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Ubuntu Unity 5.8 seriously impresses

Jack Wallen gives Ubuntu Unity 5.8 a go and is seriously impressed. Read about the improvements and why Jack is so willing to admit his mistake when proclaiming the Ubuntu desktop dead.

Remember back when Ubuntu switched to Unity and the world came to an end? That was pure fun times, eh? Well, the world didn't actually end and Unity continued on... and boy did it continue on. Recently Unity 5.8 was added to the daily builds of Ubuntu 12.04 so we can all peek inside to see just how well this desktop has come along.

This desktop has come a long, long way. I thought I'd give you some of the highlights here to tease you enough into downloading 12.04 yourself (daily build here) to check it out. Of course, the final release of 12.04 will hit the 'shelves' next month, so those of you with patience enough can just sit back and wait it out. If you don't have patience, I highly recommend you download the latest build and give Precise Pangolin a try... if only just to see what's new with Unity.

But let me be your guinea pig here.

Immediate reactions

Unity is fast. Much faster than it's ever been. I'm not quite sure what the developers have done under the hood, but Unity might well be one of the fastest, smoothest desktops out there now. The improvement from the last release is quite obvious.

But outside of performance, what else can you expect? Let's take a look.

HUD

If you've not seen it yet, the HUD is a sort of "intent-driven interface". I would consider it the next evolution of Microsoft's "Ribbon Interface". And in 5.8 there are some improvements. First and foremost, the HUD respects the Launcher state. What that means is that if the Launcher is visible, the HUD blends in. If the Launcher is set to auto-hide, the HUD will be displayed completely.

There is also a new animation for when the HUD is summoned.

Multi-monitor Launcher config

You can now dictate where your launcher will be displayed when multiple monitors are used. You can either have a Launcher set for a primary display, or you can have a Launcher set for both primary and secondary monitors.

The Launcher can also be set to have a sticky edge behavior when using Autohide with multiple monitors.

Massive amounts of minor visual enhancements

Some of the enhancements include:

  • Better keyboard overlay graphics
  • New Dash optimized colors
  • Properly aligned Dash items
  • Cleaner Dash icons
  • Improved Launcher color saturation
  • Better Dash fonts
  • Improved Notify appearance

Miscellaneous improvements

  • Music Lens is now fully integrated with Rhythmbox
  • Improved Launcher and better Software Center integration
  • Message now displayed when no search results are found
  • Better overlay scrollbars

I realize there are so many detractors out there for Unity. For the longest time I was one myself. But over the last year I have slowly come around to realize I was wrong to judge that book by it's first-release cover. Ubuntu Unity has come a long way in a very short time. In fact, I'd go on record to say that Unity has made more improvements over a shorter period of time than has any other desktop we've seen.

If the developers of Unity continue making such progress, there will be no doubt that Unity will become the desktop of choice for Linux users. What do you think?

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.

34 comments
mshimohi
mshimohi

Tried 12.04 and result is better to use xfce or other UI. The reason: + I don't find any merit to use Unity, rather have to pay cost to accustom it. + It's easy to switch xfce or kde rather than using Unity. + When I use menu, I select item based on it's position, without any consideration. Unity does not allow this. + The above is like typing command without thinking, my hand remembers everyday using command. + I prefer OS showing everything and I have control to select and order what to do, rather than I have to find where that icon is located, or have to type every command name. The bottom line will be Unity is not for me. Might be it's for new users, not for experienced users with traditional menu system.

Sphincter_Muscle
Sphincter_Muscle

I am new to Linux. Been using it for a year or more now. Tried several distro's. 1st Mandriva, then Mint, and a couple others. Ubuntu was one of the last. I didn't like the desktop, with the panel on the left. Not knowing how to change it and it being "alien" to me I went shopping again. I found a distro that is Ubuntu based and it has the look and feel of Windows, or at least very closely resembles Windows... to an extent. ZORIN-OS. I have stayed with it. I now have it on my desktop (dual boot with win 7) and two laptops(dual boot on one and main OS on the other). I like it because it is faster than Windows, and I just LOVE the price. The basic system is FREE. I purchased the "ultimate" version for a WHOPPING $13.00. I do a lot of word processing, ie., legal briefs and pleadings for an attorney. He uses a Wordperfect suite, and apparently LibreOffice isn't 100% compatible with that... yet, but there is a workaround. I have to save documents as MSWord .doc's. I am throughly impressed with Linux as a whole, and ZORIN-OS. Zorin is Ubuntu 11.04 based, and I have no complaints other than the minor issue above.

mknoorani
mknoorani

I think Unity, especially the 5.8 version, is very good. The design is slick and polished and the interface as a whole is very functional. However, the only reason why I don't use it is because I feel it is not for me because I like fiddling around a lot with my desktop and E17 gives me more of that than I can handle so I am happy with it.

ivank2139
ivank2139

I found a few tweaks make Unity a lot more useful and acceptable. Maybe the key is having enough customization available to insure it is usable by more people. I use Ubuntu only on desktop machines so I am not so sure I need some of the features designed for touch displays. I will try out the new release and see how it fits.

sanyiidh
sanyiidh

I loved Unity the first time even with its problems. Now with improvements in its appearance and performance it will win the competition.

bobc4012
bobc4012

I tried Mint and different desktops - Cinnamon, Gnome, Gnome Classic, KDE Plasma, XFCE and a few others. While Gnome Classic is acceptable, XFCE allows me to set up 2 panels (top and bottom). Each has its pluses and minuses, but neither is Gnome 2. I use both panels to arrange what apps I use most frequently (I don't remember names half the time, but icons I remember). I also have icons on the desktop (some just won't get placed on the panels). While I understand the need to support tablets (and touch screens), I fail to see where there was a need or requirement to get rid of Gnome 2 (just for the sake of doing different). The underlying I/Fs still exist. It is just a matter of implementation. Will I ever go to a tablet? Maybe, when they sell for $3.95 - the price of a Starbucks! When my Desktop crapped out a few months back, it was cheaper to buy new than to replace 3 boards and upgrade). The new came with Windows 7. Having used XP for the past 8 years, I put it in the same category as Gnome 2. Windows 7 is an annoyance, Change for the sake of change. I installed VirtualBox and install the OSes I want to use. I even use DOSBox (Windows version on Win. 7 and DOSBox, DOS Emulator and WINE on Ubuntu). I still have "old DOS apps" that do what I need done and, in some cases, better than whats available now-a-days. BTW, in the few short months I have used Win. 7, I have had at least a half-dozen BSOD (both blue and black), had to run repair a couple of times and checking the update logs, I'd say at least 90% of the updates are security updates.. So much for a "more secure" system than XP - and after installing a few apps, the system is running slower (in spite of cleaning, defragging, virus checking, etc.).

AllanMitch
AllanMitch

Jack, For those of us who tossed Unity into the trashbin, your description of improvements weren't very helpful. Unless you've been a Unity user, I doubt most would have any idea what the following sentence means "First and foremost, the HUD respects the Launcher state. What that means is that if the Launcher is visible, the HUD blends in. If the Launcher is set to auto-hide, the HUD will be displayed completely." I'd like to believe in Unity, but please take a little time to give explanations that non-Unity users can follow. Asking users to make major changes, requires patient, consistent and thorough explanations of the changes and, most importantly, how they will help the user. Thanks, Allan

Bob-El
Bob-El

I still see Unity and its like as change for the sake of change. What improvement is there in completely changing how files and programs are accessed? I tried it out with 11.10 and ended up installing Gnome Classic which I'm not enthralled with but, at least, I can find my way around. I wasn't impressed about having to type the name of an app in order to find it. It assumes one can remember the name. Not always. And what's the point of having an icon for every part of LibreOffice? I don't see how completely changing how we do things an improvement. It's a time waster is what it is. Microsoft did it with their ridiculous ribbon menus and are taking it further with Windows 8. It's like buying a car and they've put the controls in the back seat facing backwards and the steering wheel is sticking out of the roof. Give me a break!

Freshmeadow
Freshmeadow

I have been running Linux (openSUSE, Debian, Kubuntu) on my personal computers since 2006. I had serious qualms about Unity when I tried it in Ubuntu 10.10 and 11.04, and somwhat in 11.10. Now, however, in the 12.04 beta and especially since the upgrade this past weekend, I am sold on Unity. In fact, I have installed the 12.04 beta on my new Asus laptop, that is how much I enjoy using it. I highly recommend others give it a try. Cheers from Guelph, Ontario.

m@rcel
m@rcel

Since my problems with pulse audio I do'nt use linux anymore. Can I give it a try again without spending evenings trying to solve a sound issue?

CodeCurmudgeon
CodeCurmudgeon

For me the desktop switcher being a PITA was the biggest reason I went to Cinnamon. It took WAY too many clicks to switch from one desktop to another. IIRC it took something like "Mouse to upper left corner, scroll down to switcher, click, double click on the application you want on top when the desktop comes up. One click to switch desktops on Cinnamon. Even my work XP box (with help from Virtual Dimension) switches with a simple hot key combination. . .

colony
colony

We have used Windows many years. I have often thought about switching, but felt we did not have the expertise to try such an event. We are using Windows XP and need to upgrade. I would like any comments. Thanks in Advance for any comments,

nobby57
nobby57

A couple of years ago I switched to Ubuntu for all our business desktops rather than upgrade from XP to Win7. The last LTS 10.04 has worked well for us, and I'm thinking of upgrading to 12.04 when it comes out. I've had qualms about Unity, though, and am even running an old laptop on Mint to see if that might be the direction we'd go if Unity didn't pan out. This is one of several better reviews I've read about Unity lately, so maybe it's time to give it a try on the laptop and see how it flies with our system! My main concern is that the new bells & whistles aren't needed, or may even get in the way of doing things. For us, the integration of tablets isn't currently a factor, so there's no compelling reason for Unity except to participate in the latest, most secure Ubuntu release. I know I could go with Mint or another Ubuntu desktop if Unity didn't seem so hot, but would rather stay on the main Ubuntu stem if we can. I know this sound hopelessly un-adventurous, but it's day-to-day operability that counts for us and I still wonder how Unity will affect that! But these sound like positive developments - I'll be giving Ubuntu Unity a try when it comes out in final. Thanks for the review - find your blog quite useful!

AndiTheBest
AndiTheBest

unity + sudo apt-get install xfce4-panel =

TNT
TNT

This review is very much like one of my posts not that long ago ("Multimedia: A Linux Achilles Heel", messages 72 and 74).... Glad You're finally finding some love for Unity, Jack!

technomom_z
technomom_z

I don't think I've ever seen the words "Ubuntu Unity" and "impressed" in the same sentence. I might just have to give it a look.

bboyd
bboyd

My concern is usually to get a new user into Linux on a machine, not that it looks like painted glass. Sounds like lots of cool factor but I'll see if U.U. cool can out do Mint for easy.

bobc4012
bobc4012

Thanks for the tip to "GNOME 4 - the future of portability" by Robert Storey. A great review. I'll be waiting for Gnome 4 with "baited breath". Hopefully, the court will reject the MS BSOD patent infringement as frivolous. I will also be sure to test drive Ubuntu's Inanity once available.

bobc4012
bobc4012

I downloaded it last night (free version 1.1GB) took quite a while even though I run over 10Mbps at night - the download server site must be doling things out piecemeal. I did run the live CD in virtualbox and it looks quite impressive. I see it already has 3 basic settings - Gnome, Win. 7 and Win. XP. I plan on installing it in virtualbox and may end up using it over Ubuntu 10.04 (and Mint 12). I see it has the previous version of Ubuntu Tweak, which I prefer over the newer version in Mint 12 and 11.10 Ubuntu. Both the 32bit and 64bit free versions are 1.1GB downloads. BTW, one think I did notice was when clicking on the menu items to set a shortcut on the Desktop, it failed to mark them as "executable". I had to go into properties and check the "executable" box. I also notice they had Google Chrome for the browser, I did not see anything for Firefox, but it may be brought in when all the initial install updates are done. I'll find out.

Sphincter_Muscle
Sphincter_Muscle

If you like fiddling around with and tinkering with the OS to see how it works, or what you can and cant do, or if you just like to learn about the OS, you should try ZORIN-OS. It has a look and feel os windows. Plus if you are like me, to see just what happens when you "flip this switch , or activate this feature", Zorin has HUNDREDS of little switches and HUNDREDS of little boxes to check to configure different features of the OS, Plus if you like eye candy, you can configure the desktop an unlimited amount of ways, and with the COMPIZ 3D feature you will have something to show off at the neighbor's house, or wherever. ZORIN-OS is Ubuntu based. CHECK THIS OUT --->>> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4QokOwvPxrE&feature=share

twist
twist

Linus Torvalds said it a few months ago, and I still agree with him that Gnome 2.3 should be branched into a separate project, even if the core Gnome community doesn't want to be involved. It's open source, so we have that option. But, it's going to take some people seriously getting involved to make that happen. Too many people complain and yet they aren't contributing to see the 'problem they're complaining about' fixed. Not that I'm harping on you here, mate, it's just a common problem I've seen. Personally, I'm willing to contribute where I can, and have recently considered taking up application programming just to be of greater influence and assistance on this such as a Gnome 2.3 branch project.

james.vandamme
james.vandamme

Cleaning crapware, defragging, virus checking, updating apps, registry...I remember those days...well, that week before I installed Ubuntu (Classic, thanks)

to_be_announced
to_be_announced

but I've been using Win 7 for over a year and not had ANY problems like that. Perhaps your issues are hardware related rather than the fault of the OS. And as far as complaining about "change for the sake of change", get used to it. Everything changes with time. If it didn't, nothing would ever be improved upon. Sometimes the changes are good, and sometimes not. But to imply that OS's (or any software) shouldn't change is just ridiculous.

YetAnotherBob
YetAnotherBob

I could be wrong, but, when I tried Unity out, the Launcher was a keyboard based application finder. Type the name of what you want to start and it starts. It includes auto-complete, so if you know the program name, it's quite convenient. but, if you only approximately know it, then it's less useful. Both Gnome and KDE have something approximately like this in the works. It represents an attempt to get the best of the CLI available in the GUI. It looks useful. The HUD I haven't tried, but it is supposedly a system monitor for programs. It could be useful, but I don't know how it is being used. Having said that, I tried out both Gnome 3 and Unity last summer. I am currently running XFCE. That should tell you how much I liked them. I have heard they are improving, perhaps I should give them another chance. Or, perhaps not.

faical117
faical117

you can click filter in the bottom and select the category y like .

twist
twist

I basically felt the same way. I held off from messing with Unity until 11.04, and didn't like it at the time, but by the 11.10 release, it started getting enough refinement and 3rd party utility support that I set it as the primary desktop on my personal laptop at home, and on my 16GB USB stick that I use for my work-laptop. I still prefer Gnome 2.3 on my other systems at home, but that's because of the purposes they are constructed for. That could eventually change though, once 12.04 is in final release form. It's just that at the moment, I run a ton of 10.04 systems and they're all really solid and I don't have the time lately to reload them with a beta, then reload them again after the final code is production ready.

twist
twist

I know... I didn't like it either at first, but then I found all of the keyboard shortcuts and actually am *beginning* to like it best of all.... and I've been a die-hard Gnome 2.3 user for a while now... I came to love Compiz + Gnome 2.32 to create a cube desktop with 100% transparency.

james.vandamme
james.vandamme

...might be Mint Cinnamon. Clean, simple, unconfusing. Well, you can also do some cool things, but don't tell your people that yet. As for Unity.... well, different strokes. Running Bodhi right this second, and boy is it FAST. Get some machines out of the junk pile, it'll work on them. 256M no problem.

frankieandsusie
frankieandsusie

i have been using Ubuntu for about 6 years now i must say it is getting easier with every upgrade.

bobc4012
bobc4012

I just posted a follow-up in "reply" to "Twist's" comment above. Zorin is looking good so far. For those who aren't in love with Unity. it may be what you want. Plus it supports the look of Win. XP and Win 7.

bobc4012
bobc4012

I read about Zorin_OS 5.2 Core in Sphincter_Muscle 31st Mar post below. I did a VirtualBox install. It provides 3 desktop options - Ubuntu (with gnome 2 I/F), Win. XP or Win. 7. I am impressed by what I have seen so far - 1.1 GB Download - the hour + download looks like it was worth it (4 D/L sites, but I think they choke the speed as I have a 10Mbps connection). You can buy a DVD for around $13 if you don't want to D/L it for free. It supports the panels the same way as Ubuntu worked in 10.04 and 10.10. The one disappointment so far, Dropbox wasn't included in the S/W Center - I had to go to the site and download it to install. Zorin is based on Ubuntu (just like Mint). It also has Ubuntu Tweak, which works like the version in 10.04/10.10 - not like the one in Mint or Unity. Give it a try. Maybe Jack can check it out and write an article on it.

bobc4012
bobc4012

I did not imply Unity (nor Win. 7) was changing solely for the sake of change, what I was trying to say, there are areas that did not have to be changed, but were. If you go back and read carefully, I did say "I understood the need to support tablets and touch screens". I also understand that an approach like Unity might be more desirable for tablet. Regardless, Gnome 2 could have been kept. Why drop it? What underlying part of the kernel changed that forced the I/F to change? The same holds true for Win. 7 (for instance, "sort a folder on Mod. Date" and the sort order is changed to descending when it used to be left alone - that was unnecessary change - there are other similar instances - The same is true with Ubuntu and Unity). Backward compatibility is always an issue, sometimes it can't be done because of the implementation required for completely new function. However, the I seriously doubt that the OS I/Fs which Gnome 2, Gnome 3 and Unity use have changed in any fashion that prohibits Gnome 2 from being executed, especially since the other desktops seem to function the same way. I also understand the reluctance to maintain two different desktops, but I doubt that much effort would have been required to keep Gnome 2 as an option - the same holds true for those Linux distros that use Gnome 3.