Today is a good day, as I dine on a dish of crow — served gladly by the ladies and gentlemen of Canonical. In Ubuntu 11.04: Small issues, big win, I explained how my opinions changed about Ubuntu 11.04 and the most recent release of the new default Ubuntu desktop, Unity. After installing the beta 1 release, I realized that my fears were pretty much misplaced. And now that I have the final release up and running — and despite its installation problems — I'm still convinced that there's plenty to love about the latest Ubuntu release. Let's take a look.
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This is the biggest portion of humility I dine on. When I first tried Unity, I was more than skeptical. In fact, I had written off Unity as a big loss that would set Ubuntu back a bit. But I discovered that Unity is nothing of the sort. In fact, Unity might well be the first desktop I have ever used that seems to disappear in the background, leaving the focus on the more important work at hand. And isn't that what a desktop should do? Unity does this better than any desktop I have ever tried. If you're looking for an efficient work environment, Unity might be the perfect solution for you. I know I will be using it as my default workstation desktop for a while (until I head back to E17 as I always do.)
2: Ubuntu One
This wonderful service is now even better integrated into Ubuntu. Not only did the Ubuntu One "dashboard" get a full retool, it is also now a part of the Banshee core. No more having to install and enable a Ubuntu One extension for your multimedia player. As for the new "dashboard," making (and keeping) the connection between a desktop and a Ubuntu One account is incredibly easy now. Ubuntu One even has an icon on the Unity Launcher. So whenever you need to take an action with Ubuntu One, you don't have to search around for the configuration tool. The Ubuntu One tool has vastly improved from where it was in the 10 releases.
3: Banshee 2.0
The difference between Banshee 1.8 and 2.0 is significant When it was announced that Banshee was to be the default music player in Ubuntu 11.04, I have to confess I was disappointed. I had always found Banshee to be inferior to Rhythmbox. With the 2.0 release, this has completely reversed. Banshee 2.0 has so many new features and bug fixes, it's almost pointless to write about them here. You can read the full report instead. My favorite new feature? The Artist/Album/Track browser actions. It is finally possible to right-click an artist/album/track icon and select an action. This has been long overdue and is very much welcome.
Yes, LibreOffice is finally included as the default office suite in Ubuntu. This is a welcome change from OpenOffice. I believe, thanks to the LibreOffice team, the default office suite will finally enjoy more frequent updates and bug fixes than did OpenOffice. And with Ubuntu 11.04 shipping with LibreOffice, more users will start enjoying a much more positive experience with office suite tools on the Linux platform.
Thanks to Ubiquity, the Ubuntu installation is even easier! Upon inserting the Live CD, you're given the option of either trying out or installing Ubuntu. That hasn't changed. What has changed are the installation options. If you choose installation, you will be presented with the options to Install Side By Side (dual boot), Upgrade, or Replace An Existing Ubuntu Installation. The last option allows you to replace the current Ubuntu installation only, which will retain all other operating systems installed on the machine. From Ubiquity, a new option allows for the management of partitions.
There is a caveat to this: If you are installing on a machine with an NVidia graphics chipset, be prepared to be disappointed. There is a fairly major issue (even involving a class action lawsuit), and the installation of Ubuntu 11.04 on an NVidia graphics card may not even succeed. I was able to get through this by bypassing the Live instance and going straight for the installation. If you want to test the Live CD, you'll need to have a machine that does not use an NVidia chipset.
6: Test drive apps
This is really a great feature. In the Ubuntu Software Center that ships with 11.04, you can now test drive applications from within the software installation tool. Under the window that is normally just a screenshot of the application, any application that supports "test drive" will let you test the app without having to install. You'll have an instant glance at whether an application will work for you. Although not every application will work with test drive, I would venture a guess that all modern applications will.
7: Rate and review
In Ubuntu Software Center, the application rate and review system is in place. This is great, as I believe it will finally allow users to avoid the applications that really aren't worth the time they take to install. It does mean that quite a few of those thousands upon thousands of applications will fall into obscurity — and that is perfectly fine. It's great to be able to spout off how many applications are available, but what's really important is how many quality applications are available. Now users should be able to search for, say, 4-star and up rated applications.
8: New eye candy settings
That's right, 11.04 ships with Compiz and some fancy new eye candy settings that are unique to Ubuntu and Unity. Compiz offers settings such as Backlight always on, launcher animations, and urgent animations. There are also special window transparency options that will please most users. This is certainly a plus for anyone thinking Ubuntu Unity would be lacking in the eye candy category. You can still install Compiz Configuration Settings Manager (ccsm) to get all of the Compiz goodness you want. You'll find ccsm within the Ubuntu Software Center (search for ccsm).
Note that when you're using Unity, you can't enable the Compiz Cube (at least not without disabling the Unity plug-in). So if the Compiz Cube is a feature you must have, you'll need to log out of Unity and log into Classic Gnome.
9: Network manager applet
I realize this might not seem like a big deal, but a lot of kinks have been worked out of this piece of software. Even bigger than that, nm_applet now works as an appindicator, which means it will function in Unity. Prior to this change, it seemed as if nm_applet wasn't going to fit into the scheme of Unity's new panel. Since nm_applet was completely reworked, Ubuntu can enjoy the Network Manager indicator just like every good Linux distribution should.
10: The whole, together as one
I really didn't know how to title this entry without using buzzwords that make my skin crawl (such as "synergy" and "paradigm"). What I mean is this: I have seen desktops try very hard to work in a sort of unison, but fail. I've seen desktops come close to reaching some sort of harmonious whole. But with Ubuntu 11.04, I believe we have the first desktop that really feels completely and wholly integrated. As you work on the Unity desktop, it's easy to forget you are working on a desktop because it all just seems to flow so nicely together. Every individual piece of Ubuntu 11.04 seems to fit together perfectly. With the default installation, nothing seems out of place. That is a huge plus in my book, and it might well be the first Linux distribution to achieve this challenging feat.
Have you installed Ubuntu 11.04? How do your impressions stack up against these?
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.