7 Reasons to Like and Dislike Ubuntu Unity: Page 2

In its latest release, Unity is neither as hopeless as its detractors insist nor as extraordinary as its supporters claim.


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6) The Commercial Connection

Ubuntu is far from the first commercial version of Linux. However, few of its predecessors have taken the commercialization of the desktop so far.

Look down the Launcher, and you see an icon for Ubuntu One, from which you can get a free cloud storage account, but also buy additional storage. Open the Ubuntu Software Center, and you find proprietary software offered alongside the free packages. Use the video or music lenses for the Dash, and you can scan Ubuntu's music store for items you can buy.

Look: I understand the need for Canonical, Ubuntu's commercial arm, to show a profit. I admit, too, that the commercialization is far worse on a laptop preloaded with Windows.

However, for me (and possibly others) one of the attractions of a free operating system was the lack of desktop advertising. To see it creeping onto the desktop of one of the most popular distributions makes me long for someone to make the desktop equivalent of Adblock Plus to reduce the efforts to nag me into buying when I'm trying to settle down to work. A live Internet connection is too much of a distraction already.

7) The Head-Up Display (HUD)

HUD was introduced in January 2012 as "the future of the menu." Instead of an ever-present menu, the HUD is opened by pressing the Alt key. Type in the function you want to activate, then selecting the function from a list of suggestions. In 12.04, it's optional, but Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu's founder, hints that it might become the default in future releases.

HUD sounds intriguing, but its impracticality becomes apparent as soon as you use it. To use it successfully, you need to have full recall of the menu items you are likely to want -- a capacity that is far more lacking in most people than the ability to recognize an item as useful when they see it.

More importantly, as even Shuttleworth admits, unlike menus, HUD gives no full overview of all possible functionality. As a result, learning about an application becomes much more difficult.

For an expert working in an application they already know, HUD might be efficient -- but, in other use cases, not so much.

Seven Likes

The combination of bad publicity and seemingly arbitrary changes sometimes makes disliking Unity all too easy.

But the trouble with joining the hostile chorus is that it can make you overlook the fact that, along with some genuine annoyances, Unity is full of improvements. Often, these improvements could be refined, but other desktop environments might find some aspects of them worth borrowing.

1) (Almost) 2D Equivalency

The standard version of Unity requires 3D hardware acceleration. For those who lack the necessary drivers or prefer not to use proprietary drivers, a 2D version of Unity is also available.

Unity 2D is not a completely faithful recreation of Unity 3D. For instance, the scrollbars on its windows are even more minimal than in the 3D version, and much harder to use. Similarly, instead of collapsible icons, it hides icons behind the bottom one on the Launcher, from where you can slide them out as needed.

Still, when you consider the half-hearted effort of GNOME's fallback mode, which offers a crippled version of GNOME 2 as a substitute for hardware-accelerated GNOME 3, Unity 2D looks more than adequate. At least Unity's designers are trying to think of the varying needs of different users.

2) Lenses and Scopes

Lenses and Scopes are features of Unity's Dash menu. Lenses are general categories that narrow the possible range of search results, and Scopes are additional filters.

For example, if you select the Music Lens, you can refine it further by selecting a musical era or genre.

Lenses and Scopes are unnecessary pieces of jargon, but their versatility is quickly making them the equivalent in Unity of Firefox extensions or KDE's widgets. They're a welcome source of customization in an interface that is too often inflexible.

3) Minimalist Window Indicators

Desktops like KDE, Xfce, and GNOME 2 have lists of windows in their panels. These lists are useful when only a few windows are open, but, with a large number of windows, items in the lists become unreadable as they are displayed at smaller size or grouped together.

Unity's Launcher overcomes this problem with elegant simplicity. All open items are temporarily added to the Launcher, and marked with a small triangle on their left. The active window is indicated by small triangles on both the left and right of their icon in the Launcher. To switch between open windows, all you need to do is click on a marked icon in the Launcher.

The arrangement isn't perfect. The triangles could be larger, and sometimes a change in the active window isn't updated for a few seconds in the Launcher. Nor does there seem any order to where open windows display on the Launcher. Still, the basic idea is sensible enough.

4) The Quick List of Places

The old GNOME 2 menu had a top-level list of Places -- directories that you might frequently want. Unity has its own list, but as part of the right-click menu for the Home Folder on the Launcher, where it takes up much less space. Like the Places menu, the quick list is flawed by not being customizable. But it is tucked away in an obvious and accessible place for those who want it.

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Tags: open source, Linux, Ubuntu, Unity

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