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:

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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:

latest ubuntu distro

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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