Not all the reviews have been positive, and Ubuntu laptop sellers System 76 won’t be selling Unity netbooks quite yet. Why? Because “Unity’s rough edges remain apparent.”
Ouch. So how is the new interface? Pretty friggin’ cool, in my opinion, though I can see why a company selling laptops wouldn’t want to provide it to customers quite yet. But don’t take my word for it; let’s take a look!
Start up this new Ubuntu Netbook Edition and you’ll immediately notice some differences. To start, you’ll see this dock on the left side of the screen:
The dock behaves in manner similar to OS X — that is, your favorite programs live there alongside any programs you currently have open. You can add a permanent shortcut by right-clicking an open application’s icon and clicking the “Add” button.
Another major interface change is the new menu, which takes up the entire screen but only comes up when you click the Ubuntu logo in the top-left corner. This highly stylized menu takes a while to load, and is centered around search functionality:
You can browse the old-fashioned menu hierarchy here, or you can start typing the name of the program /document you’re looking for and have it pop up. Everything is indexed (though on my machine the menu seemed really slow.) Still, it’s an attractive menu done well and I look forward to seeing it sped up for Ubuntu 11.04.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Unity interface tries to fit as much content as possible into the top bar on the screen. Where previously vertical space was used for the top bar of a given window as well as the File/Edit/View menu, Unity combines both these elements into the system bar. For example:
Anti-Mac types will be quick to call this simply a copy of a much hated system, but there’s more to it than that. By integrating both the menu and the close buttons into one row, Unity saves a lot of vertical space. This is perhaps my favorite thing about the new interface, and is making it hard for me to switch back to Ubuntu’s old user interface.
Still, I’m not completely happy in this new system. Everything feels slow to start, particularly the menu (though perhaps the new hard drive I have coming in he mail will fix that.) Additionally, and this is the worst thing about this for me, the classic Linux “Alt + F2” keyboard shortcut no longer works; forcing me to launch programs with my mouse. Ouch.
Another common complaint is that hiding the dock is seemingly impossible. Considering how limited screen space on a netbook is this seems quite odd. I can’t browse any website without having that cursed horizontal scroll bar at the bottom of my screen, which annoys me quite a bit. So clearly this release isn’t quite for everyone yet (just ask System 72).
Is It Cool?
In many ways, though, this release is pretty cool. The visual effects are pretty cool, but not so over-the-top that they distract. Click the desktop icon; see all your desktops.
There are a lot of cool things to this interface; more than I can mention. I love using it, even though I dislike certain things about it. It’s certainly a better interface than Jolicloud’s monstrous HTML5 experiment. I’m not sure whether I’m going to switch back to Ubuntu’s desktop mode anytime soon, but I’ll be sure to let you all know of any quality changes.
The Ubuntu team is trying out a lot of new things here, and a lot of it works really well. Some of it is pretty slow, which may frustrate those of us with lower-grade netbooks, but overall the design shows a lot of promise. I’m going to use this as long as I can, and am very excited to see how the interface progresses. If you’re interested, head over to Ubuntu.com and download the Netbook version. You might like it.
If you do, leave your comments below. Also feel free to leave complaints, or lies about me.