The Emperor’s New Desktop?

This post is a bit late but I wanted to make sure I was settled in my decision on Unity, Ubuntu’s new desktop. I had been running Ubuntu Natty Narwhal on my test box since before the first alpha so I was quite familiar with Unity and its quirks and initially I wasn’t a fan at all. It seemed ugly, feature lacking and buggy and throughout the alpha and beta period it seemed that it was just being rushed out to meet the 11.04 release regardless of whether it was ready or not. I didn’t think I would be using it and had even given serious consideration to going back to Debian testing for my main desktop box.

Anyway, with the final release of 11.04 I duly upgraded my main desktop machine and thought I would give it a go as my day to day desktop for a while, fully expecting to switch back to the “classic desktop” (ie. Gnome 2.x) before long but it didn’t happen and I have to say that Unity has grown on me. I’m not missing any of the things I thought I would and so far I’m even managing to live with the one thing about Unity that annoyed me the most during testing, namely the Global Menu.

For those not aware the Global Menu is the Apple style feature where each applications menu appears in the top panel instead of within the application itself. I understand Apple’s original reasoning behind this feature, ie. the menu is always in a consistent place and slamming the mouse to the top of the screen puts you in the right place but in a modern multiple monitor environment it just doesn’t stand up, that and it is currently inconsistent as it requires every app to support it. App support will get better over time I’m sure but I still think it is irrepairably broken on multiple monitors. Fortunately for those that really can’t stand it, the global menu can be disabled without too much effort but I am still trying to live with it for now to see if I can get used to it.

The other niggle with Unity that hadn’t really bothered me until I started to use it properly is the scroll bars. With a traditional scroll bar you can move your mouse to the right of the window and click to jump up/down at any point along the permenantly visible bar whereas with the new hidden scroll bar you have to look for the thin indicator and hover your mouse over that before you can access the scroll controls. It’s definitely slower and harder to use and as with the global menu it is inconsistent at the moment as not all applications use it.

The new dock on the left I wasn’t keen on initially and I missed the old task list panel at the bottom but now I’ve got used to it I actually prefer the dock, it seems quicker and gets less cluttered. The only change I’ve made is to make it narrower with smaller icons as it is a bit large by default.

In summary Unity is a mixed bag, it’s far from the disaster I thought it would be but it’s not the second coming either. There is still a lot that could be improved but I think it will get there, the issue of the duplication of effort between Unity and the very similar Gnome 3 is a completely different topic though.

One thought on “The Emperor’s New Desktop?

  1. Have you tried Gnome 3? (gnome-shell package in Ubuntu repositories)

    I used Unity for a while and disliked the things you mentioned as well as others. Gnome 3 is a fresh new approach to desktop/window management. Loving it.

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