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10 things to love about Ubuntu 11.10

Forget about earlier disappointments. The latest Ubuntu release has smoothed off a lot of rough edges and introduced genuine improvements.

Ubuntu 11.10 is out. Why is that important? It is a .10 release after all. Well, it's important because of one major issue: Unity. When Ubuntu 11.04 first arrived, Unity was a nightmare, seeming to take the Linux desktop (at least on the Ubuntu front) a few steps backward. It was a completely different desktop metaphor that just happened to be buggy and based on dated libraries, and it showed little promise. But with the release of 11.10, things have taken a turn for the improved. Much improved. I thought I would share with you 10 of the bits and pieces that have given Ubuntu a breath of... wait for it... hope.

1: Unity Dash

The Unity Dash is that ubiquitous tool that opens when you click the Ubuntu icon in the top-left corner. It allows you to access applications (ones that aren't on your favorites bar) and files, search, and much more. When Unity first arrived, the Dash was somewhat worthless. It was about as efficient as a Web server without a network connection. But now, the Dash has had a serious facelift, making it work more efficiently and giving it more features (such as new filtering mechanisms). If the progression of the Dash in 11.10 is a sign of things to come, Unity might have some serious firepower in store for end users.

2: Login screen

This isn't a huge deal, but the new login screen for Ubuntu 11.10 is quite nice. Not only have the look and feel been drastically updated, but the ease of use is quite improved. I really like how the users are easily displayed and selected, as well as the improved means of selecting the desktop to be started. No, this isn't a make-or-break enhancement. But it does give Ubuntu a sleek, updated look that is an improvement over its previous login screen.

3: 2D UI

Finally, the 2D version of Unity is complete. So those whose hardware won't support the 3D version of the desktop don't have to turn their back on the latest version of Ubuntu. The 2D version of the desktop will be automatically launched if there is no 3D-supported hardware. So it's not like end users will have to make a choice or install anything specific to their hardware. The good news is that the 2D version has been modeled closely after the 3D version, so 2D users won't be missing too much.

4: Bye-bye Evolution

Ubuntu 11.10 brings to life the replacement of Evolution as the default email client. This has been long overdue, since Evolution has become a fairly bloated hog of an application. The new default is Thunderbird 7.0.1. From my perspective, this is an outstanding move. Although some users might miss the Outlook-like interface of Evolution, the size and scope of the application has finally started to overshadow its usefulness. And besides, Thunderbird is an outstanding client!

5: Gwibber makeover

Finally. Up until now, Gwibber has been a to-be-avoided application. With its tendency to run away with your CPU cycles and memory, as well as its ugly interface and inconsistent updating, Gwibber was just not something I used. Now? I like it. The UI overhaul has made a difference, and the improvement in the performance actually makes this a social networking app worth using. How did they make such drastic improvements so quickly? The developers finally wised up and switched the Python and WebKit-based application interface with a GTK3 and Vala-based interface. Good call.

6: An actual backup tool

Ubuntu 11.10 comes with a default backup tool, the incredibly easy-to-use Deja Dup. It has few bells and whistles, but what it does have is a simple single-click backup and restore. Another nice touch is that the users' default backup destination is their Ubuntu One account. So not only do users get a backup, they get an offsite backup.

7: Software Center

The Ubuntu One Software Center UI has been completely overhauled. Gone is the standard look and feel, replaced by a more Apple App Store look and feel. Although I don't personally find this as an improvement, the average user will see this as much more familiar territory. What is really nice about this change is the ability to filter by ratings (Top Rated being one very handy filter).

8: OneConf

Now this is just plain awesome. OneConf is a tool that lets you record software information from Ubuntu One to be synchronized with other computers as needed. At the moment, this does not include application settings and configurations, but it's not out of the realm of possibility.

9: ARM support

That's right, you can now get your Ubuntu on while using an ARM processor. What this means in the near term isn't as significant as what it will mean in the near future: tablet support. Although Canonical is certain that the big deal with ARM will be multicore ARM processor powered servers, I believe the bigger deal is tablets. I can only hope Ubuntu jumps on that bandwagon as quickly as possible. I want my Linux-powered tablet!

10: New Compiz + Unity

Yes, the compositor is Compiz, and the combination is really starting to gel. But what is best about this "unity" is the performance boost 11.10 enjoys. No more will having the compositor running cause the desktop to lag. You will now enjoy an incredibly snappy and robust desktop that works exactly as expected. No more do you feel like Unity and Compiz are at odds with one another.

Kudos

Ubuntu 11.10 has made significant improvements over 11.04. This, of course, is to be expected. What wasn't expected was making Ubuntu Unity work as well as it does so quickly. Bravo to Canonical and the Ubuntu developers. They have worked some serious magic on a desktop I thought was bound for extinction.

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.

15 comments
sehamon
sehamon

I disagree with number 5. Gwibber, while horribly in its infancy, worked really well for me and updating my social networks. But this latest version is so stripped down and useless, I've gone back to just logging into the websites and updating there, or using my phone. The biggest complaint I have is that I can no longer separate streams from different social networks. My twitter account and my facebook account get used for different things, and I don't need everything cluttered up in one stream.

Ninja1507
Ninja1507

I agree with all of that. and I also agree that having ubuntu on a tab would be excellent. In fact that is one of the reasons I've waited to get a tablet in the first place. I mean, I like droid OS. but I want a "Proper" desktop OS on a tablet before I buy it.

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

For those who don't like Unity, give GNOME 3 a try. GNOME 3 replaces GNOME 2 in Oneiric because the GNOME team deprecated GNOME 2; it wasn't Canonical's doing, it's just coincidental timing. But it's an interesting improvement. For those who think they don't like GNOME 3, be aware that there are several packages that you need to install to open up its full potential and make it customizable. (I'm not sure I would like it without these.) The GNOME 3 packages are not installed by default (probably because Canonical is pushing people to use, and provide feedback for, Unity), but they are in the Ubuntu repositories. And it's not obvious what to install... Here's what I've found so far: gnome-shell gnome-shell-extensions-common gnome-shell-extensions-user-theme gnome-tweak-tool gnome-themes-standard gnome-sushi If you install these with "apt-get install ", it will fully install GNOME 3 in Ubuntu 11.10 and allow you to customize it with themes, control its behavior, and determine what is visible, etc. Be aware that you will need to log out and back in for most of these packages to be picked up by the system and applied to your GNOME 3 desktop. One "hidden" function that you'll want to know about: Hold down the Alt key to turn "Suspend" into "Shut Down", which brings up a menu for restarting or powering off. Pretty much everything else you can discover by playing around with the interface. It's different, sure, but it's also more efficient for many things -- and it's obviously designed to be "finger driven", meaning it's being angled towards tablet use. That's good; Unity is also intended for that. But I think GNOME does a much better job of also working well on Desktops with mice & large multiple monitors. The only thing I haven't yet figured out how to do is how to add icons for manually-installed apps.

John Larimer
John Larimer

1. Unity 2. Unity 3. Unity 4. Unity 5. Unity 6. Unity 7. Unity 8. Unity 9. Unity 10. Unity I miss GNOME 2! I regret the upgrade more each day. I am now running Kubuntu and I might try Xubuntu but most likely if Kubuntu doesn't start winning me over soon I am going to give Bodhi another try. Enlightenment is the bomb.

jkiernan
jkiernan

I tried the new and improved Unity. It still doesn't click for me. As a multi-OS user, I don't want to remember every arcanely spelled Linux program, so the lack of hierarchical menus makes Unity quite painful. For instance, I might not know a painting program name, but I can certainly figure it out if it's under the Graphics menu.

aflynnhpg
aflynnhpg

For years I ran Red Hat, which then became Fedora. I would never have considered another linux. Then I tried Ubuntu and loved it, up until 11.04 that is. I loaded that version, hated it, and switched to Kubuntu 11.04. When 11.10 came out I gave it another try and I'm back on Ubuntu and very happy. I couldn't agree with the author of this article more.

Vquest55
Vquest55

I want & need Canonical to get on the tablet bandwagon. There is just too much B.S. w/ android. With Microsoft & Apple either trying to kill it or get there greedy little fingers in it. We NEED something fresh. Please Canonical learn from androids mistakes & hopefully that is why you are taking your time to put something out there.

blueschord
blueschord

I agree ...mostly ... Jack. However, just looking at Compiz Config Settings switched off Unity and froze the computer, forcing me to reboot by switching off ... only to return to a system without any sign of Unity (good thing some might say, but I'm distraught). Not being an expert (or even experienced) with Linux, I'm still not able to put things right. Looking at various debates on the net, I see I'm not the only one; and I seem incapable of following any of the solutions proposed . Ho Hum, back to Windows for a bit ... Unless someone out there can help?

Fyrewerx
Fyrewerx

Yeah, who cares about "usefulness", as long as it has a small (useless) footprint. Nothing like a "stripped down" version of Thunderbird to help make ubuntu a viable replacement for MS Windows.

sullivanjc
sullivanjc

Unity still sucks and is still buggy even if it sucks a *little* (and only a little) less. Evolution may be bloated but if you need Exchange support, it's better than Thunderbird. I've switched the desktop to Xubuntu (because Gnome 3 sucks too) and loaded Evolution.

regsrini
regsrini

The changes you mentioned are indeed positive and I love them, but I think they shouldn't have removed the ability to switch to Gnome 2.32. I don't mind Unity being the default, but no backwards compatibility? C'mon. the Gnome fallback session thingy doesn't work as well as the older Gnome. By the way, if somebody can show me a keyboard shortcut to activate the application menu in the fallback session, and a way to activate the "Run a command" menu, I'd be just as happy with Oneiric Ocelot. I am waiting for the next Linux Mint version, by the way, because it gives me the old UI.

rlawhorn
rlawhorn

If your looking at a black screen with white writing, you might try the "startx" command. That may bring your Unity desktop back. If it fails, you might try "xwmconfig", choose the windowing program you prefer, and then start your X-server with "startx". Note: The preceding is the opinion of a Slackware Zombie who has never ventured into the roiling badlands of Buntustan (though is considering rolling out some tablets using the distro "whose name cannot be spoken" assuming it's as reliable as the author seems to think it is.

ronnie23
ronnie23

The changes are cool. However the system is still buggy. Try ejecting a multi-partition drive and the system panics. The alt-F2 keyboard shortcut still works to activate the "Run a command" menu.

wizard57m-cnet
wizard57m-cnet

I didn't know of the existence of this version of zombies, LOL! I've tinkered with Slackware...just tinkered mind you. IMO, you can't use Slack if you're a "brain-dead zombie"...that's what Ubuntu is for!!

regsrini
regsrini

I can't make Alt-F2 work when I'm using the "Gnome-fallback-session" package, which i prefer over Unity and other desktop environments.