Hardware

Ubuntu 11.10 brings Ubuntu Unity closer to fine

With the release of Ubuntu 11.10, Ubuntu Unity makes some progress on the desktop front. Is it enough? Jack Wallen offers his take on the state of the desktop from Canonical.

If you've been following me long enough, you know since the inception of Ubuntu Unity my relationship with that new desktop has been one of love-hate. When Unity was first rumored and the designs and philosophy were made known, the relationship was one of love. But when 11.04 was released, that relationship quickly shifted to hate. But now, 11.10 is out and Ubuntu has had a chance to make good on their Unity promises. I have to say, after upgrading to 11.10 ... I'm pretty impressed with the improvements.

I'll preface the rest of this by saying it's not perfect, but it's closer to being a fine desktop than it's previous iteration.

Now ... just what has improved? Let's take a look. I am taking this from the perspective of an end-user, so there will be no talk of development this or power-user that. What I am interested in is whether or not Unity has come far enough along for the average end user.

The Good

Figure A

The Unity Dash has had a bit of overhaul, making it easier to access various pieces. Figure A shows the Dash in action. Click on the Dash icon to reveal a new overlay that allows you to do the following (via icon):

  • Open up various categories of apps (Media, Internet,  and More).
  • Open up default apps (as configured within System).
  • Find files.

You will also notice, at the bottom of the Dash overlay, a row of tabs. These tabs are (from left to right):

  • Dash Home
  • Applications
  • Documents and folders
  • Media

Figure B

So what the developers of Unity have done is make it incredibly easy to get to various applications, files, and folders. This is a big plus for not just average users, but for any level of users. Another nice addition to the Dash is the ability to quickly filter results by categories. Take a look at Figure B (sorry, wallpaper is set to randomly change.)

Click on the Applications Tab in the Dash Overlay and you can then filter by various categories, making the search for that specific file or application much easier.

It is also possible now to eject external discs and USB devices from the Launcher. Simply right-click the device to reveal a menu offering:

  • Open
  • Eject
  • Safely Remove

The not so good

The Metaphor is still the big issue. Most end users do not like change — of any kind. They don't like drive letters to change, they don't like the look and feel of things to change. This is the one glaring problem with driving such a grand, sweeping change such is Ubuntu Unity. New users will take one look at it and say "Where's my Start button? Where are my icons?" There is no way around this and new users will just have to accept that change is an inevitability with the PC desktop. Even with Windows — change happens and users have little to no choice but to move on. Eventually the touch-screen friendly desktop interface such as Unity and Gnome 3 will be less a shock to users (granted it would help if Canonical would come through on the promise of touchscreen hardware to happily marry with the interface).

More not so good

Why is it the developers of Ubuntu Unity have decided that configuring the desktop is just not something we mortals need. Sorry people, but I am a serious tinkerer on the desktop. I want my desktop cake and I want to eat it too! But alas — configuring the Unity desktop is just not meant to be (outside of changing your desktop background.) This does need to change. People (even new users) want to configure that desktop!

Even more not so good

I'm still not sold on the Apple-like application menu. No more do applications have their own menu. You want to access an application menu, you have to have that application in focus and then go up to the main bar at the top of the window. This isn't terribly efficient when you have many windows open.

And speaking of many windows open — I want, nay need, my sloppy focus. I do not like to have to click on titlebars (or any location within the window) to give a window focus. I am all about making as few clicks and points with the mouse as possible. Give me sloppy focus and auto-raise back!

The conclusion thus far

Okay, so Unity is beginning to show promise. I have two suspicions here:

  1. Given time Unity will finally become a legitimate player on the average user desktop field.
  2. Given the proper touch-screen hardware, Unity will finally be able to show just how user-friendly it can be.

What do you think? Will Unity ever over come the problems is faced upon release and still faces? Sound off in the comments!

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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