Ubuntu 11.04, Unity Released to Mixed Reactions

Ubuntu 11.04 was released on April 28 with a brand new interface and a couple default application changes. But all the talk is about Unity, that brand new interface. As one might predict, reactions are all over the spectrum.

The Unity interface has taken design cues from popular mobile systems with the focus being on saving screen space and making everything readily accessible from within that limited space. It appears designers were shooting for easy and beautiful, but some users are finding adjustment during these early days a bit challenging.

Unity consists of several significant changes to the traditional desktop layout. Unity consists of three main parts: Dash, Launcher, and Top Panel. Dash has replaced the traditional menu system with a window of icons that launch applications or places. The Launcher is the dock-looking element on the left side of the screen where running apps are represented. The Top Panel is the home of some applet indicators but its main function is work as the focused application's menu or main toolbar.

These Mac-like elements are causing some controversy. Some really like the new desktop while others find it very awkward and yet others are neither impressed or put off. There have been dozens of postings about Ubuntu's new Unity and they've been all over the map.

For example:

Ivor O'Connor said, "Ubuntu seems to be run by kiddies more interested in blinding you with eye-candy than allowing you to be productive."

Ethan C. Nobles said, "Unity is, in essence, a strip of icons that sits mockingly on the left side of the screen and makes running and switching between applications very clumsy. It’s buggy, too."

"I find Unity to be suffocating and unnecessary. For me it adds little value and seems to be in the way most of the time; so I would definitely not use Ubuntu 11.04 as one of my regular distros. I tried to like it but I just couldn’t," said Jim Lynch.

Of course the reviews aren't all bad:

"I have to say that a few months of using Unity leaves me loving it. There’s no desktop out there – not Windows, KDE or even OS X – that feels this well integrated and consistent." That is from Justin Pot.

A blogger on identified as Zenobia said, "Unity was a like a breeze of fresh air. I was quite excited with the changes. I love the dash in Unity."

"I like the changes a lot, because the desktop environment gets out of the way when I am using an application, but the launcher and application chooser is there if and when I want them," said Zeth.

Then you have those in middle of the road:

"After a bit of work, I’m enjoying my new Ubuntu with Unity. I don’t think it’s better than the previous Ubuntu, but it looks nice; it’s visually appealing and fast. But in my opinion, not as easy to use for those familiar with Ubuntu/Linux." This was posted on utherpendragonfly.wordpress.com.

"This is not a disaster like the KDE 4 release was. Ubuntu 11.04 is really the culmination of what Canonical have been doing for the past 6 (or so) years: it’s generally slick, it makes bold and well thought out choices, and it doesn’t get in your way," was found on flavor8.com.

Rob Williams said, "Unity impressed me a lot more than I expected it to. After some use, that all becomes easier to get used to, but I don't think it'll ever feel like it's the "best" way to do things. The simple fact is that it'll require more steps than what we're used to."


One thing to note about most of the reviews is that few were entirely negative or positive. Most mention some good things and bad things. Again, like the thesis of this article, feelings were mixed. Another noticeable trend is that there were more negative than positive posts, but that's probably to be expected given human nature.

More evidence of this can be found in a recent poll at tuxmachines.org. Never has a poll been so closely voted:

How's Ubuntu 11.04? Percentage Great! 14%Good 13%Okay 13% Not So Good 15%Awful! 11%Who Cares? 35%Total Votes679

Work-flow isn't the only consideration. There have been significant bugs reported as well. The most prominent was the installer partition selection bug. This prevented those with partitioned drives to choose which partition to install upon.

This release may have been a real departure for Ubuntu and its developers, but users are not all universally pleased. Some are and some aren't. So, if you were waiting for the reviews to help you decide, you're out of luck. This is one you'll have to test and decide for yourself.


Susan Linton is a Linux writer and the owner of tuxmachines.org.


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Just say it!

Jebblue's picture

Dude, I fell asleep reading your post and forgot what you said...lolwut? Just Say it, Say IT!! Unity sux!! ahaha yea sanity sweet sanity


Jake4Pizza's picture

Unity Sux

luckily I decided to switch

stber321's picture

luckily I decided to switch distro's after they announced unity would be default, I believe they made this decision to attract new users,but I love GNOME(2.32), and I love GTK+ as a library(although I have not done much GUI related coding)

Ubuntu 11.04

red_flair's picture

Why?? What a let down. I am goining to another distro, they destroyed a good workable system. Why is it that people thing they can fix a system that isn't broken?
Improve yes, but this is stepping backward. If some one who has no experience with Linux tries this Ubuntu 11.04 they will go back to windows and never give Linux another thought.

Unity or Not

Jakester's picture

Well, I tried Ubuntu 11.04 and am back to Ubuntu 10.04. Reason for that -- I didn't like the so called improvements to 10.10 and I don't see any improvements to Unity version of 11.04 that appeals to me enough to make the change. Unity is a wee bit jerky in its speed of screenplay when you are switching programs -- but, other than that I just saw the GNOME desktop getting a face lift with the side bar...which to me is an annoyance and distraction when I'm working and you have this thing coming and going...under normal circumstances. On top of that -- or should I say under of the where with all...for the time being there's no Alternate Disk which has the very necessary hard drive encryption built in to its formatting and setup at the very beginning of the install. For now I'll will stay with the Ubuntu 10.04 Alt Disk on the desktop and I am for sure using the Ubuntu 11.04 Server. Ubuntu 11.04 Server is an improvement at this point for some things...so it's a keeper.

selective friends

obx_ruckle's picture

I've tried and used several Linux distros over the years and finally decided to give Ubuntu a try this past weekend. Unity does look nice and there are a couple of things that appear to be improvements but I agree with Lici that trying to get any serious amounts of work done is a pain. Searching the application manager to figure out how to do anything is more of a hindrance than a help. It appears Canonical is indeed integrating the newest razzle-dazzle and shiny eye candy instead of sticking with tried and true methods.

Every time I use it I learn something new, which was how I learned Linux. However, after using Linux for several years I should not have to do that. Shawn Powers offers a couple of tips on how to adjust at
and the link to keyboard shortcuts for Unity offered earlier helps

An article about the various shortcuts and tips for using Unity is in fact a great idea. Better still would be something from Canonical on the install disk or menu to shorten the learning curve. Yes, we can Google to find tips and hacks, but why must we do that?

There are several other distros out there and, like markh, I may keep at least active 2 distros installed to avoid being blindsided. It appears, on the surface, that Canonical has followed the road of Windoz and Oracle to develop and give us what we did not know we wanted.

What a shame to produce a user-friendly distro that is so selective on who its friends are that use it.


Jebblue's picture

Thanks smart looking dude in the fine suit! Articulate 101 !!


phatbottom6's picture

ive been using ubuntu for several years now,and i loved it until i upgraded to netbook remix with unity. i can use it but i have to agree its a time waster.so for all the people out there saying give it a chance, i have and it just purely sucks. if ubuntu goes all unity i'm going to mint linux or something else. maybe kde. have they fixed kde 4 yet. last time i tried it it crashed my netbook. and how do you get your wifi working in kde? ahh nevermind ill figure it out!

Totally agree with you. Unity

Daniel Jonsson's picture

Totally agree with you. Unity works, but not as good as the previous interface. Therefore I use Linux Mint, that will even in the upcoming version keep using Gnome 2.32 as default.
However, I read that Canonical will put in Gnome 3 in Ubuntu 11.10 (don't know as default or not), so it can get interesting.

this is flat out insanity

markh's picture

.....oh my beloved ubuntu where did you go???

I know they had to do something with gnome shell getting rammed down our throat but good grief......xfce 4.8 is now good enough to be a gnome2 replacement...ubuntu should have merged xubuntu & ubuntu together.

I am now rocking the new linux mint debian xfce.....and it is awesome.

I also have opensuse 11.4 LXDE on my computer at work (yes I said LXDE because I need all the grunt my computer can give when I am doing 3d animation and video editing).....I actually use my computer for working and could care less about having a 28" iphone.

from now on I am going to try and keep at least 2 distros in my life so I cant get blindsided like this again....my mint DE debian based for deb and suse for rpm based that way I am diversified and have good options in case one of the 2 goes down the drain like cononical is doing


Daniel Jonsson's picture

11.04 really feels like a downgrade. The menus (dash?) are retarded with all clicks and mouse movements that are required to start an application. It isn't possible to customize the desktop a whole lot any longer, like adding applets to the top panel or at least moving the stuff already there around. It works bad if you use dual monitor. There are also bugs when using two monitors.
I changed to Linux Mints, since it works as I want.

Yeah, but you're all geeks

Col. Panek's picture

How about some reactions from some grandmothers? And will it show up on the PCs at Best Buy?

My Thoughts

Lici's picture

I've been using Unity as since it was in Beta on my main computer for at least the last month and I really don't like it. When trying to get serious amounts of work done, having to fight with Unity and search the application manager every time I need to do something is a pain and slows me down a ton. It may look nice and be user friendly for those new to Linux and not very familiar with computers but for those like me, it's more of a hindrance than a help. I tried to switch back to Ubuntu classic but that also is buggy and I have more program crashes. I'm currently working on implementing Linux based computers into classrooms and, when I do the 11.04 install, I get the same series of errors making it impossible to update the computers and often times, I can't even install packages. At this point, it's not only Unity that I have a problem with but the entire 11.04 release. They would have been better off delaying the release to work out more bugs that to release what they did when they did.

I think Ubuntu has finally

Anonymous's picture

I think Ubuntu has finally gone down the road to further crappiness. It's fine for seeking to get new Linux desktop users. Any step toward which, in my mind, is a step away from those who are actually interested it as being more than just a pretty gui for everyday desktop user tasks. Granted, I don't use it, but that would be a reason not to for me. I hate that Canonical seems to be chasing after the new shiny instead of sticking with the tried and true. It gave the feel that it was largely a community project (and who cares if you don't like it), but they are acting like companies do (oh, gosh, no one likes it, ahh..) . They throw something at you and tell you to live with it or shove off. As far as I am concerned if it doesn't look like I expect/want it to, it doesn't matter if it's the latest, greatest thing. My computer is not an iSomething and I don't want it to look like it.

Also, they tend to remove repositories and not do any work on the old version, so they are actually worse than commercial companies. It's not even really possible to effectively use an older version of Ubuntu on a regular basis. Sure, you like the look, but it's not getting any new security updates or newer software (which might work fine on it) and if you wait two versions you'll have to fresh install or endure two update sessions worth and any related quirks.

No positives for Unity.

Notafanofunity's picture

I let my Maverick desktop system using Gnome upgrade to Natty.
Big mistake that. I spent more than a day playing with the new interface. My verdict is its just a time waster.

I got dizzy with the constant saccades.
Stuff disappeared and reappeared in the launcher un-predicably.

The global menu, or whatever its alias is, is just a moving target. I look at the menu, move my mouse toward where I think I will need to click. As I travel the mouse crosses other applications the menu bar changes for each application. Get to the menu and "Oh what the #, this is not the # menu for # the application I am using!"

Launcher icons on the left is as awkward as picking my nose with a big toe.

I have:
* Set login screen to always use classic.
* Set compiz config settings to default as suggested above.
* That did not get all my old setup back.
* Ditched the orange overlay when I resize a window.
* Uninstalled unity and dependencies in synaptic.
* Ticked submit statistical information in software sources. I hope these statistics will be published by Canonical.

the global menus are a

Anonymous's picture

the global menus are a disaster. Try using gimp with a couple image windows not maximized on a large screen. Use open office, and find above the office menu the menu of the application behind it. Unity is also slow and unresponsive compared to gnome2+gnome do. I have yet to find real innovation in it but it is obviously not production ready. Innovation is needed however and without these experiments we will not find it.

Ubuntu 11.04

Robert Paske's picture

I have tried to like and it just is not likeable. It is not intuitive. I have to figure out how to get somewhere when I should be there and already working. I find myself clicking and searching far more. I really do not think it is because I am not familiar with the new Unity, I should not need a 6 month long learning curve to figure out how to negotiate in an environment. So, I will fall back to 10.10. I may even try KDE since this seems to be more usable now. The Unity left menu is a nuisance. It pops out at the wrong times and covers the working area. In short, nice try but I will not be a fan. ROP

Anybody who complains now

Anonymous's picture

Anybody who complains now about Unity, will not be any more happy with Gnome3 (if they stick with Ubuntu) in 6 months. Just face it, you dislike change. So if you really are that much against, try to get some people to fork Gnome2 or switch to XFCE, stop complainig about things getting better!

The big secret

Bjarke's picture

It seems that not a lot of people are aware of this.
But right-click the programmes icon in the Launcher ( black icon with a + ) and you get
a menu that will help you narrow down your list of programmes to a specific catogory.

Good to know. I have right

jaqian's picture

Good to know. I have right clicked on the other items and figured out how to add and remove apps. Don't see what the big deal is, its just vertical a docky type app. Found the Mac type menubar a bit strange to begin with but got used it.

Only bug so far was using K3B last night and the launcher wouldn't go away but maybe thats because its a KDE app, hopefully that will get fixed up.

I think it would be nice if we could chance where the launcher sits but other than that I'm happy.

Mixed reactions to Unity?

Anonymous's picture

The whole concept is misguided. It looks nice but is very minimalistic, lacks versatility, chokes the user speedwise, and offers no real improvement.

Screen size shows me no visibility difference than when using 10.10 classic with compiz desktop switcher on the top program bar and Docky at the bottom with 22 of my most used programs. Intellihide always allows it to disappear and not interfere with any desktop programs running at the moment.

The Unity left side launcher is not much of any improvment IMHO whatsoever over 'Docky' at the bottom.

Mouse movements are also by far superior to using two handed keyboard shortcuts that are ridiculously slow in 'Unity'.

For Ubuntu's first attempt at doing something different for the sake of 'change' I would give them an 'F'.


Anonymous's picture

I switched from Ubuntu to Xubuntu as from 10.10 and couldn't been happier.My system stopped swapping and became responsive again (I have 4gb ram), so I have no negative experience from Ubuntu Unity's interface.

UNR, not desktop

Bob Harvey's picture

I installed Ubuntu Netbook Remix on my 10" dell last year, and have been reasonably happy with it. But automaximise drives me mad on there, where it has some benefits. I really don't like it on my desktop.


N4EV's picture

I had 10.10 working and really liked the interface. 11.04 is hard to get used to.
It also killed my internal wifi and had to plug in a usb device to connect.
Unity needs a complete overhaul to make it a serious contender.


Lawrence Frank's picture

@N4EV - I see you ran into the same problem I encountered - no WiFi. I agree with your interpretation.

Not Ready For Prime Time

Bill Smithem's picture

Aside from the fact that I don't particularly care for Unity, the 11.04 upgrade killed the wireless on my laptop, which was working perfectly on 10.04 from when it was first installed. Yeah, I know I could figure out what it broke, but I have work to do, so the quick and easy fix was to reinstall 10.04 and stop wasting time trying to deal with Unity.

Don't like the new desktop...

Anonymous's picture

Don't like the new desktop... very clunky. I switched back to "Ubuntu classic". Application launcher is very annoying... Don't fix what ain't broke, 10.10 had/has a very useful efficient interface.

Give it a chance

Danny8's picture

Everyone ought to use it for a while before rushing to judgement. How long? For me, I'll give it a month or so, do some tweaking, and see if I want to keep using it. It needs to mature a bit.

There are several other distros I'd like to try, but only if I'm curious or especially unhappy with what I currently use (Arch, Ubuntu).

I'm more impressed with Unity as I continue to use it. If you Google, it's easy enough to find tips and hacks for it. I like the idea of customizing launcher icons. I don't like the searching function.

I wouldn't normally say anything, but the first poster is mistaken when he says you only have to "touch the top panel". You also have to release the mouse; if you don't release, no maximization. You also get visual feedback so you'll know not to release if you don't wish to maximize.

Normally, I'd be giving the

makalove's picture

Normally, I'd be giving the same advice (give it a month or so to get used to).

I bought a laptop in January - a Lenovo G560, 2.53GHz Intel processor, 4GB DDR3, 500GB hard drive. I have been using 10.10 until five days ago, after Update Manager nudged me to upgrade to 11.04. Prior to the upgrade, my laptop had been running essentially constantly since I bought it and I hadn't had a single freeze that required a hard reboot. Since upgrading, I have had an average of three complete lockups per day. No mouse response, no keyboard response. Sometimes it happens when the computer is idle, sometimes it happens while I'm in the middle of a task.

So, yeah, it's looking like a wash for me right now. When I get my old laptop reassembled (a friend spilled sweet tea in it, don't ask), if it will still work I'll probably throw 11.04 on it to play around with, but as a full-time student I need to know my computer is going to do what I need it to, which is not freeze up 10 seconds before my next save (which means right after I spent 5 minutes writing a kick-a** paragraph I'll never get quite the same again).

Auto-maximize is show stopper for me

SJ's picture

I gave Unity a full day, a long frustrating day. Then I tried the classic mode but one thing they don't tell you is the auto-maximize "feature" can't be turned off. That killed it for me.

For those that don't know, if you happen to touch the top panel while moving windows around, the window stops moving and instead maximizes. All by itself whether you like it or not. That SUCKS! I have a 22inch monitor and hardly, if ever, run anything maximized. And of course there is no way that I could find to turn this behavior off.

Maybe some day Unity will be good but in the mean time, I have to remain productive. At least let me have my old desktop back, without that auto-maximize, and keep it an option going forward. Isn't that what all this freedom we cherish in linux is really about?

I installed Mint 10 and am once again a happy camper.

Yes, you can disable aero snap in Unity

glowndark's picture

Install CCSM (go to ubuntu software center, look for compizconfig-settings-manager, install it), then type CCSM in Search box,click2x CCSM, you will go to compiz setting manager, look for Grid plugin > Edges Tab> expand Thresholds section, set all thresholds to "0" to disable mouse windows snap. There's also Unity plugin here for you to set Dock icons size, opacity, etc.

Keep in mind, canonical did this in less than 6 months (dumping mutter for compiz). This is more or less a beta, more options will come the next release. If you want to use unity, you have to get your hand dirty a bit at the moment. If you don't care, you still can use the Gnome classic mode, it's in there.

same here

GG's picture

same experience here, just sad that ubuntu is messing up its reputation with such a crap called unity.. me too switched to Mint 10 and was happy to learn that they've decided to ship Mint 11 with Gnome 2.32 instead of Gnome 3..,

I was never able to connect

Anonymous's picture

I was never able to connect ubuntu to internet. My wireless never showed anything. I was able to do nothing with the google searches which made me disappointed of not being able to use Ubuntu. Eventhough i am a new user, i am sad that i am unable to use it.. :(

What's missing in Launcher

António Manuel Dias's picture

Using dash to find the application you want to open takes you through a lot of clicks and mouse movements, unless the application is on the most used list. This could be solved if there was an easy way to configure the Launcher, adding a "Global Menu" button to it. It would also be great if we could change its default background color, icon size and auto-hide behaviour.

As for the Unity experience, it seems a bit slower than the "classical" view and I've also found some bugs, but I am trying to get used to it anyway and plan to give it a try for some more weeks. I will then reconsider my position on its adoption, based on the overall experience.

Icon size and auto-hide

Bjarke's picture

Icon size and auto-hide behaviour is changed in Compiz manager.
Why would you want a button for the Global Menu !

Sorry, I meant the old

António Manuel Dias's picture

Sorry, I meant the old "Applications" menu not the global menu, of course -- a way to start the wanted application without all that searching, moving and clicking that we have to do now.

All Right...

Anonymous's picture

I generally think that the change is all right, though changing between multiple instances of the same app can be tiring... should have a Windows7-like popup to select windows from instead of having to click it...

Anyway, this is no reason NOT to upgrade to 11.04. The classic Ubuntu interface is a log in option at startup.

It's not only switching between apps

Anonymous's picture

It's also launch multiple instances of. I wasn't able to launch to terminals from the dock bar, something which seems trivial to a user at first.

Ubuntu Classic is still available...

Anonymous's picture

If you don't like the Unity interface you can still select Ubuntu Classic when you logon instead. For now I prefer Ubuntu Classic but I can see myself converting once Unity evolves and becomes more stable ( I still have some graphics issues ). However, I think Unity is perfect for mamy people right now who find existing Windows/Mac/Linus interfaces too "busy" as well as folks already people familiar with smart phone and tablet interfaces.

Xubuntu FTW

likemindead's picture

I still think Xubuntu is incredible & terribly under-rated.

Overall, I like it

Keith Peters's picture

As you say, there are 3 main parts:

Launcher - I like it. I went into ccsm, stopped it from hiding all the time and reduced the icons to the minimal size. Sits off to the side nicely on a widescreen monitor.

Top Panel - I like that there is no bottom panel. More space for apps. There are less available indicators than in 10.10, and they don't seem as configurable, but I guess time will heal that. Mixed on the global menus. Doesn't feel done. Some apps use them, some don't. I don't like the fact that they aren't visible till you mouse over them. But I like that it again gives more room to the current app.

Dash - Do not like. Old menu system was much better. Much harder to find things now. You don't see all your apps nicely organized. Only some of them. Yeah, you can drill down, but you have to move your mouse all over the screen to do so. Also, icons are huge and spread out across the screen. Takes a lot of eye scanning to see everything there. A small, organized, hierarchical menu with everything in it in one spot was much better. I generally use the type to search to narrow down, which is like using gnome-do or launchy, but noticeably slower. That's fine when you know what you want to launch.

Overall, positive. Fix the dash and work on the menus a bit and I'd be a happy camper.

What I'd like to see..

Allyn Stott's picture

Instead of an opinion article, I'd like to see an article about the various shortcuts and tips for using Unity. I seem to stumble across a new one each day and having a cumulative list would be great! For example, I just discovered that a middle click on one of the icons in the Launcher opens a new instance of that program. And Alt+Up shows me in a nice way all of my opened windows.

Keyboard Shortcuts

AP's picture

Here is a link to keyboard shortcuts for Unity (There is also a wallpaper in there with the different shortcuts):