The new version of Ubuntu–12.04, codename “Precise Pangolin”– is officially here, meaning two things: I get to be really happy about new features, and some people get to complain about Unity in the comments. Horray!
It’s been a year since Ubuntu made Unity the default interface, and man: many of you were not happy. I was thrilled, however: in my opinion Unity is better looking and easier to use than any other Linux user interface. Sure: there were some rough edges in that release, but overall I got the Linux desktop I’d been trying to hack Gnome into becoming for years.
Heck: in a lot of ways I like Unity better than OS X, an operating system I use a lot.
Unity isn’t a tablet user interface being forced on desktop users: you’re thinking of Windows 8. Unity is a system that works well on laptops and desktops–it’s really easy to use using only the keyboard–but will also work well on a tablet if necessary. This interface, along with projects like Ubuntu for Android, won’t bring about the magical “Year of the Linux Desktop”, but they do give Ubuntu a solid spot in today’s complex computing market.
12.04 improves on Unity’s strengths, and addresses some of your old complaints. It’s fast, includes new features desktop users will love, and, as always, gives you quick access to the latest free software. There are even new customization options by default–including the ability to auto-hide the dock.
Not sure what Ubuntu or Unity is? Check out this in-browser demo of Unity to get a feel. Then keep reading to find out why I love Ubuntu 12.04.
First things first: this version of Ubuntu is fast. My primary laptop isn’t terribly powerful: it’s a few years old and I’ve only got one gig of RAM. But upgrading to Ubuntu 12.04 feels like I got a new computer.
Simply put: if previous versions of Ubuntu in general and Unity specifically felt slow to you, you’re in for a treat. LTS releases tend to focus on stability and speed, and Ubuntu 12.04 certainly feels that way.
Press the menu button; see the menu, instantly. Search for something; get results, instantly. Speed is no longer a reason to complain about Unity: it’s one of the its main advantages.
They’ve been there since the 80s: menus at the tops of applications, giving you access to different functions. Somewhere, in the midst of “File”, “Edit”, “View” and “Help” is the exact menu item you’re looking for. Computer users are used to exploring these menus and memorizing locations.
With 12.04, Ubuntu offers a different strategy:
1. Press “alt”.
2. Search for the function you want.
3. Hit enter.
It’s called the HUD, and it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite Ubuntu features. It doesn’t replace anything – you can still browse the menu of any application using the mouse – but it sure makes finding features easy. It’s particularly nice in software like The GIMP, the menus of which are a maze of functionality. With HUD you can find what you’re looking for, quickly.
Even better: you don’t need perfect typing to use it. For me it found several items I misspelt, as in the screen below:
This means I find what I’m looking for even when I make a mistake.
The Main Menu No Longer Sucks
If there’s one thing commenters here at MakeUseOf–and I myself–didn’t like about Unity, it was the “tablety” main menu. With useless, static links to things like “The Internet”, it was rarely used. Good news: the giant uncustomizable buttons are gone. The main menu now defaults to your recently used applications and documents:
Only programs not in your dock show up, meaning there are no redundancies. Don’t see what you want? Just type to search and it will show up instantly. Alternatively, you can browse your apps and much more by looking through the lenses. It’s a way better way for the menu to function, and I think you’re going to like it.
New Customization Options
If there’s one thing people complained about when Unity first came out, it was the lack of customization. Unity is never exactly going to be KDE when it comes to this, but there are some frequently-requested tweaks offered in the “Appearance” settings.
Tired of the dock showing up whenever you move your mouse to the left? Set the top-left corner to be the pressure point instead of the entire side of the screen. You can also turn auto-hiding on or off for the launcher. Another setting, on the “Look” tab, lets you make the dock whatever size you’d like.
If Unity turned you off initially, give it a chance now: you might like it. The improvements go beyond what I outlined above: those are just my favorites. Feel free to tell me your favorite new features in the comments below.
Alternatively, you can tell me I’m a moron and link to Linux Mint. I won’t care, because I don’t want a desktop interface that looks like a version of Windows from 1995. I want Unity.