2 May 2011

5 things I like in Ubuntu 11.04 (Unity) and 10 things which I don't

Here we are! Long awaited and much discussed version of Ubuntu is here. It is Ubuntu 11.04.
This version was long awaited because of one 2 main reasons:
1) As of 11.04 Canonical stopped free distribution of CDs with Ubuntu via partner Shipit. It's a pity, because that was a way how I got my first ever Ubuntu CD.
2) Most important, Canonical decided to depart from GNOME as default desktop environment for Ubuntu, and put Unity desktop there.
From my perspective, final release of Ubuntu 11.04 with Unity is second (in terms of timing) most important release this year after GNOME 3 release. Many can argue that other releases happened which are also important: LibreOffice, Open SuSE 11.4 etc. But no one of them affects so many users as GNOME 3 and Unity.
My first ever Ubuntu was 10.04 LTS installed from Shipit's CDs. Then I made an upgrade to 10.10. This time I decided to go for fresh install and downloaded whole iso image myself. It was "burnt" into USB stick using Ubuntu's Startup Disk Creator tool. For the clear experiment(s), persistence was not requested.
As long as I have Live USB, why not run Ubuntu 11.04 in Live mode? Let's do it!
USB stick is in the port. Reboot. Choose to boot from USB. Let's go!

Sure enough, Ubuntu booted itself from USB without any issues. I easily got myself to new Unity desktop. Did I like it? Yes and No. Let's try to list all my findings and discuss them a little.
First of all, what I like in Ubuntu 11.04 with Unity interface.
  1. Launcher. Yes, that's definitely "the most different" part of Unity. You do not have taskbar panel any more. Instead, you have Launcher. It is docked on the left hand side, can be scrolled as needed and autohides itself in some cases (like maximized window). This is simply genius finding from Canonical! It gives you much more screen real estate for the application itself.
  2. Scroll bars on the outer side of window. Yes, that's another new part of Ubuntu's interface. You do not see scroll bar until you move cursor to the right or bottom part of window. And then, scroll bar appears on the external side of the window. Of course, this does not work for maximized windows. Unfortunately, there is slight inconsistency between different applications. Some of them have classical (not outer-side) scroll bars. For example, LibreOffice and Firefox have standard scroll bars. I think this is just a legacy which will be fixed in next release of each software package.
  3. Desktop switcher. It is another nice tool. It is parked on the Launcher by default and cannot be removed from there. This tool now not only allows you to switch between the desktops, but also allows to move windows between the desktops the easy way. Simply drag and drop them! Although, I found little bit of a glitch: internal pop-up windows (like additional bars in LibreOffice) do not move together with main window, but stay on previous screen. You can see on the screenshot below: LibreOffice itself was moved to left-top desktop while "Styles" window remained on the right-top one. How can I use it then?
  4. Nice set of wallpapers. This is usual for Ubuntu. And the list is definitely different from previous version(s). At least, I didn't find my previously-favourite dandelion in the list of available wallpapers. Unfortunately, set of themes is also different, and it is slightly smaller than was before. 
  5. Applications keep their style from GNOME. Even though menu is complicated (see below), most of the applications within Unity work similar to GNOME. Or they are GNOME applications? I am not 100% sure. Example: keyboard configuration to add layouts and switch between them - they work in Unity absolutely the same way as in Ubuntu 10.04 and 10.10 with GNOME.
But now everything is so fun and fantastic in Kingdom of Unity. Let me list things which I dislike there.

  1. Launcher. There is not much space for application shortcuts until Launcher itself starts scrolling. But I think you can get used to it.
  2. My favourite topic of wireless drivers. My WiFi card Broadcom 4311 requires closed-source driver from vendor. Driver is included into distribution, and can even be activated in Live run. But this does not help at all, because you need to restart system after activation in order to use new driver. Since I declined persistence option on my Live USB, the driver becomes useless.
  3. Menu. It is another big change in Unity. Now there is no menu as we all used to see it: single drop-down list with categories where you can drill-down to applications. Now you have Launcher and Ubuntu icon. Press the icon, and you get list of "Shortcuts" which are preconfigured. You can search for application right from there, or go to "More applications" section for list of available applications. Then, you only can get to one part of menu a time, and you need to make at least 2 clicks to move to another part. For me, this is overcomplicated navigation style.
  4. Configuration panel. It has "Main Menu” item. What is it for, if menu is not there as such? A way to navigate through applications in Unity is very different to GNOME, where this configuration would be actually useful.
  5. Shortcuts in "Ubuntu" menu. How can I configure these shortcuts? I did not find a way to change the list.
  6. Launcher. It is only one Launcher on the left. Is there any way to add another bar, for example on the right? I did not find this option. Maybe it it well hidden?
  7. MP3. Live run of Ubuntu 11.04 does not support playback of MP3 files. Simple reason is that  decoder is not included or activated in Live mode.
  8. Window management elements. I know that most Ubuntu fans will kill me for next paragraph... But I do not like window management elements (minimize - maximize - close buttons) on the left part of the window. That's why I change my there to Clearlooks which has them on the right. Unfortunately, maximized window gets these elements on the left whichever theme is selected. Simply because these elements are now part of top taskbar.
  9. Taskbar. It is situated on the top of the screen and cannot be moved. Partially this is not a big deal because it only holds technical information like time, notifications etc. But I feel like restriction in my screen configuration options. At least, compared to previous (GNOME) versions of Ubuntu.
  10. Icon grouping on Launcher. Different instances of same application are grouped under one icon, and I need to make 2 clicks to switch to the one I need. That's what I hate (and always switch off) in Windows, and now I have it in Ubuntu! Simple example: I always keep at least 2 instances of Google Chrome open. One is for browsing and another is "Application shortcut" for my email. Having then grouped, I need to make more actions to switch between them. Not speaking about visibility of unread messages in inbox on the taskbar... simply because there is no such item on taskbar. (this one is half-fixed, see comments below)

Looks like my "negative" list is twice as long as "positive". But re-reading it myself, I think that general feelings about Ubuntu 11.04 with Unity interface are very positive. All my "negative" points are more or less moaning.

And finally... There is a couple of things which I'd like to talk about separately. They are neither positive or negative from my perspective. They are just facts.

  1. Desktop is application. Desktop itself is separate application. If it is active (i.e. no other application is active), then menu bar at the top receives some additional items, including “Places” like in GNOME. Yes, we all know that window manager / desktop is an application itself. But I've never seen it so directly as in Unity. Some applications also use top taskbar for menu, for example Firefox. But this approach is inconsistent. For example, LibreOffice has separate menu bar.
  2. Proposed applications. This is another feature in Unity menu navigation screen. They may be useful when you have something installed. But whole menu sections with only “Available to download” applications are confusing. And then... How smart are the suggestions? Do they take into considerations applications which are installed and frequently used? There are more questions then answers here. At least for me. At least for now.
So, my first acquittance with Ubuntu 11.04 and Unity desktop is over. I can say that I do not feel disappointed. Instead, I feel optimistic about this approach.
At the very beginning of this post I wrote that I want to install Ubuntu 11.04 on my laptop. You can ask me: where is review? Sure it will come. Next time. Stay tuned! To ease this, please use subscription options which you can find on the right column of this page.


    Unity does not work on a dual screen computer when second monitor is a separate screen. My second screen is showing a screen but I can not move anything nor can I get a panel there nor anything. Unity is thus useless to me.

  2. Hi, I use Linux Mint Debian. The mintMenu main menu is the best combination of "drill-down" and search, similar to the Windows 7 menu.
    If you like an icon-based window list/application launcher on the left, try dockbarx with AWN or Gnome Panel. For the "status" stuff in the top right corner, I use AWN with AWN indicator and notification area applets, transparent background, and always-on-top mode. This way it takes zero space from other apps. However, if you like your close-minimize-maximize on the right, you may want to place the AWN on the left corner of your screen.

    To get mintMenu, dockbarx, and AWN on your ubuntu, add this PPA: https://launchpad.net/~nilarimogard/+archive/webupd8

  3. Launchpad is where you do your bug reports.
    The dock in unity is called the Launcher.

  4. In the Launcher, rightclick on the + icon to get your menu.

  5. I hate the way ubuntu is going. I refuse to use it now. Time to find a better distro (and they *are* out there...)

  6. I like unity just give try it for some time

  7. This is a good idea, poorly implemented. Avoid v1.0 of anything. This is the beginning of the end of the X server. Unity seems to be aimed at laptops and generally systems with limited screensize. I wish they'd just admit it and announce it as a 'laptop OS', so desktop users would skip it.

  8. @jpalko:
    I do not have dual screen, so this is not an issue for me. Sorry to hear that it does not work for you as expected. 8-(

  9. @Eemil:
    Multi-column menu with search function and other bells and whistles is the thing which I *hate* in Windows XP and higher, and also in Mint. This is one of the most things which made me against Mint when I reviewed it.
    I prefer single-column menu in style of "old good" Win95. Or KDE3.
    Problem with 2 clicks to mail/browser windows is now solved: I created wrong application shortcut previously. Now I have 2 separate items on the launcher, one for email and one for Chrome itself. But I still don't see number of unread messages. I am not sure that AWN can sort this issue, but I may give it a try. As another option: Chrome extension which shows number of unread messages on the Chrome bar. But obviously this will only work while I am in browser. I'll think about this.

  10. @Anonymous:
    Thanks for comment. I edited the post and replaced Launchpad with correct name.

  11. @Anonymous:
    Thanks for the hint. Unfortunately, it only gives you the first layer of the menu without an option to drill-down to the final node (application).

  12. @Anonymous:
    There are lots of Ubuntu remixes, you may give them a try. Not all of them have Unity. For example, Mint or Bodhi.
    If you like .deb-based OS, then give Debian a try. It's like a natural growth for me.
    If you want some adventures, look into Fedora or Arch directions. They are quite different from .deb-based systems.

  13. @Anonymous:
    Thanks for your comment. I'll give it a try. I have now installed 11.04 with Unity on my HDD, so wait for review!

  14. @Anonymous:
    Unity is not the only desktop environment for Ubuntu. They officially support at least a couple more. And unofficially there are tons of Ubuntu-based remixes based on different DEs. You have a choice between them, so "laptop OS" is not proper name for Ubuntu. Yet.

  15. You can add right-click menu items in the applications .desktop files within ~/.local/share/applications. I now have various direct-links set up to folders on different drives from my Home folder launcher. I have also resized the launcher to be smaller to accommodate all the apps I use regularly, making the whole experience of using Ubuntu much faster & more direct. Now, if only they would get rid of the inconsistencies (scrollbar formats, file menu location, window close location, etc...)

  16. Someone should realize just how horrid the Launcher is - running programs and shortcuts to activate programs are different and belong is separate places. The Launcher scrolls - you must be kidding - there is someone alive woh thinks this is better than the bottom panel of Gnome or even Win/95?

    and the top panel menu bar - so misguided it pretty much defies description. Really fails for multiple monitors, lots of overlapping apps or when the focus is set to follow the mouse.

    And auto-hiding the scroll bar - again removing a vital visual element that is very important even without having to move mouse/go hunting for it - what a bad decision.

    And like you said - stacking multiple instances under one icon on the launcher - one of the horrid "improvements" MS tried and someone actually emulated this dreadful idea.

    11.04 - one or two steps forward and several GIANT leaps backwards for UI.

  17. One thing that was great about gnome 2.## is that you could customize it anyway you wanted. For me Unity is to restrictive and so is gnome 3. While still a little buggy, bodhi linux with the enlightenment window manager is the best alternative I've found.

  18. On the grouping of open windows under one icon, at least in Windows 7 you can get a hover popup to switch between windows still with one click. My own trial of unity did not allow me to do this, though I am not sure if that is proper behaviour or something was wrong with my install. I too can't stand anything that makes me click more than necessary.

  19. @Alwyn:
    Sorry, I could not manage to do this.
    Maybe you can write some kind of "how-to" about adding applications and resizing the Unity launcher bar, and then I can post it hear as guest-posting?

  20. @Anonymous:
    Every development has pros and contras. Every development has someone who likes and dislikes it. But you have a choice. As I wrote above, Unity is not the only desktop on top of Ubuntu core.

  21. @Anonymous:
    I have already written about Bodhi. I don't mind using Enlightenment, but would prefer system with little bit more pre-packed applications in it.

  22. @cbeck:
    I am not sure that Win7-style hover preview is available in Unity.

  23. Aw, I liked Shipit. It's a nice way to stand out from the crowd from other distros. And one heck of a way to promote their product.

  24. @Icechen1:
    Agree. It's a shame they shut down this service.
    AFAIK, OpenSuSE has some free DVDs for distribution, but they use different model.

  25. After four years of being an Ubuntu advocate and user, I've dumped it in favor of CrunchBang with XFCE/OPenbox. I am a big fan of "it just works", but Unity doesn't work for me. I mean, it "works" in the sense it runs fine, but it feels too dumbed down and restrictive.

  26. Upgraded my Ubuntu laptop a few days ago to 11.04.
    I can describe my experience with the Unity interface in 3 words ... "I hate it".
    Consequently I removed Unity and installed Ubuntu Desktop to restore the Gnome interface. Now everything is back working as it should. Peace restored. :)

  27. @Anonymous:
    Do you remember how "restrictive" you were in Windows 1, Windows 3.0, windows 95? Or maybe in Linux in late 90s?
    Unity is still in baby age. Let it grow.

  28. @Anonymous:
    And you're still in Ubuntu 11.04. That is flexibility which Linux gives you.

  29. the gnome classic backup is going away in 11.10. i hate unity. dont like where ubuntu is heading.

  30. @Anonymous:
    You are not alone in your dislike. But somebody likes it. We're in the free world and Mark Shuttleworth can do whatever he finds appropriate.

  31. DarkDuck - You can have the hover previews on Unity. I'm a big fan of the hover thumbnails that I first ran across in Win7 RC and had added to my Ubuntu installs.

    All you need to do is add the CompizConfig Settings Manager (CCSM) and then you can enable the window preview module. CCSM will also allow you to do some customization of Unity (including making the launcher buttons smaller) with the Unity module. There aren't many options for Unity itself, and the Unity module ends up restricting some of your other options (due to it requiring certain other modules to work, and those modules conflicting with other similar modules), but it's better than nothing, considering how unfinished Unity really is.

  32. @shauna:
    thanks for hint.
    I installed CCSM, activated previews and minimized icon sizes. Initially it made my top taskbar to disappear. But it is now OK after reboot.
    It' nice to have more icons on the left available...

  33. I really don't like Unity compared to GNOME. It's hard to navigate windows, since there's no list, or even notification, that the process is even running, it's a pain to even open an application, and there's barely any customization in this one! This is the most HORRIBLE build of Ubuntu I've seen in years!

  34. @Anonymous:
    If you don't like Unity, you can easily switch same system to GNOME. Or change your system altogether.

  35. I been true believer of Ubuntu for years. Learned a lot of Linux. Doing customisations and felt the sky is the limits.
    I have seen lately some warning signs that Ubuntu is on the wrong path and many of us have been disappointed. The move to left side of windows control buttons,I know it is easy to move the control buttons back to right, but why this change. A new interface Unity which is terrible strange logistic to understand even for new users. Do not tell me that I can find other distro, I remain 10.10 a couple of weeks and make permanent switch to other distro. I start understand that is healthy to change distro every five years and now is the proper time to do it. Bye Ubuntu

  36. @Anonymous:
    Why do you think it's limited to 5 years? You can change any time you like, when you feel yourself uncomfortable. It's like clothes. Change it when you grow up.
    If you were with Ubuntu for so long time, I think your next step could be Debian. It's very close ideologically and very easy to migrate to. And much more to explore in puristic Debian compared to more obscure Ubuntu.

  37. I'm a heavy Compiz (CCSM) and Emerald user and Unity does not only refuse to get along, it gets very unstable at times.

    11.04 seems juts a laptop or netbook OS; why are they trying to shove it down our throats?

    My specific annoyances with the new release include;
    1. Menu migrates to the top taskbar... I'm not using a tiny screen, I don't need migrating menus.
    2. Switching from Desktop Wall to Desktop Cube is too complicated and hectic. I did it but don't think I have the patience to do it again.
    3. Most applications need to be manually white-listed to appear in the notification area.
    4. Desktop Switcher cannot be removed even after I have switched to Desktop Cube and the switcher cannot function.
    5. The applications menu is too unsystematic and unattractive. I believe categorizing applications properly has some aesthetic value aside from it's practical use.

    I just wanna retain GNOME and use AWN; there's much less to unity than that :))

  38. MP3 playback has never been enabled on Ubuntu liveCD sessions. This isn't an 11.04-specific issue. It's still annoying, though, and that's why there's Mint.

  39. @Samson:
    I am laptop user, but I still agree with some of your points.

  40. @michael:
    There is Mint and there is VLC. I usually chose second option.

  41. I would like to say i have used Unity for 2 weeks then gave Gnome3 a run for 2 weeks and I now going back to unity. 1) I know unity is slow but as always in a few weeks or so It will speed up this was a first release. I find getting around in gnome is painful. I believe the web developers will really like Gnome3 but the average Joe user will not. I can tell you that my netbook will either run Lubuntu or Xubuntu depending on my mood as Gnome and KDE are realy slow on it

  42. @Morgan:
    If you have a choice between Lubuntu and Xubuntu, I'd rather go for X.
    From my experience, LMDE is just a little bit faster than GNOME while XFCE is much faster and easier.

  43. At first I didn't like Unity, but now I love it :)

  44. "I really don't like Unity compared to GNOME. It's hard to navigate windows, since there's no list, or even notification, that the process is even running"

    WTF? There ARE those little notification signs showing that the process is running (at least in Unity 3D). I think it's you that fails this time :)

  45. @Anonymous:
    >At first I didn't like Unity, but now I love it :)
    Everything will settle. Unity will gain supporters too.

  46. @Anonymous:
    >There ARE those little notification signs

  47. I'm a bit late to the game, but I'd like to add that it's a good idea for power-users to read the Ubuntu Help on "Keyboard Shortcuts". I think that if you spend a few minutes trying them out, you'll ind that you might really like Unity.

    I was torn about upgrading from 10.04 LTS, but I have to say that I am really starting to like Unity after trying it for most of the day. It has a few quirks that I really hate, but I am finding that it's all a matter of learning new ways to do things. Reading the keyboard shortcut document really will help a lot.

  48. @Anonymous:
    RTFM, as usual! ;-)