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.

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