Software

The truth about Ubuntu Unity is not what you think

Ubuntu Unity has had some seriously harsh words tossed its way. Jack Wallen ponders some of the opinions coming from those who stake their career on technology.

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Image: Jack Wallen

Something has been building up in me for some time now. I've squashed it down as far and as long as I could...but now it seems it wants desperately to make itself known. And so, dear readers, I have chosen to give that "something" a voice.

Said "something" is all about Ubuntu Unity and the elephant in the room. What is the elephant in the room? I'll explain it simply.

We are (in one form or another) in IT. We deal with systems from basic desktops all the way to incredibly complex servers that required hours, weeks, and even months of study to fully comprehend. Truth be told, there's very little about technology that we cannot grasp, given time and resources. Why? Because tech is what we do...it's how we roll.

  • Administering an enterprise data farm? A surmountable challenge.
  • Setting up an email server? Not a problem.
  • Installing an operating system? I can do that in my sleep.
  • Learning a desktop interface? Why are you asking me this?

I get it, not all desktop interfaces are created equal. Some fare far better in the realm of intuitiveness and/or user-friendliness. But for anyone in IT to make the statement that they simply cannot get used to Ubuntu Unity is absurd. It may not be to your taste, but to claim it difficult is to insult all of the work and effort you've put into becoming a system administrator.

It's a GUI. It's not a desktop comprised solely of ncurses windows where every action must be a user-created bash script that then must call upon an assortment of commands to do anything.

Back in the day

Back in the late nineties, my first Linux desktop was Fwm95 (check out this screenshot). I can attest that working with the Linux desktop then was, in fact, a challenge. It was clunky, ugly, and required feats of intellectual acrobatics to do what should have only needed a few clicks. Shortly after that, I migrated to AfterStep, which gave me this amazing freedom (but required some serious configuration). A few short years later, both GNOME and KDE were given life and it looked as though Linux finally had everything it needed to make good on its claim of "world domination". Both desktops enjoyed equal measures of ease of use and high configurability. Use it out of the box or make it completely unique...your choice.

And the Linux community embraced this evolution (as they always did). But something strange happened on the climb up that evolutionary ladder. With GNOME and KDE firmly entrenched, the Linux community seemed to forget one of the tenets that made them so strong - choice. Linux has always been the operating system of those who not only demanded choice and change, but enjoyed it. Users settled into camps and decried the competition "lesser".

So many claims

But all that negativity bantered back and forth between the GNOME and KDE camps pales in comparison to what the Linux community has hurled at Ubuntu for Unity. Not only were there claims of Unity being unintuitive and poorly designed, the community proclaimed Unity contained spyware and that Canonical turned their back on open source by dropping Wayland and building their own X server.

  • As to Unity being unintuitive...have those making that claim used it? I have. I know a lot of new-to-Linux users that have used it and found it to be incredibly easy (which, if we're being honest, is the true mark of intuitiveness). Look over to the left...there are icons to click to launch applications. There's also a pseudo-start button that you can click to see all the goodies housed within. Sound familiar? It should, as it's just a variation on a very common theme.
  • As to Unity being poorly designed...these are some of the same people that work with any given Windows product. While some of the Windows platforms and products are extremely well designed, not every piece of software put out by Microsoft can hold that title.
  • As to the spyware claim...have you ever used a search engine? Enough said.
  • As to the final claims...they have little to do with Unity other than the choice to roll their own X server was done with an eye to Unity 8 and convergence.

Preference

I understand this all boils down to user preference. I have my preferences. For the longest time, I used Ubuntu. It wasn't until I discovered Elementary OS Freya that I left Ubuntu. After testing Ubuntu 16.04, it's possible I might well return to the platform I used for a very, very long time. But for any member of the IT community to claim they don't have time to figure out a new desktop is laughable. It's a desktop...not an LDAP server. If you're a system administrator, a simple desktop shouldn't even register as a blip on your RADAR of challenges. Every administrator I know can sit before various and sundry servers and be up to speed very quickly. That they would find Unity a challenge makes me question their logic. Is Unity truly that challenging, or is this their way of strongly voicing their preference?

Quick...name a modern desktop that is truly challenging. Name an operating interface that honestly prevents you from getting your work done in an efficient and timely manner. Name a desktop environment that really challenges you. Even Windows ME was little more than a collection of windows, menus, and mouse clicks. Sure, as an operating system it was horrible, but as an desktop interface, it was a no-brainer to use. In fact, you could go all the way back to the earliest incarnations of Windows and Mac and see that it wasn't really hard to get up to speed on those interfaces.

Point. Click. Bam. Work done.

Let's face it, modern interfaces are all really easy to use. So let's call it like it is...a matter of taste. You either like Unity or you don't. You either like Windows 10 or you don't. Both, however, are user-friendly, intuitive, and do their jobs well.

If, however, you do find Unity (or Linux, for that matter) challenging...you might want to rethink your career of choice. Harsh words? Maybe. But if you're in IT, a user interface should be the last thing to confound you.

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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 getjackd.net.

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