Third Party Development on Ubuntu

Mac OS X has one of the most vibrant developer communities around and a testimony to this is how quickly the recently released Mac App Store reached the 10 Billion downloads mark and just to be clear thats this many downloads 10,000,000,000. These are the kinds of Apps developers are producing for OS X:

Address Book
Pulp News reader


This is what makes the OS X platform stand out, people often claim that Apple takes away users freedom and though that may be true on the iphone/ipad it can’t really be said on the desktop. Apple is giving developers a huge amount of freedom by allowing them to develop apps the look as good as they do but still remain 100% native. Though Apple say that OS X Lion will bring iOS to the desktop it could be argued that they have been doing that for a while by allowing developers to create applications that look as good as these. In older versions of OS X such as Tiger this wasn’t possible but in the years following the release of the iPhone these features have been added to OS X.

Ubuntu One Client in Natty (11.04)
I honestly think that for Ubuntu to be accepted in the mainstream they need to improve the toolkit they use and the style of their applications. Steps have been taken in the right direction with the new Ubuntu One client in Natty.

But most application in the Ubuntu default install are badly designed and look outdated compared to their Windows or OS X counterparts. Below is a comparison of some default application in the three operating systems. The apps I have compared are ones most users use on a daily basis, they are web browsers, music players, file managers and video players. I do understand that these applications can be completely replaced with a handful of others in Ubuntu but that obviously isn’t the point. The entire point of including them in Ubuntu by default is because they are the best free software can offer and that they will be the best applications for the end user.

A comparison of File Managers, left to right OS X, Windows and Ubuntu.
A comparison of Music players, left to right Ubuntu, OS X and Windows.
A comparison of Web Browsers, left to right Windows, OS X and Ubuntu.
A comparison of Video players, left to right OS X, Windows and Ubuntu.

It can be seen in the above screenshots that Ubuntu’s default applications on the whole look much older and less attractive compared to Win7 and OS X, this makes Ubuntu seem like it is purposely designed for ancient hardware it makes it feel inferior to the above mentioned operating systems. It looks like a competitor to Windows XP for those without the financial means to upgrade to Vista/Win7. Though yes XP has like a 60-70% market share attempting to outdo a 10 year old operating system will not lead to mass adoption.
Canonical can learn much from Apple’s recent successes with OS X, they have managed to get people excited about their operating system. They created a desktop paradigm in OS X 10.0 a decade ago and have spent the decade polishing the same paradigm that they’ve maintained since 2001. Windows and the Linux world including Ubuntu have spent the last decade moving from one interface to the next e.g. XP > Vista> Win7 or KDE3>KDE4 or Gnome2>Gnome3 and Ubuntu with its ever changing Netbook interface and its accumulation in Unity. Canonical has taken a brave decision choosing Unity now they must stick with it and keep polishing, they must refrain from changing this paradigm radically but instead keep improving it, adding to it. This is what KDE has been doing since KDE4 and its working out well. Gnome did the same thing with Gnome2 but at a pace that was way too slow, this instead forced them to adopt a radically different and arguably inferior interface i.e. Gnome 3.

Canonical has talked about QT on Ubuntu and the Unity2D interface is QT based, I think that GTK is far too limited as a toolkit compared to OS X and maybe QT will provide Ubuntu the firepower it needs to create beautiful applications to go with Unity. This isn’t a blind attack on GTK it can be used to create beautiful apps like the Ubuntu One client or the Elementary-Project apps but this is usually done with one-off hacks meaning there is a wide chasm between well designed GTK apps and ordinary GTK apps.

This lack of creative freedom and flexibility in my opinion is holding developers back, think of it in this way, how many GTK Word Processors are there for Ubuntu, or Web Browsers or simple note taking apps? Not many OS X on the other hand despite its relatively low market share has many many beautiful, fast and free third party apps that are able to compete with MS Office for Mac and Safari. Whatever toolkit Canonical choose to adopt I hope they can realise the importance of beautiful and well designed apps, the split with GNOME may actually lead to this. GNOME has always had an outdated and ugly interface and the same can be said for most GNOME apps. I really hope that a new toolkit can be developed for Ubuntu/Linux and that Canonical can some how merge the Elementary-Project into Ubuntu. Whatever happens a bright future lies ahead of Ubuntu and hopefully we will have 200 million users soon. w'Salaam ~ Peace


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