Unity, First Impressions

Unity is the new desktop replacement for Ubuntu Linux. It takes a radical approach to the desktop, mixing elements of Windows, Mac and Linux to form a new interface. I applaud Ubuntu for trying something new and innovating the desktop space. This is exactly what Open Source software is best at.

With great change, comes great confusion and impassioned protests from those of us set in our ways. I am a daily user of Ubuntu. It runs on my secondary PC at work and my HP Mini netbook that I do all of my writing on. I really liked the old interface with Gnome 2. I was comfortable with it and it let me customize my computer for the way I used it. But no matter how much I liked the old ways, I was still open to change if I thought that change was for the better.

In many ways the new Unity desktop feels like a completely different operating system. It tries to introduce several new features at the same time and I think that more than anything is what’s confusing to long time users of Ubuntu like myself. But what we all have to remember is that change is the mark of innovation. If Linux is not innovating, than it is falling behind other OS solutions.

I won’t go into detailed descriptions of all the changes that Unity offers, you can find great videos and blog posts elsewhere. What I will offer over the course of the next few days and weeks is my personal opinion of these new features, as I use the 11.4 release both at work and on the Mini. Especially from the vantage point of a fiction writer.

My first impressions of Unity on my writing netbook are very positive. It looks slick and modern and still feels like Ubuntu. The launcher dock on the left of the screen gets out of your way when you open a program, so that saves desktop space on my ten inch screen. Each program that is active now has its menu on the main menu bar at the top of the screen. This is why Ubuntu moved the close and open buttons to the left a few releases ago. The new approach is very similar to how Mac opens programs. So a Mac user would be right at home. But for Windows users and users of KDE and the old Gnome, this will be confusing and irritating.

Unity was originally intended to be a netbook OS. So using Unity on a netbook should be ideal and it really is. Unfortunately I don’t have a desktop computer that can handle Unity, so I can’t say how it would behave on a bigger screen. But on the tiny netbook, it definitely works, once you get used to the new metaphors.

Next time I’ll go into how I use Unity when I write.