I've spent a lot of time knocking Ubuntu — mostly for the Unity desktop. But Unity alone can't take down what has been, for nearly a decade, the most user-friendly Linux desktop distribution available. For all the media has railed against Unity, it does work and works well. And now, with the feature-freeze in place for 12.04, it looks like there are some nice features that should make Precise Pangolin a front-runner to reclaim that prized spot at the top of the heap.
And although the new features won't win everyone to Unity, it will at least raise the curiosity level just enough to bring some people back to the Ubuntu fold. But just what are these new features I speak of? Let's take a look.
This is not necessarily a huge breakthrough in system security, but more a move ahead in account privacy. As you know, both Unity and GNOME 3 have outstanding desktop search tools. The problem with previous iterations of the desktops is that every file and folder appeared in a desktop search. So if anyone had access to your account, they could easily search for files and folders. With 12.04, it is now possible to easily specify what file types and folders you would like to leave out of the search. The following file types can be excluded from search indexing:
- Text documents
- Instant Messaging
For all intents and purposes, this brings a pseudo-incognito mode to the desktop. Your user history can be completely bereft of entries, should you choose.
The only caveat to this is for those that want to include file types, but not specific files. There is a way around that. Create a folder and save all the specific docs to be excluded in search results in that new folder. Now, exclude that folder from search results and you have effectively hidden specific folders from desktop history.
If you're unfamiliar with the idea behind Ubuntu Unity Lenses, it's simple. When you open up the Unity Dash you can select from specific Lenses, specifying what you want to view. Previous iterations of Unity already included an Audio Lens, and now add the Video Lens to that ever-expanding Dash. This is becoming more and more important to a media-heavy audience. This new Lens will allow you to easily search Youtube, Amazon, Shows, ABC iView, Sci-Fi London, TED Talks, and more.
Finally, a configuration tool for Unity has arrived. This tool handles the configuration of the Dash, the Panel, and Unity Launcher. MyUnity can help you configure such things as:
- Launcher resizing
- Show/hide devices in Launcher
- Change behaviors of Launcher
- Change fonts
- Change backlight settings
- Show/hide various icons
- Turn on/off Dash blur
I would like to see theming included in this tool, but that's probably asking a bit much.
I have to admit, although I'm not a fan of Unity, Ubuntu is starting to make it's desktop hard to resist. It won't be long before Ubuntu creates the right mixture of features and performance to make their distribution irresistible to users. Will it be Ubuntu TV? Could be. Who knows. What's important is that Ubuntu continues to push Linux forward into uncharted lands for the Linux platform. And whether you like Unity or not, it's impossible to deny that Canonical is doing everything in its power to make Linux as user-friendly as possible.
I have, once again, become excited about the release of Ubuntu. Although I have tried the most recent daily build (and found it way to buggy to use), I will happily have Ubuntu 12.04 installed on one of my machines. I won't be surprised it if once again becomes my primary Linux distribution...in spite of Unity.
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.