Is there still a future for GNOME 3, the open source Linux desktop that was once massively popular, yet in recent years has seen its preponderance wane in favor of alternatives such as Xfce and Canonical's Unity? Recent indicators say yes.

Full disclosure: I should say I was an avid GNOME user in the days of GNOME 2, the dead-simple yet elegant desktop environment that powered many Linux desktops for the better part of a decade. But when the GNOME developers switched their focus to the next generation of the platform, GNOME 3, circa 2011, I jumped ship, mostly because I couldn't make sense of GNOME Shell, the developers' attempt to discard everything users have learned to expect from the desktop-computer experience over the last 30 years and impose a radically new metaphor of user interaction in its place.

I was not alone. Linux creator Linus Torvalds, for example, famously also ditched GNOME 3. Canonical built its own desktop environment, Unity, to serve as the default interface in Ubuntu and replace GNOME. And GNOME 3 turned enough people off to generate an entire Wikipedia article devoted to the controversy.

But after three years of continued development that has addressed many of the complaints about GNOME 3's earlier incarnations, there are signs the desktop interface might be coming back into vogue. Torvalds is now a GNOME 3 user again (although he has remained vocal about the things he doesn't like in the platform), and Debian, a major Linux distribution that adopted Xfce as its default desktop environment in the midst of the GNOME 3 controversy, has moved back to GNOME. Meanwhile, reviewers are calling the latest version of the platform, GNOME 3.14, a "release full of polish," praising its rich application stack and strong user experience.

None of this has prompted any indication from Canonical that it ever plans to abandon Unity as the interface for Ubuntu, and indeed, such a move would be pretty shocking, given all the time and money the company has invested in Unity by this point. And despite GNOME 3's newfound success, Red Hat (RHT) is still shipping Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 with "GNOME Classic," an alternative version of GNOME 3 that makes the interface look pretty much like GNOME 2.

But it's notable that GNOME 3 is no longer the wayward child within the open source world that it once was. GNOME developers have a long way to go to reclaim the authority they held within the world of desktop Linux during the first decade of this millenium, but they're making progress.