Former Compiz Developer: Free Software Desktop Might Enter A Dark Age

Written by Michael Larabel in Ubuntu on 7 April 2017 at 10:05 AM EDT. 81 Comments
With the big shake-up this week at Canonical resulting in abandoning Unity and switching back to GNOME, former Compiz developer and Canonical employee Sam Spilsbury has shared a retrospective on his years of working on Compiz and Unity for Ubuntu.

Sam's lengthy blog post covers the ups and downs from his involvement with Ubuntu and specifically working on Compiz/Unity. He wrote at length about the early successes with the desktop, the many fun moments, as well as the low moments of his time at Canonical. While he was initially very excited for Unity 8 and the convergence dream, he mentions that from his outside view over the past year Unity 8 began looking like "Compiz++ on a larger scale." With the repeated delays of Unity 8, he had long been wondering whether it would ever ship. So the announcements this week didn't come as much of a surprise to him.

As far as where he thinks Ubuntu or the desktop is heading in the future:
Free software on the desktop might enter a dark age soon. There aren’t very many companies in this space now. Intel was out as of halfway through last year. Google is focused on Android and Chrome OS. Novell and Sun folded a long time ago. Nokia fell off a burning platform. IBM is nowhere to be found. And now Canonical is pivoting away too. Samsung’s Tizen is potentially an interesting player, but everyone knows its a plan B. Red Hat remains and so does Endless. An of course there is still Collabora, Codethink, Igalia and other free software contracting firms, though their existence arguably depends on the larger players.

But he is not all pessimistic about the future, but acknowledges the potential of the community. Sam ended with, "Lets not forget where the desktop free software revolution came from. It came from ordinary people, you and I, who wanted to make a difference. It came from people who didn’t want to accept the Microsoft and Apple duopoly on computing. Even if the resources start to dry up now, it doesn’t mean that free software is gone forever. Some of the best innovations came during the post-bubble period of 2000-2010 where the software world had become stagnant with Windows XP and IE6. There will always be people who want to do something different. A community will form again. And once everyone has a clearer head, free software will rise again."

Sam Spilsbury had been employed by Canonical from 2010 to the end of 2012. Currently he is serving as a software engineer for Endless Computer. You can read his lengthy thoughts on his time with Unity/Ubuntu and the current situation via his personal blog.

Do you think the Linux desktop could enter a "dark age"? Share your thoughts in the forums.
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Michael Larabel

Michael Larabel is the principal author of and founded the site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience. Michael has written more than 20,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and automated benchmarking software. He can be followed via Twitter, LinkedIn, or contacted via

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