Open Source

Ubuntu 14.04 wows through subtlety

Jack Wallen explores the latest Ubuntu release and comes out wow'd by the subtle improvements made to the desktop.

Ubuntu Trusty

It's a rare occasion that a new release of a Linux desktop -- especial a new Long Term Support (LTS) -- can wow with subtlety. Usually, the releasing entity attempts to change the game with major updated features or complete redesigns. That is not the case with Ubuntu 14.04 (Trusty Tahr). This time around, Canonical wows us with a subtle makeover. In some cases, the change is almost imperceptible, but it's there. These subtle changes make Ubuntu 14.04 as polished a distribution as you'll find. It's cleaner, performs better, and is all around improved. Some users may say that this is the most boring release Canonical has unleashed in years, but I believe it to be one of the finest.

Let me explain.

Every modern desktop operating system is in a war to win over users. To do this, distributions must not only be highly useable and reliable, but they also have to look professional. It's one of the issues some of the more fringe Linux desktops have yet to grasp. Users (new users, not those already initiated into the ways of Linux) want to work with a polished and clean desktop that's worthy of their trust. First impressions are crucial. Let me give you an example:

My 19-year-old daughter bought herself a new computer without any of my input. She opted to go with an ASUS running Windows 8. The second she booted up her new machine, her first reaction was "This is not good." The Windows 8 tile interface felt like a toy (even using a touch screen). From that point on, her opinion was jaded, and she wound up returning the laptop.

Her previous laptop ran Ubuntu 13.10.

My point is that it only took her a few seconds to form an opinion about Windows 8. That opinion was based completely on how Windows 8 looked, and she couldn't get beyond it.

One glance at Ubuntu 14.04 (Figure A), and her first reaction was "Wow, that looks great!"

Figure A

Figure A

The default Ubuntu 14.04 desktop.

She's correct. Even to the untrained eye, the Ubuntu 14.04 has a new shine to it. There's something almost imperceptible to the look and feel. To many, the change will go unnoticed. If you know what you're looking for, however, you'll see it right away:

  • Cleaner, anti-aliased window corners (Figure B)
  • Sharper images and borderless windows
  • Live window resizing

Figure B

Figure B

Old corners on the left, improved on the right.

Beyond the immediate impression, you'll find plenty of tiny tweaks that should make Ubuntu users thrilled and new users ready to dive into the open-source platform:

  • Launcher can now be resized to a miniscule 16-pixel size
  • Amazon search results now opt-in
  • Raise your system volume beyond 100%
  • Three possible application menus (Locally integrated, full, or HUD)
  • Unity Spread keyboard filtering (hit [Super]+[W] and then type the name of an open window to bring it in focus -- very helpful when you have a lot of windows open)
  • Unity has its own lockscreen (instead of using the out-of-date looking lockscreen from LightDM)
  • [Super]+[L] lockscreen shortcut
  • Trim enabled by default (for SSDs)
  • Improved graphics support (including NVIDIA Optimus support and HiDPI support)
  • Backported version of OpenSSL (version 1.0.1f-1ubuntu2) which is not vulnerable to Heartbleed

There are also some really cool features that can be added in. One of my favorites is a feature I've been wanting for very long time. You can now enable a click to minimize (from the Launcher). This means that you can click on the application launcher to minimize the application. To add this feature, follow these steps:

  1. Open a terminal window
  2. Type the command sudo apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager and hit Enter
  3. Enter your sudo password
  4. Hit Enter
  5. Type y and hit enter
  6. Allow the installation to complete

The next step is to open the CompizConfig Settings Manager, and do the following:

  1. From the main window (Figure C) click the Ubuntu Unity Plugin icon
    Figure C
    Figure C
  2. Click on the Launcher tab
  3. Click to enable Minimize Single Window Applications (Figure D)
    Figure D
    Figure D
  4. Close the CompizConfig Settings Manager

Now you can click on a launcher icon to minimize the application. This is a subtle change, but one that makes things a bit easier.

You can download your copy of Ubuntu 14.04 from the official Ubuntu site.

There will always be detractors, but I challenge anyone to give Ubuntu 14.04 a try and not find it to be a massive, yet subtle, improvement over 13.10 (which was already a stellar desktop platform). What do you think, is subtle enough for Ubuntu, or do you need something grander and more "show-stopper" in nature? If the changes in Ubuntu 14.04 aren't enough for you, what is it that you'd like to see appear in the Linux desktop from Canonical? Please share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.

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.

39 comments
pvbrandes
pvbrandes

I started testing Ubuntu and LinuxMint operating systems several years ago, and have had a love/hate relationship with them. I used to break them, without trying, easily. However, it's plain to see that both distros have improved GREATLY and are MUCH more stable. I have the latest versions of both systems on a separate drive and love them both. So GREAT JOB! The world is fortunate to have an alternative to Windows. And FREE at that! I greatly appreciate the hard work, time, efforts and contributions of all the people who work to improve Linux systems. PLEASE KEEP IT GOING!

ndgreen
ndgreen

Wow! One of the great new features is that you can set up Ubuntu to minimize an application when you click its icon on the launcher. Isn't that what you could do in Windows since at least XP (2001 ish)? Sorry if I come across rude, it just seems ironic that the article starts relating a story about  dumping a Windows laptop for Ubuntu only to laud a new Ubuntu feature that is a copy of an ancient Windows UI feature.

I am glad to hear the menus are back with the Window, despite starting my computer experience with an Amiga, I was never able to get used to Unity's universal menu bar. I was particularly fond of Unity's search function, which meant that I could use Ubuntu much like Windows when running programs, i.e. hit Windows/super key, start typing in program name, hit enter. (I avoid the mouse when I can use a keyboard more easily.)


Things I would like to see improved are the default horrible browny, orangy yuck that passes for colors on Ubuntu. (Yes, I do change the color scheme almost immediately after installing Ubuntu.)  More importantly Canonical need to look at speed. I ran Ubuntu 13.04 and then 13.10 on an old laptop and it was horribly slow. I eventually tossed Ubuntu and installed Windows 7 and it is like having a new laptop, it is so much snappier.

jd.whiplash
jd.whiplash

Most small business accountants use quick books when quick books or a open source office like product

Which is as good or even better then quick books is made you could get users to switch. I could not get qb to

Run in wine but I am not the best it man. How about someone to help me from this area Hudson Florida

rafvanhaver
rafvanhaver

The love of a techy for his open ended distro, vs the panicky angst of end users who are afraid of anything thats not accompanied by a big shiny button that says "go".


Im a techie myself and understand both sides. Mucking about in Linux back in the days when I went to school was a hell of a lot of fun, but now that I haven't got time/energy to figure out the exact wording in a config file for a mysterious app without gui I find myself sticking to Windows (properly know how to use a command prompt though...)


Don't hate, allow people to enjoy themselves, be it by mucking about in a kernel, or...umm...going on facebook and youtube I suppose the other side does.


Besides, Windows devices filled with virusses and malware keep the economy going for many entry level techs ;-)

aboba0
aboba0

I've done the upgrade. Have been doing upgrades every six months since about 10.04. The thing that's striking to me is a noticeable improvement in speed. After so many upgrades promising "improved performance" (Ubuntu and MS have both said this many times) it's kind of ironic the only time I've ever noticed the difference when upgrading an OS on existing hardware is with 14.04. I don't even remember that being an advertised feature!


And I love that menus are back with the window. Gonna save a lot of miles on the fingertip!

Bob-El
Bob-El

Well, Jack, I think you've really nailed what makes 14.04 a cut above the rest. I agree with what you said and thanks for the tip. Now if they could just get Google Earth to install and work.

tkainz
tkainz

While I think Ubuntu and other Linux distros are wonderful developments easily capable of putting Windows in it's place it always seems to amaze me by the persistence of those same developers at keeping the OS's  at arms length from the typical end-user.  


Through the use of program names that may as well be written in Klingon with respects to how easily their names connect with what they actually do and by the requirements for complex steps in order to do something which should be rather simple such as the click-to-minimize "feature" noted in the article they continue to alienate the Window's consumer - their potential new customer.  I really think that Ubuntu (and most all other Linux distros) would be best served by putting the development of new wiz-bang features on hold for a release and focusing on the end-user experience with respects to the setting up, managing and the configuration processes.  


I have customers whom have been on Windows for eons and don't even know what a command windows is or how to enter a "run" command... nor should they really have to unless they want to cross over into that admin or super user roll.  With today's Linux, it's still not really an option but more of a requirement. 


As a software engineer myself, I hate to say this but with respects to the "behind the curtain" areas of Linux, it still needs to be dumbed-down... even idiot-proofed... substantially more than it is before it will become an easy sell to the general public.  For now, it's still a great alternative for us Geeks whom understand the difference between a "sudo apt-get install" and a hole in the ground.

programit
programit

What about the tracking and malware that was so embedded in the previous release? Have these been addressed? That is the real deal breaker for any business or person remotely concerned on privacy etc.

Its good to see they changed the bombardment of advertising from amazon and hopefully others as opt in, but would still like to know how much ubuntu is talking back to Cononical with users information, search results etc etc.

carlsf
carlsf

My want for Linux (any flavor)  is to be able to just click to download applications and have them unpack and install, DON'T want all that sudo stuff, the only thing that stops me moving to Linux in Full, I have Ubuntu 13 and Mint Mate 64bit. both have pro/cons favor Mint most at present.

janitorman
janitorman

Where are the menus? Why isn't there an application icon on the left, and a big X on the right? Where are the controls at the rightt of the window to roll up, minimize, or maximize?

The windows remind me of Google Chrome, which I don't like, because of, well, NO MENUS!

Deal breakers for me.

I'll stick with Xubuntu, ty. I'll be installing 14.04 (Xubuntu) on a new machine soon. Hope everything isn't broken out of the box like most new releases, though.
danmar_z
danmar_z

That's all well and good but a pretty interface does not a useful OS make. Linux will remain fringe (no matter how many claims are made about it being better than Windows) as long as mainstream apps are MIA. Give me the tools I need and want and I'll happily move over permanently.

mschets
mschets

Being a longtime MS user the part I find very difficult is input by text. All that "sudo apt****"stuff. Ofcourse, search the internet and many answers are there, but making your computer look, sound and react the way you want should be acquired by clicks and options-menu's. ( In my opinion that is. )


This doesn't mean I don't try Linux! What is keeping me back to permanently being a Linux user are the programs I bought for $$$ won't run very well on Wine. ( Yes, MS-programs )


Greetings from the Netherlands,


Marc.

frylock
frylock

"Raise your system volume beyond 100%"


I really hope this is just a wink at Nigel Tufnel

Abrow86
Abrow86

Personally I didn't like Ubuntu because unity bothered me, though not for the reasons seasoned users didn't like it. There were just little annoyances that made the experience off. One such thing was the universal menus, it just seemed counter-intuitive to me. But 14.04 is bringing back local menus which I'm super excited for. So really the little things may be just what I needed to have fixed for me to give Ubuntu a second shot. I've been a Linux Mint fan and have been dual booting with Windows 7 for about a year. Will this be enough to make me switch from Mint? Well I guess I'll see, but in the meantime I think I may end up dual booting Ubuntu 14.04 with Windows 8.1 on the next laptop I purchase.

Peopleunit
Peopleunit

I don't think people will be clamoring to install Ubuntu on their trusty XP based, or any other PC, based on the info provided by this article. Its blatantly shallow to write an article on a new release of Ubuntu and the only thing you can talk about is anti-aliased round corners on the windows, and mention a few other very minor things.


Subtle isn't the word I would use, nor would I limit the discussion to such trivia. How about I reject this article and suggest that you put in a little more effort, and put some meat on the table, so to speak. That's what I would do if I were the chief editor for Tech Republic.


First of all, there are several flavors of Ubuntu that one can choose from. Rather than a basic one-size-fits-all scenario, users can select versions of Ubuntu that come preconfigured with software that is applicable to their area of interest. True, the generic Desktop version is one such choice, but there are others.

Video and graphics professionals, yes, there is an install made just for you. Educators and students, yep, there's one for you too. And of course, there is the server edition, and so on. The point is, Ubuntu is oh so much more than a toy operating system made for browsing the internet or playing games and little else.

Mind you, no matter which configuration you choose to install initially, there are thousands of free open source programs that you can install quite easily.


Speaking of anxious XP users, give Ubuntu a whirl using a live CD which lets you give it a test run without installing it. And then when you're ready, install and set your system up as a dual-booting system where-upon startup, you choose whether you run Windows, or Ubuntu.

Then only use Windows when you're not connected to the internet so your system will be less vulnerable to any new internet-based security threats. Ah, now that's how "I" spell relief. ;-)

gsantoshg
gsantoshg

Ubuntu rocks, I use Ubuntu and would suggest all users to move away from Windows, u will find it good too :)

Nick08844
Nick08844

you had me right up to "Type the command sudo apt-get..."  I've played with Ubuntu in the past, but as a casual "end user" it still feels like a very techie oriented environment


Do I really have to learn - after using desktops since DOS in 1983 - to look for documents in /dev or /usr or... aaagghhh !   And haven't I left the command line behind, only occasionally running COMMAND under W7 to ping a lost server?


I think this is going to remain the biggest holdback for any significant adoption by the masses

TheSceptic
TheSceptic

What could it be that gives it that indefinable sense of quality.


Perhaps it's the menu bar, which looks just like OS X.


Or perhaps it's the Finder window... sorry.. the file system browser, which looks just like OS X.


Or perhaps it's the lovely disappearing scroll bars, which is very reminiscent of another unix based operating system.... 


Yep... such innovation is very subtle!

bp1argosy
bp1argosy

Hi, Jack! I'm curious about what your daughter uses her Linux laptop for; is she in school? Working? I know VERY few people her age who would consider swapping a new Win8 laptop out for one running Ubuntu or any other version of Linux (I'm not putting down her decision, mind you - I run my IT consulting business practically on Linux!).


And, to AtariBaby below: waiting for other users to find and get rid of major bugs just DOESN'T HAPPEN with Linux; companies like Canonical do that stuff before you even get it ...unlike MS and other Windows vendors. Canonical doesn't see the user community as bug-testers, which is one of the things I love about Linux and its' community.


You have the wrong perception of Linux if you think that way; take the plunge, and see for yourself. In all the years I've installed and used Linux, the ONLY problem I've ever run into are OCCASIONAL WiFi driver issues - easily fixed with a little research and experience. EVERYTHING just WORKS out of the gate; productivity is IMMEDIATE.


ePractical
ePractical

Thank you !

It is a breath of fresh air to read a thoughtful and well written review (not filled with Hype) and squarely focused on an  important issue regarding the OS user interface. It appears Ubuntu designers have the right focus. Hopefully MS might pay attention too.

While I laud the strategy MS has regarding unifying the interface on our Phones, Tablets and Computers, their implementation has clearly been terrible with Windows 8 (for the Keyboard and Mice installed base). Their obstinacy has cost them nearly 1 billion dollars (mis-described as an RT Table misstep) with hardly anyone upgrading from XP or Win7 to Win 8.

Remarkably, the Mac has lost ground in this confusion and miraculously Win 8 has now sold more OS's than OSX! But it is Ubuntu that I believe will be the winner as the best optimized interface for the Keyboard and Mice vast market. I for one am sitting on 4x Win8 Pro $15 upgrade licenses (not needed) and recommending Ubuntu to all "confused" K&M upgraders and most importantly, I am finding their acceptance eager!

AtariBaby
AtariBaby

Thanks for the brief overview. I'm tempted but I think I'll let you early adopters get any remaining  major bugs out first. :p

xaKira
xaKira

@danmar_z  

And what would those programs be??

I've been using ubuntu / mint for near on 10 years now.

It's done everything I've wanted and easier than when I was using windows.

I don't just surf the web, I'm a computer enthusiast, a power user.

Sounds like you just don't like change.

I've changed to using programs like InkScape that will run on windows as well as linux.

If you don't like to change then you are stuck.

But don't blame linux for your situation.


Please list the tools you need and want and I'll try to offer you the free alternatives.


Looking forward to your reply

iwer.morck
iwer.morck

@Nick08844 Try installing this release and see how long you can go without touching the terminal. You might be surprised. It really isn't more techie oriented than Windows. But as long as people THINK it is too techie oriented, they will not even try to adopt it. I personally find it easier to work with than Windows.

And as for the file system - no you don't have to learn to look for documents in /dev or /usr, you look for them where you saved them - in your home folder, much the same as under Windows. / versus \ can't really be a dealbreaker, can it?

One thing I noticed is that the more you use the terminal for doing stuff, the more you find out that it is actually easier.

frylock
frylock

@Nick08844  It all depends on what you're used to. If they try too hard to make Unity seemless to Windows users, they'll just end up with a Windows clone which isn't all that helpful. Hopefully they'll make it better than Windows, but better implies different and thus some adjustments for users.

Personally, I use Windows a lot more the *nix, especially for desktop systems, but I still find *nix generally less confusing than Windows. To cite your example, 'sudo apt-get install <blah>' still seems easier to me than the install process for Windows software, which is ... well, it depends on the software. And as for hunting around the filesystem; your brain may have successfully conditioned itself to think it terms of drive letters, but it's really a crummy system. Plug in a USB stick, I wonder where it will show up this time? Why does some software insist on installing to my c: drive, I'm trying to keep it clean? Why do I need "Programs" and "Programs (x86)"? Linux and Windows both have some pretty annoying baggage.

gregshw
gregshw

@Nick08844 compiz manager can be installed through the software centre its not a big deal. that was the example that Jack gave.

shadowmane
shadowmane

@TheSceptic  

Since I don't use Apple products, and pretty much don't care, what's your point?  Unity is a fork of Gnome.  So what?  It works, and that's what's important to those other than Apple fanboys.

gregshw
gregshw

@bp1argosy dunno about his daughter but I am also 19 and also returned a new windows 8 computer (oddly enough it was a touch screen acer as well) for me it was just what I was used to I had Ubuntu installed on my old laptop and the change from unity to windows 8 was overwhelming so I returned it. Ubuntu isn't bad for students it will do all your research and essays no prob and its way better than a chrome-book (I’ve seen them around) just less popular.

bobmattfran
bobmattfran

@bp1argosy Perhaps Jacks daughter has more intelligence than most lazy kids who use a laptop as a toy. What a condescending patonising comment, are you paid by Micorsoft to write such drivel.

AtariBaby
AtariBaby

@bp1argosy  Actually I was speaking from previous experience. There have been some serious tarpits affecting a lot of users upgrading Ubuntu in recent versions. And not just bugs. In the last few versions, there's been a lot of deprecating packages and replacing them with something new, leaving the user to find out something is broken and has to fixed by setting up to work with the new package.

Tiger-Pa
Tiger-Pa

@ePractical Microsoft's biggest mistake was over estimating the common users ability to select the desktop from the start screen. Why would anyone of any age purchase a laptop or a desktop then be surprised when they boot it up. Didn't they see the screen when the demo unit was sitting on the shelf? Had they been trapped in a cave and unable to see the thousands of commercials on TV?


The new Ubuntu is improved but still requires way too much command line use when configuring or installing most anything. The forums are there but the answers are usually encrypted in Linux, not useful for the common user. If they can't figure out Windows 8, all I can say is Good Luck with Ubuntu.


BTW You don't need a touch screen to use Windows 8. KB/M usage is as easy as any previous version or alternate OS.

AtariBaby
AtariBaby

@ePractical  I think of it more as a bold move that might have sent them skyrocketing, but  failed. And failed big time.


I honestly picture Balmer and company locked in a meeting room on a Friday night at midnight and someone had this epiphany, and they all went home, and ran with it starting Monday morning. Doubtful that's how it went down, but if only someone had put the brakes on it a few weeks later, when it just wasn't working out. Metro UI probably great for tablets, but an eyesore and a chore for desktop users, touch screens or no.

IndianArt
IndianArt

@AtariBaby  Its rock stable & in very good shape.


These guys from the Ubuntu community & Canonical have really put the extra effort & it shows, now they can relax for 5 years. All their love & care is showing.


From users & review it is highly recommend you take the plunge, we early adopters can vouch for it.

ndgreen
ndgreen

@xaKira @danmar_z Those tools would be Excel and Word. Unfortunately the free office suites are not compatible with modern (i.e. office 2003+) versions of documents. I ended up with LibreOffice, OpenOffice and SoftMaker Office all installed on Ubuntu to try and read (forget about write, not possible) docx and xlsx documents. I frequently found myself going home at night to double check on my Windows desktop that I had not missed anything in the documents. I even had LibreOffice save a couple of xls spreadsheets that could not be opened in MS Office - not a good thing to send to a client who is using MS Office.


All about needs. If you need to exchange documents with people using MS Office, Linux does not cut it.


And yes, InScape is a great program

shadowmane
shadowmane

@iwer.morck @Nick08844  

I'm a long time Ubuntu user.  I do have this to say.  Sometimes its not as easy as going to the Software Center.  Somtimes, you have to confiture a new source to draw from, and that can be a harrying experience, specially if you are new and dont' know where to find the repository sources.  Hell, if you're that new, would you even know about the repository sources?

That being said, I love Ubuntu, and am looking forward to convergence.
tkainz
tkainz

@Tiger-Pa @ePractical  

I agree whole-heartedly.  While the documentation is certainly there for the average user, Linux developers have to realize that not everyone has.. or will take the time... to learn their OS to that depth in order to be able to use it for what their needs are.  I was reading an article a day or two ago - might have even been a Tech Republic article - where the author described his daughter picking up a windows 8 laptop and after less than a minute or so deciding that it wasn't for her solely because of the not so subtle changes in the user interface and the immediate knee-jerk judgement of the perceived learning curve that she was going to be in for.  We live in a short attention span, immediate judgement society.  You either impress in the first 30 seconds or you SOL

iwer.morck
iwer.morck

@Tiger-Pa "The new Ubuntu is improved but still requires way too much command line use when configuring or installing most anything. The forums are there but the answers are usually encrypted in Linux, not useful for the common user. If they can't figure out Windows 8, all I can say is Good Luck with Ubuntu."

I'm sorry, but this is just not so.

"The forums are there but the answers are usually encrypted in Linux"

This could be because you don't bother to actually read the answers.

I don't say Windows 8 is bad, it really isn't, but I don't fancy it. I find Ubuntu much easier to work with.

AtariBaby
AtariBaby

@IndianArt Wellllll, I'm feeling very tempted! I just hate breaking something and losing a weekend to fixing it.

shadowmane
shadowmane

@AtariBaby @IndianArt 

It won't break.  It will work.  The only problem I have had is that I couldn't get it to install on my wife's laptop for some reason.  Of course the laptop is a 10 year old dinosaur Acer Aspire 5000 64bit.  Could be a problem with her disk drive, though.  I didn't have the patience to try to troubleshoot it.  We're choosing the option to get her a newer (used) laptop with Ubuntu installed.

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