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Location: GUIs > Linux / Unix > Ubuntu 11.04 Unity

Ubuntu 11.04 and the "Unity" desktop

Ubuntu 11.04 was released with the new "Unity" desktop. This has caused quite a stir in the Ubuntu community, so I figured I should kick it around and see what all the commotion is about.

11.04 is not a long term support version, and as such may contain more experimental features.

First a few nitpicks about the installer:

  • Some command line garbage appears before the GUI starts, as well as on shutdown/restart. There is enough gibberish on the shutdown screen it obscures the message to remove the CD and press enter.
  • The installation wizard still uses the term "forward" instead of "next".
  • The installer gets uppity and wants to be connected to the Internet. Sorry, not doing that.
  • It starts copying files while it continues to ask for information. Historically this is not done because any UI would become unresponsive, however Ubuntu surprisingly pulls this off fairly well.
And as Ubuntu starts up, it still can't clear the frame buffer before jumping in to graphics mode causing ugly random graphics garbage to appear for a split second.

Ubuntu 11 Gnome Desktop
As it starts up for the first time it gives me a big fat error stating that I don't have the hardware to run Unity. Uh, what? The computer I am testing this on happens to be brand spanking new...... Oh! It's because I'm using one of those "evil" Nvidia cards that won't do 3d acceleration with out connecting to the internet and downloading a "restricted" driver.

Since Unity apparently requires 3d acceleration it starts up with the Gnome desktop instead.

There is nothing new here, this Gnome desktop is the same as the previous Ubuntu versions. It would have been nice to be able to choose the Gnome desktop during setup, but I believe the intent is to do away with this desktop. Gnome or Unity is selectable at the log in screen but during setup I told it to log in automatically.

Grudgingly I permit it to connect to the internet to get the driver. Of course there are more annoyances, once again it defaults to a crazy resolution and refresh rate that makes my eyes bleed. This time, the Monitor preferences lets me change the resolution, but does not let me select a usable refresh rate.

So off to the Nvidia "X Server Settings"... And as with the previous version, it is completely impossible to save the display settings with that piece of useless garbage, so I have to change the settings each time I restart. Ready for the desktop? Ready for the trash can is more like it.

Oh, and in this version changing the resolution fails to redraw the screen, so I have to click around to find the buttons to keep the settings for this session.

On top of all that Print Screen STILL wont work when a drop down or menu is displaying.

Ubuntu 11 Unity Desktop
So, finally, here it is, this is the default Unity desktop. It is indeed "all different".

  • The task bar is now gone
  • The new Launcher merges the role of the taskbar and the top panel's shortcuts.
  • The new Top Bar displays the menu of the current foreground application like the MacOS menu bar.
  • The Home Button and the "Dash" replace the Applications Menu.
Ubuntu 11 Dash

Clicking the Home Button, the Ubuntu logo in the upper left, opens the "Dash". This replaces the Application Menu, as the location to launch installed applications.

The Dash intrusively fills the entire screen, completely covering anything else you might be doing. Available programs and groups are shown as HUGE icons. The appearance of the dash fails to conform to the system's color scheme.

The previous menu hierarchy is gone, and the new one is highly oversimplified. If the application is not a media or an internet application then it falls in the "more applications" group.

Ubuntu 11 Apps

Each of the application groups have three sections:

  •  Most Frequently Used
  •  Installed
  • Apps Available for Download
By default they show only 5 or so icons, and the "see more results" text must be clicked to show all.

Internet Apps and Media Apps menus are similar to More Apps but only contain a few application icons.

The only reason I can think of for displaying icons for non-installed application like this is for advertisement or promotion. A good chunk of the reason people even uninstall applications these days is so they won't have to be bothered with its presence, such as extra icons littering up the main menu.

Ubuntu 11 all icons
All of the application and control panel icons have been thrown in to this one location.

The end result is that to launch any random application now, one must click Home Button > More Apps > See more Results, then scroll through a long, long, oversized list of conceptually unrelated icons.

The hierarchy of the groups can not be changed or customized as far as I can tell.

Each Dash group has a Search option on it, but this doesn't really help if you don't know the name of the application you are looking for.

Ubuntu 11 find files
This is the "Find Files" group, it provides a list of common document folders and recently used files.

These full screen menus don't have any visual way to return to the desktop. Clicking outside of them returns, but since they take up most of the screen, this is not obvious.

After selecting a group shortcut there is no way to navigate back to the first menu. You must close the menu and open it again to go back.