2 Months with Ubuntu Netbook Unity – My Thoughts

Ubuntu UnityRemember our first looks at Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick Meerkat? One of the primary new features was available only in the netbook remix, and this was the new Unity interface.

When it was first released, I was very excited to try the new interface out. Over the past two months or so, my netbook running Ubuntu has become my primary mobile computer which I use when I’m not at home. So after two months of using the Unity interface, here are my thoughts about the new experience.

The Unity Launcher

Let’s start with the first thing everyone will notice about the new interface.

The Unity Launcher is the vertical panel that sits on the side of the screen. It provides easy access to your favorite applications. Its very similar to the dock in Mac OS X and the taskbar of Windows 7 in the way that it also functions as the taskbar. You can pin your favorite applications to the launcher.

Unfortunately, despite how little screen estate a netbook has, the launcher cannot be hidden. It always stays there unless you make an application run full screen.

The Workspaces, files and folders, applications, and trash icons appear to be locked onto the launcher and cannot be removed.

I’m a big fan of eye candy so a feature I absolutely love is the Mac-Exposé like effect. Double clicking on an icon in the launcher will show all open windows for that particular application with a nice sliding and fading effect.

Firefox Expose

The Exposé effect with 6 Firefox windows

I found that launching an application from the launcher often is a bit slow. Right clicking on each icon to show the menu (which usually only has an option to “Keep in Launcher”) also lags a bit. I’m not sure if this is due to the standard poor performance of netbooks but this interface was supposed to be designed with netbooks in mind.

Moving icons around was a bit difficult too. Instead of just dragging the icon, I had to drag it to the right off the panel and then to where I wanted it to be. Simply dragging up moves the entire set of icons.

The Unity Dash

The Unity Dash is the sleek new file manager and application browser. It opens upon clicking the Ubuntu icon at the top left corner, the files and folders icon, or the applications icon.

Upon trying to open this interface, there’s almost always a few seconds of lag while it loads. Finally it loads the interface of it with the appropriate app/file icons fading and sliding in.

Unity Dash

Unity Dash, on the All Applications listing.

All applications are indexed allowing instant search-as-you-type, which works quite well.

Something I found rather annoying about the Dash interface is that you can’t right click on files. In order to rename certain files, I had to click on the tiny folder icon on the top right corner to open the standard file manager. I didn’t actually find out about this until now when I just noticed that icon there.

In addition, it would be nice to be able to pin something to the launcher without actually having the launch the application. Again, this is also caused by the inability to right click.

Clicking the Ubuntu icon on the top left corner opens an interface with 8 category selections. Most of these open up the appropriate sections on the Application listings, however the Web button opens up the default browser. I’m not sure if this is normal behavior but it certainly was unexpected.

Ubuntu Dash Home

Ubuntu Dash

Overall, while I found the Unity interface to be pretty, finding the files I want and opening the apps I want seems to be harder with Unity compared to the original netbook interface as well as the desktop version. In addition, there are very noticable performance issues. It can definitely take a while to get used to. Hopefully, these will be improving in Ubuntu 11.04 coming in 4 months.

Fortunately, for those who dislike Unity, you can easily choose to login to an Ubuntu Desktop session or the classic Ubuntu Netbook edition from the menu at the bottom of the login screen after choosing your username.

So what are your thoughts about the Unity interface? Love it? Hate it? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

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By
Brian is the co-founder of TechAirlines. He is a developer currently focusing on mobile and web development. He is currently a sophomore at Stony Brook University, majoring in Computer Science.

  • Jibbly

    I personally did not like the Unity Desktop, i found it slow and annoying, it was always in the way, and if you wanted to import your bookmarks via Firefox it wouldn’t let you, anyways. if you using 11.04 and like the 10.10 look try this out:

    If you are already in the Unity desktop environment, log out. At the log-in screen, when you click the user ID, a menu will appear at the bottom of the screen. Click the spin-button to the your right of the ‘Ubuntu'; this will pop up a menu of environments. Select ‘Ubuntu Classic’ from it. Key in your password and click ‘Log on’. The desktop you see will be the familiar Ubuntu 10.10 environment.

    Source: http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1767414

    Awesome Website :D

    • http://www.techairlines.com Brian Yang

      Thanks for the info on using Classic mode in 11.04!

      Unity certainly improved a lot since 10.10 Netbook Edition but I personally don’t like it much either and still find it a lot easier to use the classic desktop mode.