Software

10 reasons why you should stop picking on Ubuntu Unity

Ubuntu Unity has had a target on its back for a very long time. Jack Wallen believes it's unwarranted and offers 10 reasons why the bullies should back off.

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Image: Jack Wallen

The first reason is, because if you don't...I'm telling mom!

Now that we have that bit of business out of the way, let's seriously talk about Ubuntu Unity...the much-maligned desktop interface introduced by Canonical in the Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook edition.

Almost immediately the reaction to Ubuntu Unity was negative. The little desktop that could found itself the target of every bully on the playground. In the early days, some of that criticism was warranted. Also, most users either weren't ready for the change, or were too established with the current desktop metaphor to enact any sort of change.

But Unity continued on, and it is still the default desktop for Ubuntu...with good reason. Even still, the naysayers continue to bemoan Canonical's choice. Here are 10 reasons Unity shouldn't be the object of your derision.

1: Touch is what it's all about

There is no turning back now — touchscreens are here to stay. Developers had to figure out how users can make the best use of these input devices, as the old designs simply weren't efficient at handling touch. That's where Unity comes into play — more specifically, Unity 8/Mir, which will be used with Ubuntu Touch.

If you've worked with the preview of Unity 8/Mir, you've seen how well the interface works with touchscreens. Although 8/Mir have yet to enjoy anything outside of alpha and beta releases, it's clear that Ubuntu Touch (once matured) will make for an outstanding touchscreen interface.

2: Convergence

If you haven't watched any of the latest videos on Ubuntu Convergence, you're missing out. I was skeptical, but now I am 100% on board.

Convergence would not have been possible with the old-school GNOME or KDE interfaces. Why? Because KDE wouldn't work well on either smartphones or tablets, and GNOME 3 could be problematic on smartphones (although it could serve as a brilliant interface for a tablet). Unity, on the other hand, is almost ready to rock across all devices.

3: Efficiency

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more efficient desktop interface than Unity. With two incredibly important elements — the Dash and the HUD — Unity makes working with the desktop a thing of elegant efficiency.

The HUD is one of the most important UX elements to have been developed in a long time. With this feature, you hit the hot key and type a search string to locate the app menu item you need. No more need to switch back and forth between the keyboard and the mouse. That is pure efficiency.

4: Pushing boundaries

Canonical set out to change the way we interact with the computer (well before Windows decided to shift away from the aging taskbar/start button design). This evolution of the interface was necessary to not only bring users into the modern age, but also to make the most out of modern hardware. Yes, we could have all remained tethered to the '90s with that tried-and-true interface, but that goes against the very heart and soul of technology. Tech is about pushing boundaries, evolving to not only meet and exceed but to create need. Ubuntu Unity did a brilliant job of pushing the limitations of the UI in unheard of ways. That should be applauded, not condemned.

5: Mobile adoption

Mobile adoption is rising faster than anyone could have ever predicted. In fact, my guess is, within the next five years, the vast majority of users on the planet will no longer use a desktop or a laptop as their primary device — for many, a mobile device will be their only device. When this happens, Ubuntu Unity will enable those users to go beyond the standard limitations of the smartphone. How? Because by then Canonical will have perfected convergence and all those wonderful legacy Linux apps will be running on the mobile devices...thanks to Unity 8/Mir.

6: Move that launcher

I've never understood the maddening cry to be able to move the Unity Launcher, but people have shouted at the top of their lungs for this, and Canonical is going to deliver it probably in the final release of 16.04. This should go a long way to ease the minds of those who seem to not be able to drag themselves away from the idea of having something to work from at the bottom of their screens. To those that bemoan Unity not being very customizable, Canonical does listen.

This comes with a caveat. I fully understand the passion many Linux users have for customization. In fact, I've spent many, many hours customizing the Linux desktop. In the early days, I was weaned on AfterStep, so I can truly appreciate the siren song of a tricked-out, customized desktop. And the idea that Canonical knows what I want better than me smacks of Apple and Microsoft.

The truth of the matter is, the layout of Unity works really well. And if you want to do a bit of tweaking, there's always themes and the Unity Tweak Tool.

7: It's not really a privacy risk

I don't get the complaints about Unity and privacy breaches. First and foremost, why are you worried about people seeing what you're searching for? Second, have you ever used a browser? If so, most likely someone has seen your search history. Oh wait, you use a private browser such as Chrome's Incognito. Guess what? Even though that history isn't saved, your ISP might be able to see what you're searching for.

So those that have been crying out that Unity including online searches is a breach of their privacy might want to start using a Tor server and even make use of a Linux distribution like Tails. However, starting with 16.04, the online search feature is disabled by default.

8: It's the best of all worlds

Ubuntu Unity does what the latest iterations of Windows wishes it could — it blends the old school and the new in a seamless, unified whole. How? You have the modern features such as the HUD and the Dash, while retaining a Panel and Launcher. When Windows 10 was released, it was clear that Microsoft realized the masses couldn't do without certain desktop elements. Ubuntu Unity retained those crucial bits from first launch. Consider the Dash as your Start button and the Launcher/panel combo as your Panel.

9: Where are my menus?

If you don't like the global menu system, Unity re-introduced the Locally Integrated Menus back in 15.04. This means if you don't want to have to move that cursor up to the Panel to active window menus, you can change that setting in Settings | Appearance | Behavior. But, again, if you're not using the HUD, you're missing out on the single most efficient means of interacting with window menus on the market.

10: Empowering your search

One thing that Ubuntu Unity has done better than any other desktop interface is to empower your search. Thanks to the Dash, you can configure your search to do just about anything. No other desktop environment offers nearly the search power that Unity offers (at least not without adding third-party software).

After opening the Dash, you can configure what you want to search for and where you want to search. Once you start making use of the Dash's search functionality, you'll be surprised by its power and usefulness. The Dash search can also find functionality such as Logout, Shutdown, Restart, and Lock; it can even search application data (such as songs in your Rhythmbox library).

Summary

Ubuntu Unity is not the desktop pariah you once thought it was. This desktop environment has evolved into a beautiful, efficient interface that does not deserve the scorn and derision heaped upon it by so many.

Chime in

Has your opinion of Ubuntu Unity changed over the years? If so, share your experience and thoughts.

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About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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