Ubuntu is to make its Unity user interface the default shell with the next release of its Linux platform, in a bid to make its software as slick-looking as rivals', and to help push its adoption on tablet devices.
Mark Shuttleworth, founder of the Ubuntu Project, made the announcement during his keynote at the Ubuntu Developer Summit in Florida.
Unity was introduced as an interface for netbooks in the most recent version, Ubuntu 10.10 'Maverick Meerkat', released earlier this month. It supports multi-touch input, and is designed to make maximum use of screen real estate.
The next version, Ubuntu 11.04 'Natty Narwhal', will make this the default user interface in place of Gnome, not least because Shuttleworth believes that tablet computers will have a significant impact.
Such devices "mark the beginning of a fundamental shift" in the computing experience, he said.
However, this will depend on whether users have the appropriate hardware and software, in particular support for graphics acceleration.
"Users will only see the new interface if we are confident at install time that it will work smoothly on their hardware," Shuttleworth said.
Existing Gnome and KDE applications "just run" under the new user interface, he added, although some changes will be made to Unity in Ubuntu 11.04 for desktop support, such as the way file management is performed.
In a rallying call to Ubuntu developers to up their game, Shuttleworth said that it is time for the community to get really precise and focus on perfection to raise the quality of the user experience.
"When we introduced 8.04, we said we would build a user shell that would compete with the best around, and we are halfway there," he said.
Another novel feature will be the ability for users to sponsor the software they find the most useful by making a financial contribution through Ubuntu's Software Centre tool, used for finding and installing applications.
"We have to create a vibrant and healthy ecosystem for our projects," said Shuttleworth.
Under Ubuntu's release schedule, a new version appears every six months, meaning that 11.04 is due in April.
Ubuntu is free to download and use, but Shuttleworth's company, Canonical, provides commercial support for organisations.
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