Some people in the die-hard Linux community have come out
against Ubuntu’s Unity desktop, but it
is one of the most SMB-ready desktops to have come out of the open source
community. You’ll understand why I believe that is the case after you read my insights
into how the Ubuntu Unity desktop can work to empower your small business.

Desktop layout

When you compare the Ubuntu Unity desktop layout to Windows
8, you see how intelligently the interface was designed. Unity works to get out
of your way without becoming a challenge to navigate. Unlike Windows 8, which
requires far too much pointing and clicking (or tapping and swiping), Unity
empowers the user to work efficiently from the keyboard or the touch screen
alone (with some exceptions).

Instead of removing the Start button completely, Unity
employs the Dash, which is a Start menu on steroids. Unity Dash allows you to
quickly search for files/folders and find/start applications, search outside
your desktop, and preview files/folders/applications (Figure A).

Figure A

The Launcher (the desktop left sidebar) allows you to add
application launchers, so you can quickly access the applications you use the

Cloud-friendly interface

Whether it’s cloud-based
apps, storage, or just the general ability of a platform to remain continually
connected to the cloud, the modern desktop interface must be cloud-friendly.
With the exception of strictly mobile platforms, I think Ubuntu Unity outshines
nearly all other desktop interfaces.

You can start to dive into the cloud with Ubuntu One. With the latest Ubuntu
offerings, Unity easily connects to your Ubuntu One cloud account, where you
get 5 GB of storage free or 20 GB of storage for $30.00 per year.

But, unlike most platforms, the cloud integration doesn’t
stop with storage; this is another aspect of Unity that has some of the Linux
faithful up in arms about security issues. I’ll explain the situation.

Alleviate security

When you search with the Unity Dash, the search reaches out
to numerous services (including Amazon and the Ubuntu One Music Store),
enabling Unity to pull in lots of results. When Ubuntu 13.10 arrives, Unity
Smart Scopes
will also come into play. Smart Scopes includes the following
(and more when 13.10 hits):

  • Amazon
  • Chromium bookmarks
  • COLOURlovers
  • Commands
  • DevHelp
  • DeviantArt
  • Dictionary
  • DuckDuckGo Related
  • Facebook
  • Firefox bookmarks
  • Flickr
  • Gallica
  • GitHub
  • Google Drive
  • Google News
  • Gourmet
  • Guayadeque
  • Ubuntu One Music Store
  • Ubuntu One Music Search
  • Musique
  • OpenClipArt
  • OpenWeatherMap
  • Picasa
  • Remote Videos
  • Skimlinks
  • SoundCloud
  • Tomboy
  • VirtualBox
  • Yahoo Finance
  • Yelp
  • Zotero
  • Wikipedia

The user will have one of the
most powerful desktop search tools to date at their fingertips; they can search
their hard drive, their cloud storage, their social networking feeds, and other
sources. And with the ability to do a quick Unity Dash preview of the search
results, searching becomes even more efficient.

Smart Scopes can be individually enabled or disabled from
the application “lens” within the Unity Dash. This means you can shut
off those results you don’t want or need to see.

Some people believe the mechanisms used to retrieve and
cache search results are privacy breaches. Also, some people fear that the very
act of searching in the Unity Dash could result in your place of work assuming
you are, say, shopping on Amazon during work hours. Since it is possible to
disable individual Smart Scopes, this is not the case. In fact, you can disable
all web-based content on the desktop from within the All Settings Privacy manager
(Figure B).

Figure B

Head Up Display

Unity does everything it can to make work the focus and not
move the users’ hands from the keyboard to the mouse. With that in mind, the
Unity developers created the Head Up Display (HUD).

When you’re in an application, click the Alt key, and a
search bar will open where you can search through the application’s menu
system. This means you don’t always have to remember which menu the feature you
want is in.

I’ll bring this into perspective. Remember when you first
adopted Microsoft Office 2010 and tried to navigate through the poorly designed
Ribbon interface? With the HUD, all you have to do is know what you want to do.
Let’s say you’re in LibreOffice, and
you need to align text; highlight your text using a combination of the arrow
and Shift keys, hit the Alt key, type align,
use the arrow keys to move to the proper entry, and hit Enter (Figure C).
You just aligned text without leaving the keyboard. That’s efficient.

Figure C

Tighter control

A problem businesses faced with previous Linux desktops was
that the numerous customization options could lead to end users breaking the
interface. Yes, the ability to tweak to your heart’s desire was one reason the
Linux die-hards enjoyed the platform, but for the vast majority of users, it
was dangerous to have that much tinkering capability. That’s where Unity has
found a nice compromise.

Unity allows you to tweak just enough to make the desktop
yours. If you want more options, you can install a tool like UnityTweak. But for the average business user, there’s no more worry that you’re
going to accidentally configure something incorrectly and break the interface. Plus,
Unity’s configuration has become incredibly easy — any user can launch the
Settings tool and make changes to their environment without worrying they’ll
break the system.

This tighter control over customizations comes with a price
— it frustrates the die-hard Linux users. When examining this from a
“greater good” perspective, I think it’s a fair tradeoff. Linux has
finally reached a point where it must pander more to the average user than the
dyed-in-the-wool faithful. Unity offers one of the finest compromises in that


There will always be users who do not like change — one
example is how the Linux faithful regard what Canonical has done with Ubuntu —
but the vast majority of users want technology to make their jobs easier. I
don’t think any desktop interface has done a better job of that than Unity.

If your small business is worrying about transitioning from
Windows 7 to Windows 8, I recommend letting go of those fears and empowering
your business and your users by choosing Ubuntu Unity.

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From the hottest programming languages to commentary on the Linux OS, get the developer and open source news and tips you need to know. Delivered Tuesdays and Thursdays