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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- Launcher. There is not much space for application shortcuts until Launcher itself starts scrolling. But I think you can get used to it.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Shortcuts in "Ubuntu" menu. How can I configure these shortcuts? I did not find a way to change the list.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
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.
- 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.
- 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.