distribution makers and users disagreed what GNOME did and didn’t want to use GS and i don’t know exactly when somebody start planing what will be GNOME 3 shell like i just know default one was not accepted and we needed something else…

  5. Kota
    Kota March 11, 2013 at 3:39 pm | | Reply

    @GS, I feel like Unity at the very least was more of Canonical’s not invented here syndrome kicking in. Same with Mir, Bazaar, Launchpad, Quickly, and almost every other alternative that Canonical has come up with. They seem to never contribute to upstream, and always come up with competing inferior products. At the very least, Gnome Shell seems to be much better engineered than Unity.

    @AdamW, thanks for this post. It’s about time someone step up against Mark Shuttleworth’s ludicrous claims…

  6. GS
    GS March 11, 2013 at 4:18 pm | | Reply

    I am not advocate of anybody but for the reference:

    Ubuntu Netbook Remix was introduced in Hardy Heron release and was production ready 24 April 2008:

    It looked like this:

    We could argue if Unity is direct evolution from Ubuntu Netbook Remix or not and if GS does take elements from it. Looking at the video we could find some similarity with GS? But i think this is normal when it comes to software development and surely some concepts from Ubuntu Netbook Remix existed before 2008?

    About 6 moth release cycle i am not qualified to judge this but Ubuntu does/did until now stick with it? I don’t know if this makes any difference but i think it’s important deadlines are respected.

    “I feel like Unity at the very least was more of Canonical’s not invented here syndrome kicking in. Same with Mir, Bazaar, Launchpad, Quickly, and almost every other alternative that Canonical has come up with. They seem to never contribute to upstream, and always come up with competing inferior products. At the very least, Gnome Shell seems to be much better engineered than Unity.”

    I do find some truth in this for sure but users don’t necessarily put “better engineered” in front of “i like to use”. I am not saying who is right or wrong i just wanted to add some comments/info as i see it and i wish you all well.

  7. Kota
    Kota March 11, 2013 at 4:43 pm | | Reply

    @GS, I’m inclined to say that Unity is more of a natural evolution of Docky than UNR, though perhaps in some ways, Unity is a merging in concepts of the two.

  8. Jef Spaleta
    Jef Spaleta March 11, 2013 at 5:19 pm | | Reply

    I’d go further with the historic analysis. I would argue that maemo 4 as implemented on the Nokia N810 in 2007 was the historic “innovation” predecessor for what we are seeing now in modern UI. The N810 was way ahead of its time as a “web tablet” device (not a phone!) and was touch oriented, well as touch oriented as anything could be at that moment in time given the available technology.

    And sadly, how Nokia approached creating the Hildon interface toolkit as used by maemo as an out of tree addon to GNome 2.x also speaks the same sort of historical lesson as Canonical’s at arm’s length approach to collaboration. Sadly Canonical didn’t really innovate in “approaching collaboration wrong” either. Nokia was way ahead of them on that score, blazing a trail for Canonical to follow.

    Mark likes to retcon history a bit, its just a character quirk he has that we all have to live with. Its not appropriate to call it a flaw, it would make him make a great Marvel comicbook writer. But in the context of the ongoing discussion about Canonical as a corporate entity’s decisioning making, his tendency to retcon is problematic.

    The best scholarly history of the unity/gnome situation was produced by Jeff Waugh, a former Canonical employee:

    There are multiple blog posts in his series. They are all worth a read to get perspective.

    But really none of this matters. This historical navel gazing is fun, but ultimately a distraction for Mark and for Canonical. Like Adam here, it pisses me the hell off to see Mark engaging in it, but probably for vastly different reasons. Mark is squandering his leadership position by wasting time trash talking to absolutely no benefit to Canonical.

    What really matters is Canonical has until 14.04 to pull a fully working cross-device convergent platform out of their ass. They’ve wowed people at CES and at MWC with what is essentially a mockup of their deliverable built on top of Android plumbing. A mockup that doesn’t do anything useful if you actually attempt to use it for more than about 30 seconds.

    They have set expectations extremely high to win the praise on their demos at those shows. They’ve screwed themselves and they don’t even realize it. There is absolutely no way, based on their available talent pool, that they will be able to get this together by 14.04. No way. Even if they get half-way there, which would be quite impressive, they’ve shot themselves in the head by bringing up expectations so high with their demos. Half way there, instead of looking like a partial win, like progress, is going to look like failure when compared to the story they fed to the laypress at CES and MWC in the last few months.

    Seriously this will be the 4 unique implementation of the Unity UI. Instead of stabilizing and polishing, they are re-implementing a FOURTH shell in a FOURTH toolkit. 3 implementations built and scraped. Holy crap. I mean really build one and throw it away I get. But build 3 and throw them away?

    How many different implementations of Mir will they build and discard?

    How quickly are they going to hit limitations in the qt5/qml design and will be compelled to downstream patch-in features to get their Unity Next out the door and into the hands of OEM partners? You think the blood between GNOME/Canonical was bad? Just wait when they start screwing around with downstream patches for Qt and see how the KDE/Qt community reacts.

  9. daniels
    daniels March 11, 2013 at 5:31 pm | | Reply

    The six-month cadence (let’s call it a ‘release cycle’) wasn’t an innovation. Ubuntu was explicitly chosen to release a month or two after GNOME stable releases, which were on a six-month cycle. It wasn’t a happy accident, and six months wasn’t some magical commandment Mark carved on to a tablet after a blinding flash of inspiration. It was directly, 100%, following GNOME. And came as much from jdub as anyone else.

    (I was there when it was decided.)

  10. GS
    GS March 11, 2013 at 5:46 pm | | Reply

    “We’re just talking about when two specific projects – Unity and Shell – existed. I don’t think it’s viable to try and argue that Unity and UNR are the same thing, ergo Unity existed in 2008. Mark doesn’t seem to have thought of it that way.”

    OK but if we won’t look back on how things evolved and try to put that into the context (video above) then this are the facts if Wikipedia info is true:


    Initial release April 6, 2011


    Initial release June 9, 2010

    P.S. I am not registered on Phoronix and to be honest i already spent too much time on this and i will leave further debate to others. But based on info i gathered both started thinking about it as early as 2008 (maybe before that year) and end users got Unity a bit sooner compared to GS.

  11. Jef Spaleta
    Jef Spaleta March 11, 2013 at 6:11 pm | | Reply


    up versus down… being intimately coordinate system specific, which are arbitrary constructions, leads to the unfortunate situation where 2 coordinate systems could disagree on the definition of ‘up’ but still be self-consistent. Making a convincing argument for ‘up’ being ‘down’ ultimately futile.

    But what I can do is argue quite convincingly that North is South , geomagnetically speaking.

    -jef”I re-added Jeff’s blog link in the hope that a second reference to it would inspire GS to take the 20 minutes to read it”spaleta

  12. GS
    GS March 11, 2013 at 6:24 pm | | Reply

    I tried to leave one more comment but it failed multiple times.


  13. GS
    GS March 11, 2013 at 6:36 pm | | Reply

    OK one more try:

    “I’d go further with the historic analysis.”

    Yes that is exactly what i said we could and probably both GS and Unity borrowed from each other and from the history and we could place that in context to bend it as we would like.

    “I’m inclined to say that Unity is more of a natural evolution of Docky than UNR, though perhaps in some ways, Unity is a merging in concepts of the two.”

    I don’t know looking at this image:

    I do see launcher on the left, dash like functionality on top of the desktop and panel with indicators on the top. I would be confident enough to say Unity Current does have roots here (natural evolution).

    “GS: it’s not about ‘thinking about it’, it’s about two specific codebases, Unity and Shell. Unity is not the same codebase as UNR, it is completely different. You can trace Unity’s existence with great certainty to late 2009. You can trace Shell’s with great certainty to late 2008.”

    Unity gets rewritten on yearly bases. 😉

    Unity Next could have new name again because it will use totally different technology to build it and it won’t use Compiz anymore for example and the display server looks like it won’t be anymore but design wise we could argue looking at above image the roots are there? The code could switch to other repository and it would be dated to current date… Probably the name had to change too for practical reason it would not make sense to call it Ubuntu Netbook Remix/Edition anymore?

    “Mark didn’t say ‘we were thinking about netbooks before GNOME was’, he didn’t say “Unity had a stable release before Shell did”, he said “Unity existed before Shell did”. It’s a very clear and simple statement that is clearly and simply not true.”

    It depends on how to interpret input data. If image of UNR does not convince you Unity has it’s roots in it then yes it’s hard to argue otherwise. If video above of UNR does not convince you that GS has similar layout for presenting apps… End users according to Wikipedia did get Unity first if we don’t count UNR…

    But if only the date when GS and Unity official repository for hosting the code are important and nothing else then you are probably right one dates the other. But i don’t know if that proves MS was wrong in what he said i will leave that for others to decide for themselves and for historians to determine the facts!


  14. GS
    GS March 11, 2013 at 6:44 pm | | Reply

    I worked now great! Probably url to the image caused troubles and i uploaded the image to TinyPic and now it works!

    Anyway nice talk and to be honest it was fun and thanks for that but i had enough. 😉 I hope GS and Unity will do good in the future… and that is it.


  15. GS
    GS March 11, 2013 at 6:47 pm | | Reply

    “If a thing ‘has roots in’ another thing, it doesn’t mean that Thing A is the same as Thing B.”

    Yes but as i said it would probably not make much sense to call it Ubuntu Netbook Remix/Edition anymore after it was decided it will become default shell on desktop/mobile? 😉


  16. GS
    GS March 11, 2013 at 7:14 pm | | Reply

    Yes code wise i do imagine once Qt/QML port is finished it will stay like that (code and technology wise) for a while.

  17. andrew89
    andrew89 March 11, 2013 at 9:10 pm | | Reply

    AdamW is probably factually correct on both counts.

    My love affair with Ubuntu is long over, especially since I have just found out that I was naively accepting those non-functioning (but hella pretty!) Ubuntu for smartphone mockups as something that was ready to come out “any day now.” That’s a far cry from the truth. Shuttleworth is too concerned about how to make the news, and not nearly enough with running a upstream-contributing FOSS project with best practices in mind.

    Canonical/Ubuntu is increasingly a fountainhead of “our way, our brand (TM)”, Mac envy, FUD and hype. Blah.

    GNOME 3 Shell, on the other hand, is something I use, support, and love, ever since it released. And if you really find the timely move to a modernized look, feel, and workflow so offensive, you have like half a dozen feasible alternatives at your disposal, including to install a particular combination of extensions on top of GNOME 3 to get back to the traditional experience.

    I’m sure a lot of old die-hards cried foul over the switch from text consoles to GUIs in the early 90s.

  18. tracyanne
    tracyanne March 12, 2013 at 1:55 am | | Reply

    Ain’t going to happen Adam, as we have seen from his dealings with the Ubuntu community, he is essentially dishonest. For as long as he sees prevarication as useful to attaining his goals, that is what he will do.

  19. jimmy
    jimmy March 12, 2013 at 4:03 am | | Reply

    There was also Ubuntu Light which was exactly like Unity without a name. It was demoed in may 2010, but there is no info when did the development start. So it might as well be true.

  20. Máirín Duffy
    Máirín Duffy March 12, 2013 at 7:31 am | | Reply

    GS, the major point you’re missing here is that GNOME shell’s initial development (before it’s initial release was 100% open and in the public and Unity’s was not.

    I remember spending a couple of afternoons at the GNOME Boston Summit UX hackfest in October 2008 at Novell’s Cambridge office (and Mark Shuttleworth himself was present, BTW) working on the initial shell design, which was pretty much the entire point of the hackfest. The first shell design document was written in July 2009

    GNOME shell was public 2 years earlier than Unity. Sorry, dude.

  21. GrueMaster
    GrueMaster March 12, 2013 at 10:22 am | | Reply

    Ugh, it is exactly these types of battles that keep Linux form making inroads on the desktop. This whole “not invented here” crap that keeps getting slapped at Ubuntu/Canonical is really BS, and actually swings both ways. Someone above mentioned bzr as an example. It was developed in parallel with git and mercurial, all because of the flap with bitkeeper. Launchpad was designed not just as a hosting facility with bug tracking, but also as a complete integration system for maintaining, building, and publishing Ubuntu. Yes, it was closed for a long time, but other open source projects have been closed before going open (like java, solaris, etc). So what?

    As to the release cycle thing, I have used all of the major distros. Ubuntu at least sticks with their release schedules. Who else can claim that? I currently use several at work (CentOS, Fedora, Ubuntu Debian, OpenSuse). Of all of them, Ubuntu ‘just works’ 99% of the time (12.04 failed to install once on new hardware until I updated the kernel). Fedora 17 recently broke several of our build tools because of their constant moving target updates (kernel updates from 3.3, 3.6, 3.7 all in this release).

  22. GS
    GS March 12, 2013 at 10:38 am | | Reply

    “GNOME shell was public 2 years earlier than Unity. Sorry, dude.”

    End user got Unity before GS according to Wikipedia and UNR is predecessor of Unity if you like it or not. Look at the image i posted above if you don’t believe me and in the end it reading the comments it just looks like somebody don’t like MS and that is about it.

    And after sleeping it over if GS took 5 years to become what is it now i only hope GNOME 4 repository is already available somewhere because GNOME 3 + GS is dead end i only hope it won’t take additional 5 years just to admit that and to do something about it and Unity starting with UNR did more in this 5 years it’s actually usable ATM.

  23. Leslie Satenstein
    Leslie Satenstein March 12, 2013 at 2:32 pm | | Reply

    To me it matters not which was first, but which shell is more usable. From my use of both, I preferred Gnome Shell slightly more than Unity (55 to 45). However, I was and am frustrated by the constant resizing of windows and I switched to Cinnamon, based on Gnome’s GTK.

    I have been a Fedora user since RedHat introduced Core, which is before Fedora 6 was released. Since the current release is 18, I have had the pleasure of having installed 12 releases, delivered about six months apart.

    On my system I setup three logons. One with Gnome, one with Cinnamon and the third with KDE. This way every few days I switch from one to the other to evaluate any patches or enhancements.

    Here is an off topic comment . “7 inch or 10 inch tablets are heavy items to lug around. Many do not have usb or memory card slots. A virtual keyboard is not the same as a true keyboard, neither is a Bluetooth keyboard that forms part of the tablet case. The Netbook with SSD and with a handle to make it easy to hold will replace the tablet. When the tablet includes the smartphone, then and only then will the desktop computer have competition. In the meantime, enjoy the fad.”

  24. Xiong Chiamiov
    Xiong Chiamiov March 12, 2013 at 11:15 pm | | Reply

    PSA: Do you have a blog? Is it not hosted on static pages served through a CDN? You should take a few minutes to install Varnish and… hell, you probably don’t even need to configure it – it comes with pretty sensible (and safe!) defaults. It’s also an incredibly well-designed piece of software that has turned Reddit frontpage events from an incredibly busy day for me to completely non-notable.

    A Sysadmin

  25. Per Øyvind Karlsen
    Per Øyvind Karlsen March 30, 2013 at 1:09 am | | Reply

    For Mandriva Linux, we’re now on a “it’s done when it’s done”-cycle.. 😉

  26. Mick Russom
    Mick Russom February 9, 2014 at 2:30 pm | | Reply

    upstart – junk
    mir – stupid
    juju – stinks
    openstack from canonical repos – brokenstack, broken beyond belief
    Ubuntu LTS – 12.04 has had THREE kernels, 3.2, 3.5, 3.8. And to top it off, not bringing in 3.10, the actually decent one of the bunch.

    Mark is a dolt, a destroyer, a fragmenter

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