Distro Review: Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal

The purple Unity desktop with the main search box open overlaying it

Ubuntu 11.04 - Unity Desktop

It’s been a very long time since I did an in-depth distro review here, but today I’m going to write about my experiences of Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal. I’ve been running it as my main desktop for about a month. The last version I properly reviewed was Ubuntu 9.10 and though I’ve used the other releases in the meantime, there’s still a lot of changes to talk about with Natty. Most notably the complete shift to the new Unity interface which feels very different to Gnome. I’d heard a lot about it but how would I fare? Let’s find out…

Vital Stats:
Distro base – Debian (though Ubuntu has diverged a lot by now)
Packaging – .deb (Managed by the mighty Apt)
Linux Kernel – 2.6.38-8-generic
Default Desktop – Gnome 2.32.1 – The default interface is Unity sat on top of that though.

My test hardware – Dell XPS M1330n laptop. 2ghz Intel Core 2 Duo, 2GB RAM, 160GB HDD, Nvidia 8400m graphics.Installation:

The Ubuntu Ubiquity install tool, showing the check list of things before you begin.

Ubiquity - Still The Daddy

As mentioned in the intro, I’ve used most Ubuntu versions over the years, and in that time I’ve seen the Ubiquity installer evolve and develop. It’s always been good and it’s probably the best installer I’ve used on any major Linux distro. There’s nothing wrong with the other installers available, but Ubiquity just edges them out for me.

I installed Ubuntu 11.04 from a bootable USB stick which I created using UNetBootIn, a fabulous little tool for putting pretty much any ISO image onto a memory stick. I’d heard a lot about the big change with the new Unity desktop but when I booted up the live image I was taken to a standard looking Gnome desktop. I was pretty sure this must be because of my freedom hating Nvidia graphics card and the fact Ubuntu cannot distribute the drivers for it.
I’ve since confirmed this by installing Ubuntu the same way on a machine with an Intel graphics card, for which the drivers are free (as in freedom). I was taken straight to a full Unity desktop that time. A smart bit of thinking by the Ubuntu developers to work around this driver problem.

An image of the disk partitioning tool, in advanced mode

Partitioning Your Hard Disk

The installer itself looks very familiar with only incremental changes over time. If it’s not broken though why fix it.
I proceeded through the steps, entering my information, choosing a partition layout scheme and so on. I used my typical partition structure and since it’s been so long I should probably describe it again briefly.
In this machine is a 160GB hard disk. I use 12GB for the root (/) partition and 4GB for swap space. The remaining 140GB or so is my home (/home) partition. This enables me to move between distributions without having to move my 50GB of music each time, not to mention all the other stuff. That would be laborious.
A cool thing they’ve added in recent versions of Ubiquity (the installer) is the ability for you to enter information and do other things whilst installation continues in the background. This prevents the familiar scenario of entering all your information and then finally getting to a “start installation” screen, having to wait for it to actually start the job.
There’s just a progress bar at the bottom which ticks along as you’re entering your username and other such things. That’s really cool and I have to say I wish all OS installers worked like this.

The whole process from loading up the live image to booting into my newly installed desktop took about 20-30mins. This hardware is getting old though and I suspect on a newer machine, particularly with an SSD, it would be even quicker. Have a look at the installation slide show below if you really want to see the full process blow by blow.

FULL INSTALLATION SLIDE SHOWI encourage you to look through and read the comments I’ve put on these images too. There’s more than just the installation images.

It’s Unity Jim, but not as we know it:

An image of the plain Gnome desktop you get if Unity is disabled for some reason

The Gnome Desktop or "Ubuntu Classic" mode

On starting up the new install I was greeted with Unity, the new Canonical developed user interface, but not as we know it. Unity makes use of a lot of 3D acceleration and fancy graphics but my drivers are non-free as I mentioned earlier. I ended up with a more cut down 2D version at first. Interesting that the live boot gave me a Gnome desktop and not this in dealing with my driver problem the first time I thought. I was prompted by the Restricted Driver Manager that an Nvidia driver package was available. This is an old Ubuntu tool which first came into version 7.04 if memory serves me right, but don’t quote me on that though it’s been a long time.
It makes installing the drivers and rebooting a breeze. I expect this from most modern distributions, as I said Ubuntu has been doing it for years and while I can get the packages myself and even install the binary driver direct from the Nvidia website, it’s all too much hassle in this day and age. The developers have done a good job here in making this seamless by offering a dumbed down UI initially and an easy way to install the drivers you need. I had no complaints on that.

The Real Unity:

A picture of the Unity desktop in Ubuntu

Unity Ahoy! The desktop clutter is my fault.

With my graphics card sorted I booted into the genuine 3D Unity desktop for the first time. I’d heard tons of things about it from others and even tested older versions on a netbook myself. It never performed well for me and had too many glaring bugs. I thought for Canonical to nail their colours to the mast with this as the main interface in this release was incredibly brave. It reminded me a little of JFK famously declaring the USA would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.
The wisdom of this decision is still not clear to me. The Canonical one I mean, not JFK. I’ve been openly critical of this move away from Gnome and particularly Gnome 3, but I’m a fair and open minded individual so I decided to give Unity a proper chance. Using it full time on my laptop and netbook for a good few weeks. No half measures. It’s the only way to see if I could get used to it.

A picture of the application finder tool in Natty

The Application Search

The public misconception is that Ubuntu 11.04 doesn’t use Gnome any more. It does. The file manager is Nautilus and Gnome 2 is very much at work below the surface. I see Unity more as a new layer put on top of Gnome 2, obscuring it from view. It’s as if someone has decided that while Gnome 2 is a good work horse it’s not “pretty” enough to be seen in the front of the shop any more. Instead they’ve relegated it to the back office in favour of a younger model.
This presents an interesting dilemma because the Gnome project has now released version 3.0, and while the 2.x series will carry on for some time, code rot could quickly set in. This is what happens when developer interest in a piece of software evaporates and shifts to a newer version. How will Canonical deal with this? Will they try to keep Gnome 2 going as a fork, or at least the bits they need? Who knows, time will tell. For now though I’m veering away from the actual review.

(update: The comment below by Florian Diesch prompted some research of my own. It seems the plan is for future versions of Unity to be based on Gnome 3. This makes sense and takes care of the Gnome 2 code rot issue I envisaged.)

Unity is a simpler interface than Gnome 2. Simpler in the way that a Fisher Price washing machine is simpler than a real one, but can it get the job done? It reminds me of a mobile phone UI. Big icons, auto hiding docks and maximised screen real estate for whatever program you’re focusing on. I’m not sure it suits my high res laptop screen, I’m not short of space. On a small screen I could perhaps see the logic.

A picture of the new universal menu now used for everything application

The Universal Menu - It doesn't suit me

Many people say Ubuntu is trying hard to copy the Mac interface but I don’t know if that’s fair. Maybe there’s a little truth in it somewhere. One thing that definitely has a Mac influence is the universal menu. I was lost with this at first and even after weeks trying to get used to it, I just can’t. What this means in real terms is that application windows no longer have the “File, Edit…” menu on them. Instead this stays at the top of the screen and changes on depending what application you have in focus. See the image for an example.
There’s a major problem for me, the menu doesn’t actually appear until you scroll over the top toolbar with your mouse. It’s all very counter intuitive and I panicked like hell as I was editing a podcast in Audacity and couldn’t work out how to get any of my menus were. I only noticed when I scrolled over the top toolbar by accident, and if you have multiple windows open on one workspace lord help you. People more used to the interface might laugh but I don’t think I’m alone. There’s a dock on the left edge of the screen which contains app launchers. Ubuntu Software Centre and Ubuntu One feature prominently there when you first install but you can add and remove the shortcuts.
I customised it by adding Audacity and the other apps I use most. I generally like docks, not just because I live in Liverpool. Hopefully some of you will get that joke. I often use Avant Window Manager and even the Docky extension to Gnome Do. The Unity dock is ok but it’s a very poor man’s AWN for me. I also don’t like the fact it’s on the left of the screen. I like my dock to be at the bottom. There’s probably some way to adjust this config in Unity, but I don’t know it. I work with a lot of windows open at once and I like to have a list of them all on my screen at all times. The auto hide feature of the dock takes this away, there’s no list of windows like you have in Gnome 2. I regularly lost some windows behind others and didn’t know how to find them again at first.

A picture of the workspace switcher in Natty

Switching Workspaces - Compiz All The Way

Unity does retain multiple workspaces which I’m a strong advocate of. The only basic change I can see in this regard is your 4 workspaces are now arranged in a square rather than side by side. I was fortunate to interview Sam Spilsbury, maintainer of the Compiz 3D desktop not long ago on FLOSS Weekly. I found it interesting to discover that he now works for Canonical and has a strong link with the desktop team, the people making Unity.
You can see a lot of the Compiz 3D effects such as the desktop wall as evidence of this union. Many desktop environments have their own 3D effects these days and there’s been a move away from Compiz lately. I think it’s good that Sam is keeping it alive though and Canonical are investing.

Hopefully that very rambling assessment of Unity makes some sense to you all. I’ll reserve my verdict for the final section. No prizes for guessing though.

Ubuntu One:

A picture of the Ubuntu One Control Panel tool

The Ubuntu One Control Panel

Next I’d like to talk about Ubuntu One, Canonical’s attempt to make a seamless user experience between all your Ubuntu machines. Ubuntu One is a web service. It’s been around a while now and gets heavily criticised for being closed source. I’ve never really used it so I thought I’d need to create a new account. You get 2GB of free online storage the same as Dropbox. Thankfully though Alan Pope of Ubuntu UK podcast fame told me I could use my existing Launchpad account. Apparently this means I already have an Ubuntu One account through some Ubuntu single sign on programme, news to me.
After reminding myself of the email and password I used for Launchpad, I logged in and set up Ubuntu One. The wizard is very good and you’re immediately presented with the Ubuntu One Control Panel (see image). This is actually a great little piece of software which allows you to manage all the devices you’ve got linked to your account, right down to maximum upload and download bandwidth per device. Impressive stuff. There’s an iPhone app (yawn) and I believe an Android app now too (yay). I should also give credit to the developers for making links to support services very prominent and producing a great UI.

A picture of the desktop-couch install dialog

Installing Desktop Couch

Put simply, Ubuntu One allows you to sync your files and settings between machines, provided they are linked to your account, much like Dropbox. It does a little more than Dropbox though in syncing contacts and bookmarks from Firefox too. I had to click the “install desktop couch” button to enable these extra features. Sadly nobody knocked on my door with a comfy new sofa, it just installed some software. CouchDB is a popular solution for storing data and it’s particularly popular among developers right now. The sync features seem to do their job but I found the lack of a tray icon to notify you of uploads and downloads disappointing.
You can see file transfer activity by looking at each folder in Nautilus, but a more prominent progress display would be nice. I think a major motivation for Canonical with Ubuntu One is to create a consistent revenue stream through subscription services. Something they really need to do if rumours that Ubuntu still doesn’t break even are credible. I think selling extra storage and web services makes good business sense, the whole world is obsessed with “cloud” storage right now. Buzzword of the moment.

A picture of the U1 Music Store interface within Banshee

The Music Store From Within Banshee

There’s also the Ubuntu One Music Store now, which allows you to buy music direct from Rhythmbox or Banshee and import it to your collection. It’s powered by 7digital and they have a good selection of artists and formats I think. I decided to test it by purchasing the new Beastie Boys album.
I opened Banshee and clicked on the Ubuntu One Music Store link. A quick search for “Beastie Boys” brought up an artist link and I found the album I wanted easily. I was also able to pay with Paypal right from within Banshee. I hope to God it uses SSL for this, but I took the plunge anyway without confirming. In for a penny in for a pound. The screens were a little slow to load at times but this seemed to be down to network traffic, I don’t think it’s the software.
After checkout a queue of files to download was presented and I waited, this didn’t seem to do anything after a few minutes. A new folder was created in Ubuntu One called “Purchased Music” and the files just sat there in the queue. I eventually noticed a button in Banshee saying “subscribe”, warning me I wasn’t subscribed to this new purchased music folder. Once I did that the files were quickly downloaded.

A picture of the music store checkout process

Checking out and using Paypal

They must have been put in my Ubuntu One account but not downloaded to the local machine until the new folder was explicitly linked. This all seemed a bit convoluted but the process did work, and I presume subsequent downloads would just work. I must say, loading your purchased music straight to cloud storage is a cunning way to use up the free 2GB allowance and encourage you towards paying for more. Whether it’s possible to buy music and download it direct without using Ubuntu One Storage I’m not sure. You could also move files around to make more room, only temporarily using the cloud storage. But it’s all geared to encouraging you towards paying.
Many community members don’t like the direction Canonical is taking with these increased efforts to make money but they are a business and not a charity. I don’t think you can blame them for that, sooner or later that chicken was always gonna come home to roost. It’s smart business.

I’m pleased to say 7digital music is all DRM free, I wouldn’t buy it otherwise. I tend to buy music from the Amazon MP3 store but I would seriously consider using the Ubuntu One Music Store instead. Mainly because I like the idea that a little bit of my cash goes to support a Linux distribution. Ubuntu is trying hard to be a lot of other things and may not often call itself a Linux distribution much any more, but that’s what it is, no matter what else is bolted on.

A picture of the Ubuntu Software Centre

The Ubuntu Software Centre

Other points:
This article is already really long and I could probably talk about my adventures all day, I have pages of notes, but I’ll spare you.
I’d just quickly like to mention a couple of other things. Firstly Skype, another freedom hating program I use, is now available direct in the Ubuntu Software Centre now. It’s really easy to install with just a few clicks. This is a positive point for me, though not for some people I imagine. A slightly negative observation is the update manager and it’s pop-under behaviour still persists. This changed a long time ago so it’s old news but I completely missed the fact an update window was there behind the others for ages, particularly in Unity. Without a list of the open windows I couldn’t tell. As I got more used to the dock I noticed that there are icons on there for the open apps. The dock is not always on the screen though and the way it groups open windows from one app is a pain to me. I can never find what I want quickly.


A picture of the side dock in Unity and how it pops out from the left of the screen

Using The Dock In Unity

Ubuntu Natty is a brave release in many ways. Canonical seem determined to make Ubuntu different from every other Linux distribution. This is probably a branding exercise, a perfectly natural attempt to stand out from the crowd. But I can’t escape the feeling sometimes that the word “different” is wrongly confused with the word “better”. Being different just for the sake of it is a wasted exercise if your solution isn’t better. The switch to Unity as the default interface is a painful one for me personally and I think it will divide the community. Ironic considering the name. It doesn’t suit the way my brain works and I tried really hard to like it over the space of a month. I just can’t. Just as Unity doesn’t fit with my way of working it may feel almost telepathic to some others. I hope it does. I should also point out that I haven’t tried Gnome 3 fully yet and I have a feeling many of my criticisms will be the same for that.
I tried the Ubuntu Classic mode as they’re calling it, which allows you to switch back to Gnome 2. I’m writing this document in that mode right now actually. I hear this will be removed from upcoming versions and once that happens like many people I don’t know what I’ll do. We are now seeing a push from Canonical to tell users what is best for them and even limit choice. This is the reason why people love the Mac. Most don’t want a choice, they want you to tell them what to do. It’s so much simpler.

A picture of Banshee, the default media player.

Banshee - Probably The King Of Linux Media Players

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that this is all negative, it’s not. There are many good things in Ubuntu 11.04, despite my discomfort with the interface. I believe there will also be a way to use Gnome 3 if you prefer in coming releases. So maybe I’m wrong about them limiting choice. Ubuntu One is interesting and seems to be taking off. Having now tried it I think it could be useful once they bring out Windows and Mac versions to put it on a par with Dropbox. Though I am investigating Open Source replacements like Sparkleshare.
The music store seems to work well, though not having the option to save your purchased music outside of the Ubuntu One cloud is strange at first. In terms of company revenue I think this is the best solution for Canonical, or at least the accounts department. Whether it’s best for users, who knows.
If you drink the cool-aid and really buy into the Ubuntu philosophy, along with the decisions they make for you, you might love this. As I said, it’s the reason a lot of people already love Apple. I get the feeling that Unity has some way to go. It was bold to put all the eggs in this basket and it has improved a lot. The search boxes and other things work very well but the complete lack of accessibility features and integration with screen readers like Orca leave disabled people out in the cold. Not great PR. They say this will be fixed quickly and it’s a concern for the developers, I hope it is. They threw out all those years of Gnome accessibility work and now it needs to be replicated. If I had to sum up Unity in one sentence it would be this:

“They’ve definitely broken some eggs, but I’m yet to be convinced they’ve made an omelette”.

I know this reads a lot like a review of just Unity and not Ubuntu, but in this release Unity really is the story. I still recommend Linux Mint to new users (it has strong Ubuntu links) and I see nothing in Ubuntu 11.04 to change my mind. Try it for yourself and see what you think, leave a comment and let me know. I’m off to see if this Beastie Boys album will play in Banshee now. Party on!


Distro reviews have been slow to non-existent in the last 18 months but I plan to change that, for real this time. I’ll be packing up my things and moving to Fedora 15 fairly soon, complete with Gnome 3. I have a feeling it’ll be as challenging for me as Unity but I’ll give it a shot. I can’t say when I’ll get time to write about Fedora but I hope soon. In the meantime if you enjoy these articles or find anything useful here please consider clicking the Flattr button. You can also post this to your social networks and whatever else you cool kids do. Thank you!! I’ll see you on Fedora 15 :)

Posted in Opinions, Review
46 comments on “Distro Review: Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal
  1. Scott says:

    Curiosity got the better of me so I downloaded the AMD64 cd iso only to have it kernel panic at the point of loading unity! it was the same for the i386 (686) iso. Now my hardware isn’t that exotic nor is it anything to left of field! So if (for me) I was still using Ubuntu as the distribution of choice then I’d certainly be rather annoyed that this could have happened during the upgrade process leaving me with a rather broken environment (I’m confident that I could resolve it) but for new users trying either Linux (Ubuntu) for the first time then that’s a real show stopper there.

    Canonical no doubt have their reasons for this decision, however its not for me! The last release of Ubuntu I used was 9.10 since then I’ve used Debian (sid) and more recently Arch Linux.

    • Dan says:

      @Scott – I would be interested to know if this hardware problem you had was specifically down to Unity, it may be something else. I don’t know how we’d confirm that, and I wouldn’t expect you to research it. Just curious. Hitting a wide range of hardware is always difficult and I’ve seen this happen on old versions of Ubuntu and many other distros, this is not a specific Ubuntu problem. My friend has a Sony laptop and for a while his internal speakers didn’t work, then a new Ubuntu came out and suddenly they worked, he was over the moon, a driver must have been added to the kernel or something. 6 months later a subsequent release of Ubuntu wouldn’t support the speakers and they were useless again after his “upgrade”. This is when it’s most frustrating for end users. It’s not easy being a developer and trying to keep everyone happy, but at the same time it’s reasonable to expect that new releases don’t break your system.

      • Scott says:

        Well I didn’t bother to list my hardware so here’s the detailed listin…

        description: Desktop Computer
        product: System Product Name (To Be Filled By O.E.M.)
        vendor: System manufacturer
        version: System Version
        serial: System Serial Number
        width: 64 bits
        capabilities: smbios-2.5 dmi-2.5 vsyscall64 vsyscall32
        configuration: boot=normal chassis=desktop family=To Be Filled By O.E.M. sku=To Be Filled By O.E.M. uuid=E0E1C595-8EFE-D511-BCB9-00248CBC0DAD
        description: Motherboard
        product: M3A76-CM
        vendor: ASUSTeK Computer INC.
        physical id: 0
        version: Rev X.0x
        serial: MF7092G01900340
        slot: To Be Filled By O.E.M.
        description: BIOS
        vendor: American Megatrends Inc.
        physical id: 0
        version: 2101
        date: 09/15/2010
        size: 64KiB
        capacity: 960KiB
        capabilities: isa pci pnp apm upgrade shadowing escd cdboot bootselect socketedrom edd int13floppy1200 int13floppy720 int13floppy2880 int5printscreen int9keyboard int14serial int17printer int10video acpi usb ls120boot zipboot biosbootspecification
        description: CPU
        product: AMD Athlon(tm) 7750 Dual-Core Processor
        vendor: Hynix Semiconductor (Hyundai Electronics)
        physical id: 4
        bus info: cpu@0
        version: AMD Athlon(tm) 7750 Dual-Core Processor
        serial: To Be Filled By O.E.M.
        slot: AM2
        size: 2700MHz
        capacity: 2700MHz
        width: 64 bits
        clock: 200MHz
        capabilities: x86-64 fpu fpu_exception wp vme de pse tsc msr pae mce cx8 apic sep mtrr pge mca cmov pat pse36 clflush mmx fxsr sse sse2 ht syscall nx mmxext fxsr_opt pdpe1gb rdtscp 3dnowext 3dnow constant_tsc rep_good nopl nonstop_tsc extd_apicid pni monitor cx16 popcnt lahf_lm cmp_legacy svm extapic cr8_legacy abm sse4a misalignsse 3dnowprefetch osvw ibs npt lbrv svm_lock
        configuration: cores=2 enabledcores=2
        description: L1 cache
        physical id: 5
        slot: L1-Cache
        size: 256KiB
        capacity: 256KiB
        capabilities: pipeline-burst internal varies data
        description: L2 cache
        physical id: 6
        slot: L2-Cache
        size: 1MiB
        capacity: 1MiB
        capabilities: pipeline-burst internal varies unified
        description: L3 cache
        physical id: 7
        slot: L3-Cache
        size: 2MiB
        capacity: 2MiB
        capabilities: pipeline-burst internal varies unified
        description: System Memory
        physical id: 37
        slot: System board or motherboard
        size: 8GiB
        description: DIMM DDR2 Synchronous 667 MHz (1.5 ns)
        product: PartNum0
        vendor: Manufacturer0
        physical id: 0
        serial: SerNum0
        slot: DIMM0
        size: 2GiB
        width: 64 bits
        clock: 667MHz (1.5ns)
        description: DIMM DDR2 Synchronous 667 MHz (1.5 ns)
        product: PartNum1
        vendor: Manufacturer1
        physical id: 1
        serial: SerNum1
        slot: DIMM1
        size: 2GiB
        width: 64 bits
        clock: 667MHz (1.5ns)
        description: DIMM DDR2 Synchronous 667 MHz (1.5 ns)
        product: PartNum2
        vendor: Manufacturer2
        physical id: 2
        serial: SerNum2
        slot: DIMM2
        size: 2GiB
        width: 64 bits
        clock: 667MHz (1.5ns)
        description: DIMM DDR2 Synchronous 667 MHz (1.5 ns)
        product: PartNum3
        vendor: Manufacturer3
        physical id: 3
        serial: SerNum3
        slot: DIMM3
        size: 2GiB
        width: 64 bits
        clock: 667MHz (1.5ns)
        description: Host bridge
        product: RS780 Host Bridge
        vendor: Hynix Semiconductor (Hyundai Electronics)
        physical id: 100
        bus info: pci@0000:00:00.0
        version: 00
        width: 32 bits
        clock: 66MHz
        description: PCI bridge
        product: RS880 PCI to PCI bridge (int gfx)
        vendor: ASUSTeK Computer Inc.
        physical id: 1
        bus info: pci@0000:00:01.0
        version: 00
        width: 32 bits
        clock: 66MHz
        capabilities: pci ht normal_decode bus_master cap_list
        resources: ioport:d000(size=4096) memory:fbd00000-fbefffff ioport:d0000000(size=268435456)
        description: VGA compatible controller
        product: 760G [Radeon 3000]
        vendor: ATI Technologies Inc
        physical id: 5
        bus info: pci@0000:01:05.0
        version: 00
        width: 32 bits
        clock: 33MHz
        capabilities: pm msi vga_controller bus_master cap_list rom
        configuration: driver=fglrx_pci latency=0
        resources: irq:18 memory:d0000000-dfffffff ioport:d000(size=256) memory:fbef0000-fbefffff memory:fbd00000-fbdfffff
        description: PCI bridge
        product: RS780 PCI to PCI bridge (PCIE port 2)
        vendor: Hynix Semiconductor (Hyundai Electronics)
        physical id: 6
        bus info: pci@0000:00:06.0
        version: 00
        width: 32 bits
        clock: 33MHz
        capabilities: pci pm pciexpress msi ht normal_decode bus_master cap_list
        configuration: driver=pcieport
        resources: irq:40 ioport:e000(size=4096) memory:fbf00000-fbffffff ioport:faf00000(size=1048576)
        description: Ethernet interface
        product: RTL8111/8168B PCI Express Gigabit Ethernet controller
        vendor: Realtek Semiconductor Co., Ltd.
        physical id: 0
        bus info: pci@0000:02:00.0
        logical name: eth0
        version: 02
        serial: 00:24:8c:bc:0d:ad
        size: 100Mbit/s
        capacity: 1Gbit/s
        width: 64 bits
        clock: 33MHz
        capabilities: pm msi pciexpress msix vpd bus_master cap_list rom ethernet physical tp mii 10bt 10bt-fd 100bt 100bt-fd 1000bt 1000bt-fd autonegotiation
        configuration: autonegotiation=on broadcast=yes driver=r8169 driverversion=2.3LK-NAPI duplex=full ip= latency=0 link=yes multicast=yes port=MII speed=100Mbit/s
        resources: irq:41 ioport:e800(size=256) memory:fafff000-faffffff memory:fafe0000-fafeffff memory:fbff0000-fbffffff
        description: SATA controller
        product: SB7x0/SB8x0/SB9x0 SATA Controller [IDE mode]
        vendor: ATI Technologies Inc
        physical id: 11
        bus info: pci@0000:00:11.0
        logical name: scsi2
        logical name: scsi3
        version: 00
        width: 32 bits
        clock: 66MHz
        capabilities: storage pm ahci_1.0 bus_master cap_list emulated
        configuration: driver=ahci latency=64
        resources: irq:22 ioport:c000(size=8) ioport:b000(size=4) ioport:a000(size=8) ioport:9000(size=4) ioport:8000(size=16) memory:fbcff800-fbcffbff
        description: ATA Disk
        product: ST32000542AS
        vendor: Seagate
        physical id: 0
        bus info: scsi@2:0.0.0
        logical name: /dev/sda
        version: CC34
        serial: 5XW1NZYA
        size: 1863GiB (2TB)
        capabilities: partitioned partitioned:dos
        configuration: ansiversion=5 signature=0009b849
        description: Linux filesystem partition
        vendor: Linux
        physical id: 1
        bus info: scsi@2:0.0.0,1
        logical name: /dev/sda1
        logical name: /boot
        version: 1.0
        serial: fc61d5ee-0b38-41a0-bb4d-f14d43d6f3eb
        size: 101MiB
        capacity: 101MiB
        capabilities: primary bootable extended_attributes ext2 initialized
        configuration: filesystem=ext2 modified=2011-06-24 15:50:57 mount.fstype=ext2 mount.options=rw,relatime,errors=continue mounted=2011-05-25 22:29:46 state=mounted
        description: Linux swap volume
        physical id: 2
        bus info: scsi@2:0.0.0,2
        logical name: /dev/sda2
        version: 1
        serial: 8b528c5d-b846-4653-8f44-f5f2c575b9d3
        size: 258MiB
        capacity: 258MiB
        capabilities: primary nofs swap initialized
        configuration: filesystem=swap pagesize=4096
        description: EXT4 volume
        vendor: Linux
        physical id: 3
        bus info: scsi@2:0.0.0,3
        logical name: /dev/sda3
        logical name: /
        version: 1.0
        serial: dde439fe-a967-48ed-9408-c35cf1ebe977
        size: 97GiB
        capacity: 97GiB
        capabilities: primary journaled extended_attributes large_files huge_files dir_nlink recover extents ext4 ext2 initialized
        configuration: created=2011-05-25 22:15:51 filesystem=ext4 lastmountpoint=/ modified=2011-05-25 22:29:14 mount.fstype=ext4 mount.options=rw,relatime,user_xattr,acl,barrier=1,data=ordered mounted=2011-06-24 15:51:28 state=mounted
        description: EXT4 volume
        vendor: Linux
        physical id: 4
        bus info: scsi@2:0.0.0,4
        logical name: /dev/sda4
        logical name: /home
        version: 1.0
        serial: 208cbefb-e218-4844-a101-40ced6a92bef
        size: 1764GiB
        capacity: 1764GiB
        capabilities: primary journaled extended_attributes large_files huge_files dir_nlink recover extents ext4 ext2 initialized
        configuration: created=2011-05-25 22:16:17 filesystem=ext4 lastmountpoint=/home modified=2011-06-24 15:51:28 mount.fstype=ext4 mount.options=rw,relatime,user_xattr,acl,barrier=1,data=ordered mounted=2011-06-24 15:51:28 state=mounted
        description: DVD-RAM writer
        product: DVD-RW DVR-218L
        vendor: PIONEER
        physical id: 1
        bus info: scsi@3:0.0.0
        logical name: /dev/scd1
        logical name: /dev/sr1
        version: 1.01
        capabilities: removable audio cd-r cd-rw dvd dvd-r dvd-ram
        configuration: ansiversion=5 status=nodisc
        description: USB Controller
        product: SB7x0/SB8x0/SB9x0 USB OHCI0 Controller
        vendor: ATI Technologies Inc
        physical id: 12
        bus info: pci@0000:00:12.0
        version: 00
        width: 32 bits
        clock: 66MHz
        capabilities: ohci bus_master
        configuration: driver=ohci_hcd latency=64
        resources: irq:16 memory:fbcfe000-fbcfefff
        description: USB Controller
        product: SB7x0 USB OHCI1 Controller
        vendor: ATI Technologies Inc
        physical id: 12.1
        bus info: pci@0000:00:12.1
        version: 00
        width: 32 bits
        clock: 66MHz
        capabilities: ohci bus_master
        configuration: driver=ohci_hcd latency=64
        resources: irq:16 memory:fbcfd000-fbcfdfff
        description: USB Controller
        product: SB7x0/SB8x0/SB9x0 USB EHCI Controller
        vendor: ATI Technologies Inc
        physical id: 12.2
        bus info: pci@0000:00:12.2
        version: 00
        width: 32 bits
        clock: 66MHz
        capabilities: pm debug ehci bus_master cap_list
        configuration: driver=ehci_hcd latency=64
        resources: irq:17 memory:fbcff000-fbcff0ff
        description: USB Controller
        product: SB7x0/SB8x0/SB9x0 USB OHCI0 Controller
        vendor: ATI Technologies Inc
        physical id: 13
        bus info: pci@0000:00:13.0
        version: 00
        width: 32 bits
        clock: 66MHz
        capabilities: ohci bus_master
        configuration: driver=ohci_hcd latency=64
        resources: irq:18 memory:fbcfc000-fbcfcfff
        description: USB Controller
        product: SB7x0 USB OHCI1 Controller
        vendor: ATI Technologies Inc
        physical id: 13.1
        bus info: pci@0000:00:13.1
        version: 00
        width: 32 bits
        clock: 66MHz
        capabilities: ohci bus_master
        configuration: driver=ohci_hcd latency=64
        resources: irq:18 memory:fbcfb000-fbcfbfff
        description: USB Controller
        product: SB7x0/SB8x0/SB9x0 USB EHCI Controller
        vendor: ATI Technologies Inc
        physical id: 13.2
        bus info: pci@0000:00:13.2
        version: 00
        width: 32 bits
        clock: 66MHz
        capabilities: pm debug ehci bus_master cap_list
        configuration: driver=ehci_hcd latency=64
        resources: irq:19 memory:fbcfa800-fbcfa8ff
        description: SMBus
        product: SBx00 SMBus Controller
        vendor: ATI Technologies Inc
        physical id: 14
        bus info: pci@0000:00:14.0
        version: 3c
        width: 32 bits
        clock: 66MHz
        capabilities: ht cap_list
        configuration: driver=piix4_smbus latency=0
        resources: irq:0
        description: IDE interface
        product: SB7x0/SB8x0/SB9x0 IDE Controller
        vendor: ATI Technologies Inc
        physical id: 14.1
        bus info: pci@0000:00:14.1
        logical name: scsi0
        version: 00
        width: 32 bits
        clock: 66MHz
        capabilities: ide msi bus_master cap_list emulated
        configuration: driver=pata_atiixp latency=64
        resources: irq:16 ioport:1f0(size=8) ioport:3f6 ioport:170(size=8) ioport:376 ioport:ff00(size=16)
        description: SCSI CD-ROM
        physical id: 0.0.0
        bus info: scsi@0:0.0.0
        logical name: /dev/scd0
        logical name: /dev/sr0
        capabilities: audio
        configuration: status=nodisc
        description: Audio device
        product: SBx00 Azalia (Intel HDA)
        vendor: ATI Technologies Inc
        physical id: 14.2
        bus info: pci@0000:00:14.2
        version: 00
        width: 64 bits
        clock: 33MHz
        capabilities: pm bus_master cap_list
        configuration: driver=HDA Intel latency=64
        resources: irq:16 memory:fbcf4000-fbcf7fff
        description: ISA bridge
        product: SB7x0/SB8x0/SB9x0 LPC host controller
        vendor: ATI Technologies Inc
        physical id: 14.3
        bus info: pci@0000:00:14.3
        version: 00
        width: 32 bits
        clock: 66MHz
        capabilities: isa bus_master
        configuration: latency=0
        description: PCI bridge
        product: SBx00 PCI to PCI Bridge
        vendor: ATI Technologies Inc
        physical id: 14.4
        bus info: pci@0000:00:14.4
        version: 00
        width: 32 bits
        clock: 66MHz
        capabilities: pci subtractive_decode bus_master
        description: USB Controller
        product: SB7x0/SB8x0/SB9x0 USB OHCI2 Controller
        vendor: ATI Technologies Inc
        physical id: 14.5
        bus info: pci@0000:00:14.5
        version: 00
        width: 32 bits
        clock: 66MHz
        capabilities: ohci bus_master
        configuration: driver=ohci_hcd latency=64
        resources: irq:18 memory:fbcf9000-fbcf9fff
        description: Host bridge
        product: Family 10h Processor HyperTransport Configuration
        vendor: Hynix Semiconductor (Hyundai Electronics)
        physical id: 101
        bus info: pci@0000:00:18.0
        version: 00
        width: 32 bits
        clock: 33MHz
        description: Host bridge
        product: Family 10h Processor Address Map
        vendor: Hynix Semiconductor (Hyundai Electronics)
        physical id: 102
        bus info: pci@0000:00:18.1
        version: 00
        width: 32 bits
        clock: 33MHz
        description: Host bridge
        product: Family 10h Processor DRAM Controller
        vendor: Hynix Semiconductor (Hyundai Electronics)
        physical id: 103
        bus info: pci@0000:00:18.2
        version: 00
        width: 32 bits
        clock: 33MHz
        description: Host bridge
        product: Family 10h Processor Miscellaneous Control
        vendor: Hynix Semiconductor (Hyundai Electronics)
        physical id: 104
        bus info: pci@0000:00:18.3
        version: 00
        width: 32 bits
        clock: 33MHz
        description: Host bridge
        product: Family 10h Processor Link Control
        vendor: Hynix Semiconductor (Hyundai Electronics)
        physical id: 105
        bus info: pci@0000:00:18.4
        version: 00
        width: 32 bits
        clock: 33MHz

        And yes you’re right I most likely won’t bother to debug, but its the first live cd that’s ever resulted in a kernel panic! My guess is the onboard ATI graphics chip but its also possible that its something more trivia to….

        I neglected to mention in my previous comment an this article, I think that you’ve covered it well :)

  2. In Ubuntu 11.10 Unity will be based on Gnome3.

    • Dan says:

      @florian It will, is that official? I think that’s very good news. I’d only heard that they planned to make Gnome 3 available as an option at some point. It makes sense though. I’d like to see Canonical and the Gnome Project working together to make us a great desktop, not fighting. Yes I’m a peace loving hippy. Bring it on :)

  3. McVries says:

    Good and well thought over as far as i am concerned, could have been my thoughts on unity. Though I do love Ubuntu thusfar, i don’t think Unity Will be my first choice for my workhorse, maybe on a netbook, or better, a tablet.

    Fedora and Gnome 3 will be my next try, and 10.10 will be my default i suppose.
    Thanks for à good read!

  4. Lester Graber says:

    A good review, Dan and you bring up a lot of good things about Unity and Ubuntu. I sort of wish the option of Gnome 3 was available, but now that I have been using Unity for several weeks, maybe a month or more, it is starting to grow on me. You get used to it after a while.

    But here is one thing that is rarely mentioned. With Gnome 2 and so many of the Linux desktops that we have become familiar with, we could do everything with the mouse. With Unity, it is much more keyboard centric and to really get Unity rolling it is much easier to use the many keyboard shortcuts. This has its good points, but sometimes I just want to use the mouse, and it is cumbersome to do some of the things with a mouse.

    When I first got Vista (back in the days before I discovered Ubuntu) I was enthralled with the search function that it had. You just touched the Windows key and started typing; usually one or two letters brought up the program you wanted to run, hit enter and get to work. That is really what Unity is doing here. Hit the Super key, enter a letter or two and the program you want will be right there. If it is the first one in line, hit enter and it starts. Otherwise you will either have to use the arrow keys to select the right one before hitting enter, use the mouse or type a few more letters to bring the desired program to the number 1 position so you can hit enter and start that program.

    The biggest difference that I see between the way Windows utilized this and Unity is doing this, with Windows you still have the mouse friendly interface and most people just did that and never tried the search function. With Unity, it works great, you just don’t have the mouse friendly menu handy anymore.

    • Dan says:

      @Lester – Thanks for the thoughtful feedback. I’m really glad Unity is working out well for you. I’m sure it’ll suit lots of people, just not me. I tried the keyboard short cuts but it didn’t really fix things. After a month or so I think it’s the universal menu that I find the biggest hurdle still. People may think I’m making too much of that but there we go. It’s personal.

      Great point about the mouse option. This “type and launch” functionality has long been available on any Linux desktop via Gnome Do, it’s not new in Unity. I didn’t realise Vista did it as well though, the last Windows I used seriously was XP. I expect that Finder thing in MacOS does something similar too but my knowledge of Mac is minimal. You mention how most people stuck to their old mouse happy ways on Vista. I’m not sure if they’re ready for the kind of switch in approach Unity requires. Time will tell, it’s a gamble.

  5. JohnT says:

    I’ve moved away from the large /home partition. Instead I now have a large /data partition which has all my stuff I don’t want to lose and/or need to share. Each distro on my laptop has a relatively small /home partition so that any settings are kept separate and I can trash the /home if needs be.

    Just a thought. Interesting review.

    • Dan says:

      @JohnT – Thanks for the thought, it’s a good one. So you can just share your data between all the distros at once this way? Obviously they can’t all run at once, but you know what I mean. I might try that. I’ve been doing the /home thing for a long time. Maybe I’m out of date hehe :)

      • JohnT says:

        >So you can just share your data between all the distros at once this way?

        Yep, e.g. in an ‘Ubuntu type’ install when you’re choosing your partitions just enter it manually. Oh and don’t choose the format option ;). Presume it’s similar for Arch etc but it’s a while since I ran Arch. So whatever distro you select the /data stuff is easily available.

        • Dan says:

          @JohnT – Wow, that is really cool. I’ll have to try it. Thanks. I did make the mistake of formatting my /home partition many years ago and it’s the sort of mistake you only make once hehehe 😀

  6. The Doctor says:

    Unity is nothing more than a Compiz plugin that creates a Gnome shell. If you install the Compiz Manager (not installed by default), you can tweak and customize Unity or just turn it off.

    Good article!

    • Dan says:

      @The Doctor – You can? Wow. I’m gonna try that then, thanks for the tip. Explains the Compiz feel of everything. Sam has been busy :)

    • Dan says:

      Just as a follow up to what The Doctor said earlier, I installed CCSM and had a look. Unity is indeed listed under the plugins and if you untick it the interface disappears. The problem is there’s nothing else to use because Gnome panel etc has been removed. You could add it all back but at this stage there’s the Ubuntu Classic mode anyway so it would be wasted effort. I took a couple of screen shots for your amusement. Screen 1 Screen 2

  7. McVries says:

    @the doctor : sounds interesting, gonna look into that.

  8. Andy says:

    I think the fuss over Unity, Gnome3, KDE4, etc. is all more than just a little over-blown. People can and do learn how to use new / different interfaces. I personally bounce back and forth between XFCE (stock) and Ubuntu (Unity). Lately, I seem to be sticking with Unity more, but that could easily change tomorrow.

    My girlfriend (social worker, not a geek) uses Windows at Work and Ubuntu at home. She used Gnome2 in the past and now she uses Unity. There was a touch of confusion at first, but she figured it out within a few days. It didn’t seem any harder for her than her transition from Windows to Gnome2.

    For the all the bitching and moaning about Unity, it works well and it is the future Canonical sees for itself. I admit that I was a little apprehensive when the decision was announced, but the development team pulled off the transition quite well. I think the Unity v. Gnome3 v. Gnome2 v. KDE4 is starting to sound like a new fangled version of the long-running Emacs v. Vim wars.

    I use Emacs and Unity. Why? Because I do. I’m not going to tell anyone else that they should, and Canonical isn’t really doing that either. They pick a default and go with it. If you don’t like it install something else. If you must, you can even use Vim.

    • Dan says:

      @Andy – Interesting perspective. You’re right that people can learn new interfaces and I’m certainly not advocating never changing anything. We learn by experimenting and that’s how we advance. Unity is an experiment too far for me personally though. I’ve tried very hard to like it but that universal menu really slows down my workflow. Just use something else I hear you say. At the moment I have the Ubuntu Classic mode and I use that. In future that will be removed and I’d have to go to Kubuntu or something else that I don’t like. You’re right that you can install other things and as geeks we are equipped to do so. Most people don’t know how to change these things and install other interfaces though. People like that will get pissed off and go to Windows or something else. That’s a loss for Ubuntu in my book. Any change is hard and people resist it, but this will be a particularly tough transition for users. The same probably goes for Gnome 3.

  9. Bill Dwyer says:

    Hi, Dan, Nice review! I haunt Distrowatch regularly looking for new distros to try! The joys of retirement! I used Unity for about a week, than switched to the Ubuntu Classic destop and added a Docky to the bottom of the screen. To me, like you, the flow pattern of Unity is really awkward and if you look at Gnome 3, it looks almost the same!

    BTW, I sampled the new Pinguy OS. At least he puts your Home folders on the left side dock, which makes more sense than Ubuntu, at least to me!

    Thanks again, Dan! Keep up the good work!

    • Dan says:

      @Bill – Thanks for the comment. Hope you’re enjoying retirement. I’m expecting many of the same problems to crop up in Gnome 3 as well. That’s next on the slate. Eeek!

  10. Tim Hall says:


    After a rather awkward couple of days initially, I can honestly say I’m really happy with GNOME3 on Fedora 15. It feels so natural now I get a little frustrated with my MacBook Pro, which feels so clumsy in comparison. I certainly didn’t expect to be saying that. :)

    As you say, these things are very dependent on they way you like to work. Maybe others are feeling the GNOME 3 pain, but not me. :)



    • Dan says:

      @Tim Hall – Wow, that’s high praise indeed as I know how much Mac users love their interface. I can’t wait to try Gnome 3 but I’m not sure it’ll be easier for me. Only one way to find out :)

  11. Thanks for the info Dan. After reading this review, I’m glad I stuck with openSUSE 11.4. I was hoping to try Ubuntu sometime in the last month but never got around to it. KDE 4.6 is such a remarkably fast and attractive interface on openSUSE – big leap ahead from earlier versions of KDE. With this distro, the main thing I DON’T have to worry about is the desktop manager.

    • Dan says:

      @Andrew – Glad to hear you’re happy on OpenSUSE, it’s a good distro. I didn’t really mention KDE in my article and I don’t think I’ve used it since 4.3 or maybe 4.4, I forget. KDE is a great desktop and they went through a lot of the pain Gnome is getting into now with KDE 4.0. What a painful transition that was for a lot of people. Not because the interface changed dramatically. More because KDE 4.0 was shipped while still buggy as hell and not ready. I know they say 4.0 was a development release in hindsight and 4.1 was the first proper release but come on, who numbers things like that? They also had a big launch party for 4.0 at the Google offices. You don’t do that for a product you don’t expect people to use yet, a beta release. Anyway, I’m way off the point here sorry. Thanks for the kind words, I’ve never found KDE the right fit for me but once or twice a year I check in and use it to see what’s happening. It’s great for many people and does provide a good option if you don’t want Gnome 3 or Unity. Please don’t be put off at least trying Ubuntu because of my words. That’s not my intention. You can give it a spin in a live session, no need to touch your happy OpenSUSE system :)

  12. George Palmer says:

    Nice Work Dan.

    I have been using the distro for a few months now, but have been using it in the Gnome version. I cant get used to Unity. I am going to give it a try after this however.

    My gnome tells me that my 3d drivers are loaded but not in use. Strange for a stock standard nvidia card. Weird.



    • Dan says:

      @George – That is strange. The 3D Nvidia drivers definitely work for me in Ubuntu Classic mode. Hope you get it fixed. Certainly give Unity a proper try. I encourage everyone to do that. I’m not trying to put anyone off using it. Just giving my personal experience.

  13. LinuxCanuck says:

    Great review and I agree with your conclusions. I have used Unity since the first alpha and it has improved much, but it has a way to go, yet. Canonical was brave? Yes, but did they have to be? They could have acted otherwise., so perhaps foolhardy is more appropriate.

    I look forward to seeing Unity mature. It offers more choice, but it also means users face a dilemma that they would not otherwise have to face. Classic GNOME is disappearing (no way around that) and 11.10 is supposed to be compatible with GNOME 3, so users can choose between the two shells. The problem is both force users to change their workflow and are foreign to anybody stuck in the desktop computer paradigm (like me).

    The biggest Unity problem for me is the universal menu. Yes, you can run in a window unlike GNOME shell however it seems pointless when the menu is so far away and when you have a disappearing menu and two windows open it is confusing beyond reason. The only consolation is that GNOME shell is worse. The performance with my graphics card ( 1GB ATI) is terrible and you are even more locked in to a dumb interface. That seems to be the name of the game. You call it simplifying. I call it dumbing things down and limiting users in the process.

    I have a large monitor and drag and drop and use much multimedia, some running from the system tray or notification area. I feel that GNOME 3 and Unity have abandoned me. That is okay with me because I prefer KDE anyway, but I feel for people like me who are GNOME users. They will have to change or switch to a different desktop environment like KDE or XFCE.

    BTW, you write reviews as well as you speak. Love your podcasts!

    • Dan says:

      @LinuxCanuck – Thanks for the kind words, glad you enjoy the podcasts too :) I think you’re totally right that Gnome 3 and Unity are a big shift for many people. I’m not sure I like it personally as I have my way of working and I might end up going to XFCE. I agree that this change didn’t have to be made and while you can argue that’s how progress happens, I can’t help thinking a lot of people are being crushed as that bull dozer called progress comes through. Gnome 2 has always been my favourite desktop but as you point out that’s going away now. We can’t change that. It’s going to be a big adventure finding a new home for me. I can’t be alone in that.

  14. Mitch says:

    Nice review Dan! More of a proof is in the pudding approach… Although I too was leery of the rumored graphics requirements, Unity has become a joy to work with everyday. The dreaded learning curve quickly became the Curve of Discovery.

    After reading complaints upon complaints about what Unity did or did not do, I was a little shy at first. A dead video card (sans, very slow on-board graphics) and a new mini-itx board provided the added incentive for the plunge. If I were going to jump from 10.4 to 11.04, I wanted to experience Unity for myself. I have not looked back once.

    The over all look and feel is more polished than before. Yes, sliding over to the side panel to bring back an application can be a distraction, but I have grown accustomed to it a little more with each use. (Fewer apps in the panel would help to keep it uncompressed.)Though Unity’s panel would seem to stay in the way, I see Canonical’s vision as beneficial. Once maximized, an application grabs as much screen real estate as possible for the user, less scrolling, more typing for me.

    Is it new, different? Yes, a bit of a challenge for those who choose to see it only this way. Unity is a definitive direction which sets them apart from the rest of the pack. There are issues of course. And these will get dealt with in time. For now, Unity rocks for this everyday user!

    Because of our own limited perceptions and experiences, we may want to rethink our oft childish criticisms. Don’t we at least have to give kudos to the crew for stepping out in a new direction? While many praise Mac for their edginess and glitter, it is no less proprietary than the Gates machine in the end. The nice thing about Linux: the code is their for anyone wishing to explore their own unique vision of the modern day OS.

    • Dan says:

      @Mitch – I’m really glad you’re enjoying Unity. “Curve Of Discovery” sounds a bit like a book title to me, great phrase hehe :) It seems to be working out well for you. That’s cool. I hope I did give credit to the people working hard on Ubuntu and I do think there’s merit in trying new things as I said. The complete lack of accessibility features worries me and I know they keep saying this will be fixed, but I have friends who use screen readers like Orca and they can’t do anything with Unity now. It’s taken Ubuntu out as an option for them. That’s sad and I hope this will be rectified quick. It should be accessible to all users.

      I’m sure they’ll fix that but I still feel Unity has some way to go. They’ve jumped forward massively and that’s to their credit. I’m interested to see what Unity is like in 11.10. If they can jump as far forward in development again it should be quite a force. I think people have been negative in some quarters without trying Unity, and that’s wrong. I’ve given it my best shot and it’s not for me. I’m sure it’s different for many others. My message as always is try it yourself, to anyone wondering what Unity is like.

  15. Justin says:

    Excellent, thoughtful review. Great job :)

    My experience with Unity was similar, in a way. I moved from 10.10 to 11.04 when it hit alpha 2. It was pretty stable and got better every day. I used it until the final release, and after the realization that that was as good as it was going to get I switched to Kubuntu (and am surprisingly satisfied with it).

    It’s not that I thought Unity was particularly bad, it just seemed half-baked. I can understand Canonical’s reasoning of wanting wide-spread testing and feedback, but in this case I don’t agree with it. I won’t get into it, but I guess the bottom line is that they have released a shell for GNOME 2, with all the old bugs and quirks, and added a bunch of crap (for lack of a better word) to it instead of updating essential applications, like Nautilus, to their latest stable versions.

    Don’t get me wrong, Unity isn’t “crap.” I like it a lot actually, and I realize it took much hard work and dedication. My problem is that it’s not done yet. For example, one thing that drove me nuts is that if I have the dock set to auto hide every time I drag and drop something the dock un-hides and demands focus. I understand why it does this, but it only ever got in my way of doing what I wanted to do, and I could find no way to turn it off (or at least make it only happen when I hit an assigned key). This is a small example that likely doesn’t matter to many people, but it matters to me. So much so that it ruined the autohide feature. (Not to mention Canonical’s inexplicable refusal to include ccsm with their releases, which is what is used to configure the damn thing to begin with.)

    I’ve been using Linux for a few years, so I guess I’m a “power user.” I don’t use Windows/Mac at all, so I rely on my Linux OS to do everything I need/want. I’ve tried many distros, but tend to prefer Ubuntu for it’s Debian repositories, ease of use, Launchpad services and so on. I’m a Ubuntu supporter, but at the end of the day I can’t recommend Unity in it’s current state, and I even feel a bit alienated.

    It’s my personal feeling, and I’m sure I’ll try Unity again when it’s more feature complete and updated to reflect the latest stable GNOME software, but for now it’s little more than a proof of concept – a toy. Except for lenses (which I think are really cool and easily Unity’s most interesting feature) and poorly implemented Zeitgeist integration, I don’t see much there I couldn’t do with already available software (AWN dock, Global Menu applet, Synapse, etc.). The biggest changes I see are that it doesn’t use up to date software and has removed the ability for me to easily customize many aspects my desktop.

    I’m not mad, just annoyed and a bit disappointed. I don’t care about the whole GNOME3 vs. Unity thing. I like the fact that Canonical is making something different and do not believe that it is controversial for a company to develop their own open source software. Just because a software project exists doesn’t mean everybody has to support it. I just fail to see, as an end user, how Unity in it’s current state is not a regression or how it enhances my Linux desktop experience as a whole.

    So…sorry for the long comment 😉 I understand that I probably didn’t explain myself well. But in the end it’s just my opinion, and can easily be countered with another opinion, and there won’t be a right or wrong perspective. But having used Ubuntu for a few years and having been an early Unity adopter at least it’s not an uninformed opinion :)

    • Dan says:

      @Justin – No need to apologise for writing long comments. It’s interested to hear other people’s views on this. I think you explained yourself very well. We have a pretty close assessment of Unity it seems. Glad you’re enjoyed Kubuntu :)

  16. Fab says:

    Great review. But, Jesus Christ, you call this


    great UI? That is the worst example of UX I’ve seen in ages. That looks like a three year old barfed on a napkin and someone handed that in as a mockup. They need to sort that mess out. It looks horrible! Oo

    • Dan says:

      @Fab – That window in the screenshot isn’t quite at the the right size so it’s added a scroll bar which doesn’t help, and yes I do stand by it. You haven’t used it so how can you judge? It has all the controls you need, sensibly laid out. It was easy to use. That’s what I like in a UI. I don’t care if it’s fashionable or not.

  17. Marti says:

    Thanks for the review, you’re right when you mentined some of the main problems about Unity (like the menu issues or the location of the dock, by the way you can’t config that… actually you can’t config many things related to the dock), but the main problem is that the choice that you and many other users really like (gnome 2) has no future. In 2 years time (the time that 10.04 or Debian 6 -both featuring classic gnome 2- are supposed to be supported) you and the rest of the users will have to get used to the new “desktop shells”. And I have tried both Gnome 3 Shell and Unity and I choose Unity.

    PS. Sorry for my poor English

    • Dan says:

      @Marti – Thank you for the reply, and I can understand you perfectly so no need to apologise. You’re right, the old desktop that I love is going away. Nothing I can do about that. I found Unity didn’t suit me but I don’t know that Gnome 3 will either. I’m just trying it now. I might well end up on XFCE because this is closer to the desktop I like. You can’t stop progress I suppose. Maybe I’m old fashioned but these new shells don’t work the way my brain does.

  18. Mal says:

    I’m one of the people who are happy with the Unity interface, although I agree that the global menus are a problem. I would rather have the menu stay in its normal place in the application window unless it is maximised. After all, if the window is not maximised, you are probably not so worried about saving screen space anyway.

    Also, the first thing I do after installing Natty is to go into gconf-editor and change the Launchpad icon size from 48 to 32 (minimum) and disable auto-hide. With a large screen, there seems to be no real problem having the Launchpad on the screen at all times.

    Thanks for the thoughtful review.

    • Dan says:

      @mal – Really glad you’re enjoying Unity. Resizing the doc icons and changing auto-hide behaviour is an interesting idea. I must confess I was a bit confused by you calling it Launchpad. Launchpad is Canonical’s platform for developing and incubating projects, a bit like SourceForge. There are so many names it’s hard to keep track, so I’m not trying to sound superior here at all. If you’re editing your config in GConf then you clearly know what you’re doing. Just thought I’d mention it in case you run into anyone else who doesn’t realise you mean the dock. I don’t know if the dock has a name, perhaps it is Launchpad, though I can’t see it with Canonical having another long established product called that.

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