Unity 8 Desktop

Will CookeThis 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.

The plan

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. Download the ISO
  2. Insert your USB stick in the knowledge that it’s going to get wiped
  3. Open the “Disks” application
  4. Choose your USB stick and click on the cog icon on the righthand side
  5. Choose “Restore Disk Image”
  6. Browse to and select the ISO you downloaded in #1
  7. Click “Start restoring”
  8. Wait
  9. Boot and select “Try Ubuntu….”
  10. 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:

  1. Switch to vt1 (ctrl-alt-f1)
  2. type “passwd” and press enter
  3. press enter again to set the current password to blank
  4. enter a new password twice
  5. Check that the password has been successfully changed
  6. Switch back to vt7 (ctrl-alt-f7)
  7. Enter the new password to login


Here are some screenshots showing what Unity 8 currently looks like on the desktop:


The team

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/

Bugs:  https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/unity8-desktop-session

IRC:  #ubuntu-desktop on Freenode

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45 Responses to Unity 8 Desktop

  1. Jef Spaleta says:

    So… what about the status of the shopping lens in Unity7? Unity 8 is moving to a completely different model, such that there is no “home” dash search box anymore and network active search is much more explicitly activated by users. But that’s Unity 8. What about Unity 7?

    Is Unity 7 going to continue to have the network active searches (the shopping lens) part of the dash search by default in Unity 7 moving foward? Or are there plans to do something to better enhance privacy and make network active search an opt-in in Unity 7 moving forward or is it going to continue to be an opt-out to disable the shopping results in the dash default search post install?


    • Michael Hall says:

      No major changes are planned for Unity 7. The Dash changes in Unity 8 required a major update to the Scopes API as well as additional UI components to support them in the Dash itself. Trying to back-port that to Unity 7 would be a large amount of work that would take time and effort away from making Unity 8 ready to replace it. Once Unity 8 is ready for the desktop, Unity 7 will go away (or at least be an optional fall-back session if anybody still wants it).

      • Jef Spaleta says:

        I’m pretty sure removing the shopping lens as a default active participant in U7’s dash doesn’t require a major rework. It just requires it to be… you know… not installed by default. Since its something people can disable “opt-out” its clearly something that can be just not activiated by default. Its still problematic for it to be on by default. The shopping lens could go away right now…even with U7 still in active usage. The shopping lens is not a critical component of U7.. no more than the tape worm in stomach is a critical component of my digestive system.

        The shopping lense is an award winning feature. So I can understand the reluctance to remove it on that grounds. Even if its an Anti-privacy award. But continuing to ship it active by default continues to look tone-deaf about what user-data privacy actually means and what people expect in terms of a trade-off between data harvesting and functionality. Streaming all the dash searches to a Canonical server by default…just to get shopping suggestions was always a bad deal. And now that U1 music service is shuttered… the (U)tility of the feature is even less than before. The trade-off is even more one sided now. Now its a terrible deal.

        Why is the shopping lens still installed by default? Doesn’t have to be. Why are dash searches still being actively harvested by Canonical? What are you doing what data now that U1MS is dead?

        This is just crazy. Did you really enjoy getting the Big Brother award? Was there a whole round of high fivesmemos and a cake and at HQ a Mission Accomplished banner when it happened?

        • Michael Hall says:

          Not the one lens on its own, no, but there are many scopes that search online services from the Home screen.

          • Jef Spaleta says:

            how many of those other scopes are installed by default?

            I fully understand there are many scopes which network search which users can choose to install.

            Other than the shopping lens… how many other network active scopes are installed by default and send home dash searches to a 3rd party server.. by default without a user installing any additional packages as part of the default Ubuntu desktop install?

            Moreover… what network active scopes/lens are running in the official Ubuntu desktop live images?

            We are talking about privacy implications of opt-in versus opt-out. Anything a user/admin has to choose to install from the repository and hooks into the home dask is an opt-in and its on their head. If they are informed enough to find and install it, its reasonable to assume they are informed enough to know its going to make the home dash network active search.

            Anything which is network activity from the dash search entry by default on a default install of the desktop is problematic because its opt-out and its much harder for a user to know how to turn it the hell off without reaching for external help from askubuntu or other places.

            But, meh, I guess this issue just doesn’t matter to Canonical. Maybe the damage is done and there won’t be another round of release-week blowback about the lingering privacy issues in U7 for the 14.10 or 15.04 releases. We’ll see. I look forward to sensationalize the problem until its fixed either by removing the default network active search in U7 or U8 becomes the default.. But until network active search is no longer a default for the search UI exposed in the default Ubuntu desktop UI offering, I’m going to keep bringing this up every release that has this problem.

            Doing it ahead of the release date in context to U7/U8 development is a courtesy to you and your employer…to give you a chance to address it again. If you (collectively, not you personally) choose not to address it. I will hammer the issue on release day and post release as much as I can, and as widely as I can, making sure its a talking point for all tech laypress articles about the U7 desktop… even going so far as counterpointing kubuntu as a reasonable alternative that does not have these concerns. This is a fair warning to you, to make sure you spend some time prepping talking points on the privacy concerns, as you’ll probably have to be the person who is tasked with providing constrasting rhetoric to downplay the impact of my criticism cocerning the privacy policy. Or you could just try to ignore me, I guess. Either way its not goingto fun for you, and I apologize now for making your life difficult. But the privacy issue isn’t going away until U7 is no longer the default or is changed so that network active search is clearly opt-in and not opt-out.


          • Michael Hall says:

            There are, IIRC, about 50 scopes installed by default. The majority of those search online sources, and almost all of those are anonymized through Canonical’s servers. Only scopes that need to identify the user (such as Google Docs) connect directly to those services.

        • Fabio Colella says:

          If privacy is what concerns you, the privacy issues have been adressed, so using lens isn’t a risk.

  2. tsuya says:

    When is the wayland support coming?

    • Michael Hall says:

      Wayland will come when one of the other desktops (Gnome or KDE most likely) are ready to use it as the default. Unity 8 has no plans to adopt Wayland, it will be using Mir on the desktop as it does now on the phone and tablet.

  3. leo says:

    So you mean we should use mobile interface on desktop environment(with mouse and keyboard)?

    • Michael Hall says:

      No, you should not be using Unity 8 as your daily desktop right now, it’s not ready for it yet.

      • Phil says:

        Will published a timetable for Unity 8 on the desktop, but it’s not clear when we will we see a version that is ready for daily use. Will this be in 15.04 or maybe at some intermediate stage? Thanks.

  4. Joe Wakeling says:

    Regarding “Applications decoupled from the OS updates” — how broadly will this apply? Does this refer principally to click packages, or can we expect other applications currently in the repos to be able to take advantage of this?

    • Michael Hall says:

      Only apps that aren’t tightly coupled with the desktop or system can be converted to Click packages, since Click packages don’t allow dependencies. This won’t be a problem for a large number of apps, as they can package any small dependencies they need, but if something needs specific (and large) parts of Gnome they aren’t good candidates for Click packaging and will continue to be delivered via Debian packages.

  5. Fabio Rosa says:

    You mention application independece from the system (for updates) and sandboxing as advantages for Unity8.
    But, from what I understand up to know, that will only apply to applications that use Ubuntu SDK and click packages.
    What about regular applications, like libreoffice, gimp, inkspace, blender, eclipse, etc… (from main or universe repositories) ? Are there plains to ‘detaching’ regular applications from the release, so they can be updated independently (like firefox, for example) ?

    • Michael Hall says:

      It applies to apps that are Click packages, yes, but they don’t have to be written with the SDK. The apps you listed can potentially be converted into Click packages, but there are no immediate plans for anybody to do so that I know of.

      • I recommend a single click package/sandbox for legacy GDK apps. Maybe call it “Gnome Emulator” or something like that. People will undoubtedly expect to run those legacy apps, Fabio there didn’t even consider that they might not be available.

  6. TACIXAT says:

    If I uninstall Bluez, the system settings are no longer accessible. Will this be fixed in Unity 8?

  7. Scias says:

    So what’s the state of Mir on the desktop as of now ? I’m asking this because there’s quite very little info about it and the rare videos of it (on the desktop) almost only show uninteresting fullscreen pageflips. I mean even NVIDIA’s XDC presentation had only Mir mentioned twice with almost no details about its implementation.
    Basically what’s left for it to be usable on the desktop ?

  8. “7. Enter the new password to login”. What do we enter for the username?

  9. Kazhnuz says:

    I’ve some questions regarding Unity 8 :

    First, will click package require Unity 8 and/or Mir to work ? I mean, for instance, will I if I use a flavour like Kubuntu, Xubuntu or stuff will be able to use Click package on them or will they only will be able to use Debian package ? Another question, will application made with Ubuntu SDK be able to run on another desktop environnement if we install the good library, as for instance Ubuntu Apps seems to be able to be run on Unity 7 for the moment or something like that.

    In term of UI, will the overall user experiences and space-saving features of Unity7 be kept when we use Unity 7 on a desktop ?

    Even if I’m not a Unity user, I appreciate the work done for Unity 8, and I will give Unity 8 a run :)

    • Michael Hall says:

      Click packages don’t require Mir, but the store apps need to be run under confinement, which does require Mir. Ubuntu SDK apps will run under other desktops as long as the runtime dependencies are installed

  10. Pete Mustard says:

    Always liked unity, my main problem with it was always how bad it runs on lower end hardware such as netbooks with 2gb of ram and such.

    I still own a asus one who came with 12.04 and it’s barely usable, having to use xubuntu or lubuntu is such a step back…

  11. Chris Carter says:

    Will we have to wait for apps/programs to add support for Unity8/Mir?

    • Michael Hall says:

      No, apps that use Qt or Gtk will “just work” in Unity 8 & Mir without the app developer having to do anything.

  12. Since you guys are into Qt now how do you see KDE Frameworks 5. Do you plan to include or use KDE Frameworks for Unity 8 development? Do you collaborate with Frameworks guys?

    • Michael Hall says:

      I don’t think there are any plans to use KDE Frameworks. We’re still using quite a bit of Gnome technology in the background, even in Unity 8.

  13. Daniel Zimmermann says:

    Just a short one:
    What are the plans about virtual desktops.
    Since I needed to activate this feature in 14.04 via the settings, I’m worried, that unity 8 week not have it at all.
    This is a killer feature to me (and now even windows 10 gets it…).

  14. Masternoob says:

    I just tried the daily image on my eepc t91mt but i just get a black screen with the cursor showing…i want to log a bug but i need some help to provide useful information…where do i find the needed logfiles and what information do you need?

  15. Prithviraj Nag says:

    When is it likely that Unity 8 Desktop will reach a stage where it can be “fairly usable” for basic desktop tasks? I mean, on the phone, at one point of time you had started “dogfooding”. When will that point be reached for the Desktop Unity 8? Thanks.

    • Michael Hall says:

      Hopefully 15.04 will have a “usable” desktop version of Unity 8, just not one that we will want to make default for all users.

  16. Amarpreet says:

    Hi Michael,

    From my (very limited) understanding, Unity 8 + Mir will no longer use compiz. So what will happen to the desktop effects we’ve been used to for several years?

    Wobbly windows are awesome ofcourse! But the more essential features of compiz like hotcorners, workspaces, window spread and desktop zoom – will they be a part of Unity 8 + Mir?

    Also want to add that I’m happy to help test the Unity 8 desktop whenever I get time, but at the moment it doesn’t play nicely with my laptop with nvidia gt555m + intel gpu. Are there any solutions to get it to work on nvidia optimus laptops?

    Thanks in advance

  17. Oliver says:

    I have had a hard time finding information about this–do Qt and GTK+ applications already run on Unity 8? If I install the Unity 8 14.10 beta on an x86_64 tablet, will I be able to easily install and use my favorite applications?

  18. krawk says:


    Ubuntu touch RTM has been released, but it’s hard to find good reviews in internet.
    And there is almost no news about ubuntu phones or apps for ubuntu phones.

    1) Can you share some info about current state of ubuntu phone project?
    2) What plans do you have for ubuntu phone 2.0? What new features 2.0 will bring?
    3) Can you compare ubuntu touch to android 5.0? What advantages do you think ubuntu have over android 5.0?
    4) How thing are going with ubuntu tablet ui? Any news, pictures, videos?

  19. Loucura says:

    Some more questions:

    1. Click packages won’t have dependencies.
    But what about, for example, Java applications? These require a large and common dependency (JVM), which would be strange to include inside the package.
    Will this be the job of the “framework” field in the manifest?

    2. And what about terminal programs? Will click packages support them?
    That would mean providing hooks to install the executables to a bin/ directory (or a script to launch them, confined) and, possibly, manpages.

    3. Also, click packages won’t be Ubuntu specific and will be installable in other distributions (if they decide to support it), right?

    4. Will we be able to run desktop applications (like LibreOffice) in Unity 8 touch mode? And/Or will we be able to switch between touch and desktop modes manually?

    5. Will Ubuntu, in the future, keep following the GNOME way of providing over-simplified applications/settings with little to no advanced options (bad for power users)? Or do you intend to offer more options and more GUI programs to configure and administer the system graphically (instead of having to use the terminal and/or edit config files)?

    • Michael Hall says:

      1) Java applications must include the JRE in their Click package. This is because the frameworks we provide for Click packages don’t guarantee a JRE installed on the system. It’s possible a future framework definition will support that though.

      2) The existing Terminal app is a Click package. Click packages don’t have to be confined, confinement is only needed to be approved through the Ubuntu Store. The Terminal and File Manager apps are given an exception to this rule, because we know their code and trust them.

      3) Click isn’t Ubuntu specific, but the frameworks we have defined are. There’s nothing to stop another distro from supporting Click packages with their own frameworks, or even supporting the Ubuntu frameworks if they wanted to.

      4) In theory you could package something like LibreOffice as a Click package. In practice you would have to at least make the Linux build more self-contained, and not rely on install-time dependency resolution. But they already do this for Windows and Mac, so it should be possible. You can also freely mix installing apps from Click and from Deb packages, so you can use both.

      5) Ubuntu has always strived to give the best default experience in everything we ship. That desire often matches up with simpler apps, why ship 100 different ways of doing something when one is clearly better than the rest. However, when advanced options are offered without a negative impact on the user experience, we’re usually not opposed to them. I realize that’s neither a “yes” or “no” answer, so the let’s just go with “it’s complicated” :)

      • Loucura says:

        1) I hope it’s supported in the future (for example, through a “java-7” framework). Same thing for other languages (C#, Python, etc.).

        2) When I mentioned “terminal programs”, I meant “programs with a command-line interface”, like nano or emacs.
        These probably couldn’t be confined but, if click packages can be installed as a normal user, they would be useful in a server where many users can access it through SSH and they want to run a program that isn’t installed, for example.

        3) Great! I think click packages not being Ubuntu-specific is very important to attract more people to create and maintain Linux applications (and remove some burden from the distro developers/maintainers).

        4) I was talking about running a non-click desktop program (like LibreOffice, GIMP, SuperTuxKart, etc.) on an Ubuntu tablet or phone, either directly or by switching to “desktop mode” manually (without connecting a keyboard).

        5) Good answer! I hope Ubuntu (and Linux) eventually reaches a point where almost everything can be done through a GUI, even admin stuff (services, avahi, grub, etc.).

  20. obrowny says:

    Nice post !
    Will ubuntu be able to manage hybrid pc’s like yoga from lenovo ?
    PC interface when it is used as a pc and tablet interface when it’s wide open ?
    It could even be manually through an indicator.


    • Michael Hall says:

      Hybrids should be supported. If the hardware gives any kind of signal indicating when it’s changed, we should be able to adjust the UI automatically too.

  21. JP says:

    You mentioned at the top of the post there would be a blog at unity.ubuntu.com for folks to follow progress, any ETA on this?

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