Ubuntu 11.04 Unity – A Big Leap Forward For Linux

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ubuntu 11It’s here. The newest version of Ubuntu sports an entirely new user interface: Unity. It also includes a much-improved Software Center, alongside the usual updates for the thousands of free programs Ubuntu offers. Download it now at Ubuntu.com.

Canonical, the main company behind Ubuntu, decided to develop the Unity shell to replace Gnome 3‘s shell; a decision not without its detractors. Having said that, I’ve been using Ubuntu 11.04 for a couple of months now, since the early Alpha releases, and I’ve felt nothing but impressed. Some old-school Linux users may be disappointed, but they usually are. Unity, to me, seems like an interface that’s accessible and efficient. I wish my Mac was more like this.


So what does Unity look like? See for yourself:

ubuntu 11

You’ll notice the dock, of course; everyone does. I think this is the best Linux dock ever made. While it’s not as attractive as it could be, it’s very functional. Drag a file to it, for example, and the programs that can open that file are highlighted for you:

latest ubuntu

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Of course you’re wondering: how do I access all the programs not in my dock? Easy. Just click the Ubuntu logo in the top-left corner, or press the Super key (the “Windows” key on some keyboards.) You’ll then see the main panel:

latest ubuntu

Here you can explore the applications by clicking, or by searching. Searching is the fastest way to find what you’re looking for, and used to be the main thing I’d miss in Ubuntu over Windows 7 or OS X. Not anymore: I find the programs I need quickly:

latest ubuntu

This also works for finding documents, which is really nice.

To save vertical space, and to reduce clutter, the traditional program menu is integrated into the top panel. It’s hidden, until your mouse moves over the panel, at which point it looks like this:

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The result: every program looks more tidy. I really like this, but I realize there will be detractors.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that Unity is very keyboard-friendly, which is a must for Linux users. Find out more by reading this list of Unity keyboard shortcuts; you won’t be disappointed.

Software Center: Now With Reviews

Ubuntu’s easy-to-use collection of free software, which gives access to thousands of programs, is better than ever. Not only is it (much) faster than before; it also now includes user reviews of every program.

For example: here’s a couple of reviews for Calibre:

ubuntu 11

If you like discovering new free software (and if you read this blog, you probably do) I highly recommend checking out the Ubuntu Software Center on a regular basis. The latest free apps are always a couple of clicks away.

Other Changes

There are a few other changes, of course. Here’s a brief list:

  • No more netbook edition; Ubuntu now works well on all devices.
  • Banshee is the default music player, in place of Rhythmbox.
  • Libre Office replaced Open Office, because Oracle wasn’t playing nice.
  • The language of the installer has improved; installing is now easier than ever.

More changes outlined here.

Classic Gnome?

Think Unity is cute, but want Classic Gnome back? Simple. When you’re logging in, simply select the “classic Gnome” session. You can feel comfortable here, if that’s the sort of thing you’re into. Be warned, though: classic Gnome will not be included in Ubuntu 11.10, and most of the the major distros will be using Unity or Gnome 3 very soon.

This Is Awesome

Some argue you should always try to keep Ubuntu up to date, for a plethora of reasons. Up-to-date software is a big one, as is access to the latest features. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what the new features are with Ubuntu but not this time. From the first time you start this system up you’ll notice the differences. Some people won’t like these differences, which makes sense. Change always upsets people in the technology world.

For what it’s worth, I’ve been using Ubuntu 11.04 since the second alpha. It was buggy at first, but got better very quickly. So I have to say that a few months of using Unity leaves me loving it. There’s no desktop out there – not Windows, KDE or even OS X – that feels this well integrated and consistent. I can launch any program in just a few clicks, but default, and everything looks beautiful.

Granted, I’m not an expert on UI design, something I’m sure I’ll be told in the comments. But that’s not the point. The point is this: the Ubuntu team is seriously thinking about how to bring progress to the Linux desktop, and every Linux users will eventually benefit from this.

Think differently? Share in the comments below; I would love to have a conversation with all of you. Also feel free to share things you like about the new Ubuntu, because not every comment needs to be negative.

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Comments (73)
  • Frank M. Eriksson

    Big leap? Uh-ha!?

    Not really, I have to click twice to dismiss every box – like the menu. And It does not respect the mouse, say I open the menu in firefox and wants to scroll the webpage a little bit – no-no, I can’t! I have to click with my mouse twice on Firefox to dismiss the menu – then I can scroll to read whatever…

    Unity is soo clunky, not customisable, unstable and quite frankly not anywhere near ready for mass deployment… *Sigh*

  • Anonymous

    I really can’t stand Unity. I can’t work with it. I understand it’s good for some people, but the lack of customizability  just kills me. I need a panel of open windows, like th gnome panel (and all windows) have. It’s not a big thing, but I can’t work without it. And I have yet to find a way to make one in Unity.

    Why is that? Why is it so rigid? Since when is Linux about “we know what you need better than you, so we won’t let you change anything”? Since when is Ubuntu against diversity? That’s the Mac motto, and that’s why people consider them evil.

    Please don’t tell me I can just use “Ubuntu classic”. I am. But it won’t be supported next release. And I can’t use Unity.

    • jhpot

      Basically: Unity is rigid because it’s brand new. They were more concerned
      with making it stable than with making it customizable. Now that it’s been
      released, third party groups are doing all kinds of hacks. I’m sure one of
      them will be a window list, just like you’re looking for.

      So suck it up for now, or wait and see what kind of hacks are added. Know
      that, if a window list hack comes out, it will be featured here.

    • Anonymous

      As far as I can tell – right now Unity has no features at all. It has a side “dock” panel and a text based search for apps. Oh, and the “mac style menus”. That’s all I can find in tutorials, in reviews, in feature lists, everywhere. It’s empty. It’s pretty and (maybe) stable but not convenient for people using Linux for work.

      The retracting side dock – a horrid UI feature that was long abandoned by anyone doing a “work oriented” interface. It adds seconds to every operation.

      The whole UI screams for your constant attention – breaking your train of thought every time you have to use it. Preventing you from concentrating on your work instead of enabling you to work more efficiently.

      Example: I want to run something from the dock (what it’s made for!). I can’t just move my mouse to the app I want because the dock is retracted! I have to first move the mouse to the left, then wait for the dock to appear and find my app (the location can change, since it depends on the current scroll state) and then go press it. You might think that’s “negligible” time, but that extra attention needed really slows down work. You now have to pay attention to something that used to be automatic.

      Example: I want to do something at the left of the screen. Press the back button on my browser for example. I now have to be “very careful” not to move the mouse too far left or the dock will appear and hide the “back” button. If that happens I have to move the mouse away, wait until the dock disappears (a few secs) and retry. Again, more attention and more time needed to do a simple operation. Again, having to pay attention to something that used to be automatic.

      Example: I have a big screen with several windows open one next to the other (non-overlapping). I want to go to the menu of a window. I can’t do that now – I have to first focus it, and then find the menu I want, doubling the operations and attention needed.
      Worse, I can go to the menu, select, e.g., “file/close”, only to realize I was in the menu of the wrong window! Now every menu operation one does will be accompanied by the nagging “am I in the right window?” voice, again breaking your concentration. This will be especially bad for people with slight OCD – as they will have to perform the check repeatedly for each menu operation “just to make sure”.

      This might be a great UI for touchscreens. Not all Ubuntu users have touchscreens.
      This might be a great UI for people who only use facebook and gaming apps. Some people use Ubuntu for work.
      This might be a great UI for people with tiny screens where you can only have one window at a time. Some people have huge screens with several windows one next to the other.
      The whole idea of Linux is the customizability. The whole idea is that everyone can change it to suit their needs, as opposed to the “we tell you what you need” of, e.g., macs.

      Whoever designed unity did a great job – for the specific uses it’s designed to handle (tiny touchscreens for entertainment computing). Whoever decided to make it the default and to (eventually) discontinue support for the classic gnome has no idea about what is important in UI other than the “new” and “eye candy” factor.

  • Owen

    Yes, start everything mouse-free is a cool idea. Being cool is very important for linux geeks~~~ ;-p

  • Syncdram

     Your dating yourself when you say “old school Linux users” This Might Make you a new school linux user of today’s younger generation. Ubuntu Studio Has Proudly and Boldly pronounced today with a official press release that they want nothing to do with Unity. This holds some very big weight because this is the first derivative of Ubuntu  that understands unity’s repercussions and do not have the” we will use gnome 2 for now ” attitude. They have listened to the open source community and are leaving gnome 3 for XFCE.  This is also a very pivotal  point in Linux Mints history as well. They to know the repercussions from its user base if they switch. Mint is on a wait and see attitude as well. They know this because of the Awesome amount of users they picked up from ubuntu. Unity does have a place, but not on desktop pc. The ” I know you, you know me” Barney type app does not sit well for a ubuntu powers user such as myself and a sea of others.

  • Libby

     Help….My biggest problem is I cant live without a program that works the same way as “Windows Explorer”. I need the sub-menus on the left side and Linux seems to not have this. They have a simelar program but it wont show sub-menus on the left columb.

    • jhpot

      You can in PCManFM; just switch the side-panel to directory tree mode. Same
      thing with Nautilus, the default browser in Ubuntu.

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This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
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