My First Impression of Gnome 3 and Unity for Linux
There’s been a lot of hype and angst and discussion in the world of Linux lately. Actually, for several months; since Mark Shuttleworth announced that when Ubuntu 11.04 is released at the end of April it would use Unity as the default desktop manager, instead of Gnome 3. And we’ve also been gearing up for the release this week of Gnome 3, and Gnome Shell, which is the new GUI for Gnome.
It seems a lot of people aren’t too crazy about Unity, and would like to stick with the familiar Gnome 2.3 that we’ve been using for several years. They feel that Unity, which was originally the netbook interface for Ubuntu, is not yet ready for use as a desktop computer interface. And Gnome 3 has also got some Linux users wanting to stick with the old Gnome (or switch to KDE), saying it’s too limited in user configurability and too similar to Unity.
For me, I’m very happy that the new version of Linux Mint, to be released into the wild in May, is going to use Gnome 3 but stick with the familiar Gnome desktop layout. Here’s a quote from a recent post on Linux Today: “Linux Mint Founder and lead developer Clement Lefebvre has announced that the next major release of his Ubuntu-based Linux distribution will feature the GNOME 3.0 desktop environment, which is expected to be finalised on the 6th of April. According to Lefebvre, unlike Canonical’s Ubuntu, Linux Mint 11, code named “Katya”, will not use Unity, instead opting for GNOME 3 “using a traditional desktop layout” without the GNOME Shell.”
This has had me confused for a while, but it seems ‘Gnome Shell’ is the interface, ‘Gnome 3’ will be the actual desktop environment and will have updated features (I guess; I still don’t really understand the difference between ‘Gnome 3’ and ‘Gnome Shell’. Can anyone help me out here?) As long as I have the familiar Gnome panel(s) and menu structure, as well as the very useful ‘MintMenu’ and other Minty goodness, I’ll be happy. And on my other computer (laptop) I’m very much enjoying Bodhi Linux with its Enlightenment desktop.
But… because I’m ridiculously intrigued by new ways of doing things, I’ve downloaded a Gnome 3 Live CD and the beta of Ubuntu 11.04 with Unity to see what all the fuss is about. And here are my average computer user impressions from running the Live CDs, without installing them on my hard drive:
Gnome 3 with Gnome Shell: So I downloaded the Fedora version of Gnome 3 here and burned it to a CD and booted my 6-year-old Compaq from it. It worked well. The desktop looks nice. It’s colorful and polished-looking, (dare I say more Mac-like?) with a dock-like thingy on the left side (much like Unity) and smooth notifications and animation effects without Compiz enabled.
There are tons of keyboard shortcuts which would make mouseless navigation easier, but I didn’t take the time to learn them, except using the ‘super’ key for invoking the ‘activities’ view. One thing I liked was when you press the ‘super'(Windows) key and start typing, the search function immediately brings up results. It works very fast! And by typing the first few letters of an application, document, web page or whatever and hitting enter, it opens. Like Gnome-Do or Synapse on steroids.
The application icons are big and I was able to access a control center dialog box, but there weren’t a lot of settings there to control. After twenty or thirty minutes messing around I discovered that this desktop is much less configurable than Gnome 2. You can’t configure the new Gnome panel by right-clicking any more, and I couldn’t figure out how to add or change anything in the panel. My major impression (in that short time) was that Gnome shell looks nice but seems a bit ‘dumbed down’ compared to the Gnome I’m used to. And after twenty minutes, if I can’t figure out how to access advanced preferences or settings that I’m used to, I’d say the heck with it!
Unity in Ubuntu 11.04 beta was a strangely similar experience. It looks pretty, but I found it impossible in a reasonable period of time to find access to any advanced settings or preferences. It seemed even less user-friendly to me than Gnome Shell. I couldn’t find any way to check my monitor resolution, for instance, or even to change window themes. It’ simple but certainly not easy to get information on your system. I couldn’t find any kind of ‘Administration’ or ‘Preferences’ menu, control panel, or whatever. When compared to the Mandriva/PCLinux OS Control Center, or MintMenu or the previous Ubuntu system menus, this seemed to me to be quite difficult to use. I was left with that feeling of appearance over substance. It seems that both these desktop managers are about using applications, but not a lot else.
That’s my first impression. And it doesn’t leave me with much desire to look further. The Linux Mint desktop I’m using right now is beautiful and easy to configure. And my Bodhi Linux computer is almost too configurable, while being light-weight and looking gorgeous. But for me that’s what Linux is about; user control and having many choices as to how things are done.
It will be interesting to see how Unity and Gnome Shell evolve in the coming months. I’m thinking I might try Gnome Shell again, but not right now. And with any Linux distro there is still the choice with Ubuntu (or Mint) to use a different desktop manager than the default. Choice is good.
Addendum: This is the next day, and I’ve discovered Ubuntu 11.04 Beta 2 has been released. I downloaded it and just tried it again on my upstairs computer (HP Compaq). And I have to say I think I was a bit hasty on my test run of Unity. Or maybe I was just tired or a little spaced-out. Or they made some nice changes since the Beta 1 I used yesterday. I complained earlier about not finding the Control Center (System Settings), but today I noticed there was a Dock icon for it. Or by hitting the super key and typing ‘Control’ it popped right up in the results. I’m pretty sure I searched for that yesterday and came up with no results(?)!
So I played around some more with the Unity interface and found it nicer to use than I previously stated. I’m still miffed that I can’t right-click on the Gnome panel to change anything. And I have no idea how you access the Dock preferences. No right-click there. How do you change the size of those big icons, for instance? I must Google a bit to find out.