With the release of Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal), Canonical changed the default user interface from Gnome to Ubuntu Unity. Being a long time Gnome fan and advocate, I admit I was initially surprised and a little upset with the idea. I was really hoping to see Gnome Shell (Gnome3) in Natty, but I guess they had their reasons not to include it and also to use a completely different desktop. Regardless, I couldn’t help but be interested in Unity. It is Gnome Shell -ish and I am a fan of change, as long as it improves my experience and doesn’t get in the way of what I am doing or over-simplify things.
Ubuntu Unity is really designed for netbooks — where screen real estate is at a premium. Unity drops the bottom task bar and replaces it with a dock/launcher on the left of the screen — basically the OS X dock. The top bar also gets a more OS X-y style, with an app menu/finder button, main menu of the currently focussed application, and notification/calendar/date/time area. It doesn’t really feel too much like an OS X clone, but it has a lot of similarities.
I have been using Unity for about three weeks exclusively at work and at home. Today I had to switch back to “Ubuntu Classic” i.e. stock Gnome 2 on my work PC, and here is why…
- No panel applets
- I wrote a little applet that gives you a menu that lists our PostgreSQL servers (15+), which opens a new Gnome Terminal and psql’s in to the right server with the right settings. Its really handy for my job and I really missed it and didn’t want to re-implement it.
- The cpu/memory/disk usage applets help me keep a stable system especially when my software is misbehaving.
- Grouping all windows in a single application makes it really hard to quickly jump to the right window. It makes maneuvering between windows at the level of multitasking I use more painful. With dual monitors it’s even worse.
I still may keep Unity on my home laptop because I don’t do as much multitasking and do find the layout more useful for home/casual use.
There are a few more annoyances in Unity that I ended up finding workarounds for:
- It was not easy to configure the Unity dock/launcher. You can use CompizConfig Settings Manager under the Ubuntu Unity Plugin
- By default, only select notifications show up in the notification area. This is broken. Here is how to fix it.
- Gnome Do is much faster at launching applications and I have really grown to like and depend on it. You can fix it by changing the “key to show the launcher” in CompizConfig to something like <Shift><Super> instead of the default <Super>. The default <Super> keybinding overrides any keybinding using the <Super> key, thus <Super><Space> for Gnome Do.
Overall, I like Ubuntu Unity, but it over-simplifies the desktop too much for high-demand use cases.