Saturday, March 12, 2011

Ubuntu Natty Narwhal Alpha 3: State of Unity Review

A while back I gave a pretty harsh review of Ubuntu Natty Alpha 1, to the point where I basically ran back screaming to Maverick Meerkat. Well, as I promised in the comments, I've given it another shot with the latest alpha release. The short review is this: Unity has progressed nicely, but still needs some polishing work, and be prepared for quite a few desktop workflow changes.

Unity: Almost there

Unity desktop on Alpha 3

Unity has definitely come a long way since Alpha 1 tortured me to death, but it still isn't quite polished enough for me to use as a decent desktop. But still, there's a lot improvements worth talking about. First, all the desktop launchers I had on my ~/Desktop directory no longer clutter up Unity's sidebar, although it's not immediately apparent how I can go about adding a launcher to it if I want to. When you launch an application like Firefox, you'll notice something quite jarring at first but makes sense given Canonical's recent design changes: the application menus are no longer shown in the application window(with a few exceptions), but rather on the top of the screen, like how it is on Mac OS X. After messing around with applications a bit, I quickly got used to it and don't consider it a bad change.

One other little improvement is that the sidebar hides itself whenever an active application window goes fullscreen or is moved over to left side of the screen.

There's one significant change that solves one of the major problems I had with Unity, but has it's own problems. When you click the Ubuntu logo on the top left of the screen, a big fat slab window appears with a search bar and some other stuff. While some folks may like it, I prefer it show menus similar to what you get when you click the Ubuntu logo in Gnome. I don't want to go around type-hunting for an application. Actually, this is pretty much the major thing keeping me from considering Unity as an actual desktop.

Gnome: Where "Classic" doesn't mean suckage
The "Classic" desktop: Gnome
 Canonical's worked so much on making Unity so compatible with Gnome, that Gnome actually feels like Unity(just without the sidebar or search slab window). It's still the same old Gnome, which isn't bad at all. The only major change you'll notice is in the default applications. Rhythmbox is gone, having been replaced by Banshee. While Banshee is a Mono application(I view Mono as pretty much a "necessary evil" as I need it for OpenSim), Banshee does its' job pretty good, and earns a spot as a worthy application for me. Firefox has been updated to a 4.0 beta release, bringing a few UI changes and Sync feature allowing remote preference, bookmark and settings backup and restore. has been replaced with LibreOffice.

All in all, Alpha 3 has shown major improvements to the point where I have decided to keep it on my desktop machine. If you decide to install it, I have one protip for you: install it without choosing to download updates or proprietary packages during install. The installer bombed out when I tried that, and had to redo the installation. Hopefully that will be fixed in the next alpha. Nevertheless, good job, Canonical!

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