My Impressions of Ubuntu 11.04
This was a big week for Ubuntu Linux with the release of new version 11.04, ‘Natty Narwhal’ of the popular GNU/Linux operating system. There’s been loads of discussion over the last few months leading up to this, primarily over the decision to use the new Unity desktop interface instead of Gnome Shell. Some people like it; some hate it. Well, I just had to see for myself what all the fuss was about. I tried out Ubuntu 11.04 Beta about a week ago and found it a little too simplistic and not easily configurable. The final release just came out a few days ago, so I decided to install it on my experimental HP Compaq computer. I believe the only way to really see how an operating system works is to install it and use it for a while. Here are my impressions of ‘Natty Narwhal’ after two days.
My new Natty desktop
The installation was a breeze. You can’t get much more user-friendly than the Ubuntu Ubiquity Installer. I especially like that you are given a choice to automatically install proprietary codecs for Flash and MP3 playback during the install (unlike when I first used Ubuntu 8.04). If you want media playback to work it will save time and effort to check this option. You can also check to have software updates download as you install. Cool! Of course my external USB wi-fi was recognized and connected very easily.
After installation was complete I removed the CD and rebooted quickly to my new Natty desktop. For the next couple of hours I played around with the new Unity Dock-like Launcher; copied my files and application preferences to my new Home folder from the external hard drive back-up; and then started to install some of my favorite applications that don’t come standard on Ubuntu. One thing that still bugs me is that the new top Gnome panel in Unity is less user-friendly than the old panel. It’s a pain-in-the-ass, in fact! You can’t configure it by right-clicking anymore. Instead of the familiar applets of the old panel it uses app-indicators that in my opinion are not as functional as applets. The first thing I wanted to do was install Dropbox and Radiotray, two applications that I use a lot and find indispensable. Dropbox comes pre-installed with many Linux distros these days, but not with Natty Narwhal. After tracking down and installing Natty versions of these two apps, they wouldn’t launch, or at least did not appear in the panel. I was getting a bit frustrated! I was finally able to track down information on a fix that got them working from some invaluable websites I know of. I’ll be posting those links at the end.
In order to get the things I wanted working I added a few PPAs and installed through the terminal. Ubuntu 11.04 also has a nice Software Center that makes adding new programs very easy, as well as Synaptic Package Manager, which I use more frequently. So after some frustration and Googling on the internet I finally got a system that worked pretty much the way I want it to. But for someone new to Ubuntu/Linux or people (Windows users?) who generally just go with what they’re given by default, I think there’s a lot missing for the average computer user that Ubuntu is supposedly aiming toward. For example: the weather app-indicator for the Unity panel that I found is much less configurable and useful (no radar in motion!) than the old weather applet I’m used to. And on my system the weather doesn’t refresh as it’s supposed to. When I check the forecast, it freezes up and I have to force-quit the indicator. If I didn’t know about the many blogs and websites that have information for fixing things I couldn’t, or adding useful system tweaks, my first experience with Natty Narwhal would have been much less pleasant. I just keep wondering; why did Ubuntu go from a panel that was very user-friendly to one that isn’t?
I’m sure there will be much development in the months to come of new and improved application indicators. And the more I search, the more useful information I’m discovering about using Unity. And I realize this is the first release; there will be tons of great improvements to come. But my initial impression about 11.04 is still that it’s really not that different than the regular Gnome desktop, only not as user-friendly. I mean, there are plenty of great launchers for Linux like Docky, Cairo Dock and AWN that are much more configurable than the Unity Launcher. One thing I like is the Dash (pictured in above screen shot) that can be invoked by using the Super key (Windows icon on most keyboards) or by clicking the Ubuntu logo in the top left corner. You then start typing and it will bring up relevant results; hit Enter and it will launch applications or open documents or web pages. But as I’ve mentioned before, it’s a lot like Gnome-Do or Synapse that we already have. And if you want to change your GUI theme, which I do from time to time, it looks like you need themes made specifically for Unity. I’ve already discover a few. There should be many more soon as development for Natty and Ubuntu 11.10 continues.
So to recap: 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. I am quite happy using Linux Mint on our main computer and would recommend that to new or experienced Linux users. I can’t wait to see the new version of Mint based on Ubuntu that will be out soon; without the Unity desktop.
Oh, and one more useful tidbit: install Compiz Config Settings Manager (does not come with default install). Go to the Unity Plug-in and you will be able to change the size of those enormous Launcher icons; as well as tweak other settings and enable those desktop effects we all love!
Here are just a few links that will help anyone interested in using Ubuntu 11.04. I look forward to seeing how it evolves!