Ubuntu 11.04 and Unity

April 19, 2011 by . 3 comments

On April 28th, Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal) will be released. 11.04 is slated to be the first Ubuntu release that will use Unity, in place of GNOME, as the default desktop shell.

What is Unity?

Unity is a shell interface for the GNOME desktop environment developed for Ubuntu. Ubuntu 11.04 will still be based on GNOME 3 – the underlying infrastructure, applications, etc will not change; Unity just defines what your desktop looks like (similar to Windows Explorer). Unity was originally designed for netbooks, but over the last few months has shown that it is suitable for desktops as well. Unity puts major emphasis on screen space; every pixel is utilized.

Unity is much more then just a few menu/window tweaks though. Unity is part of a larger project called Ayatana, which adds things like:

Unity in depth

One of the first things you’ll notice is when you click the Ubuntu icon your presented with a list of shortcuts and a search box. This is called the dash; it takes the place of the Applications, Places, and System menus in previous versions of Ubuntu.

Ubuntu Shortcuts

The menubar has been moved to the top panel (like it is in OS X). However, unlike OS X, the menu only appears when you hover over the application title.

The new menu in Ubuntu

The menu when the application is not maximized.

The menu when an application is maximized.

The menu when an application is maximized (Note the window buttons are in the panel as well).

The launcher is another new addition to Unity which servers a purpose similar to the Dock (OS X) or Taskbar (Windows). It allows you to quickly lunch your most used applications. You can make an app stay in the launcher by right clicking it’s icon and checking “Keep in launcher”. Another feature I love about the launcher is the “Jump List” like menus. If you right click certain launcher items (like the Applications launcher) you will be presented with a menu of handy shortcuts.

Right Clicking Application Menu

Right Clicking the Applications Menu presents

Other Notable Changes

OpenOffice has been replaced by LibreOffice 3.3.2 (hopefully this will mean more active development). Also Firefox has been upgraded to version 4, which ushers in plenty of changes and much better performace. This release also includes the 2.6.38-7.39 kernel.

Another feature that has gotten a lot of buzz is the test drive feature. It allows you to try an app before you actually install it. Unfortunately, due to technical reasons this feature is limited to the Top 30 apps in the Software Center. Test Driving is also not included out of the box, but it can be installed simply by opening a terminal and typing: sudo apt-get install qtnx.

Final Thoughts

The Ubuntu 11.04 release is set to be one of the most important ever. Ubuntu obviously wants to make their distro the easiest to use, but they have traded some of the customization that comes with GNOME to accomplish it. Switching to the Unity shell is a drastic change, but one that I believe is for the better. I’ve been using Unity for a few weeks now and it feels very intuitive.

Do you like the new Unity shell? Let us know in the comments.

Filed under Computing Ubuntu


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  • warren says:

    I just saw a demo of Unity this past weekend and think it looks pretty svelte. Not sure I want to be running it, but it does look nice.

  • I had the opportunity to give Unity a spin by installing the 11.04 Alpha3 in a virtual machine.

    My thoughts on it: what a change! I like the launcher, but I’m not sure if I like my applications’ menus in the panel itself. That will take some getting used to.

    As for the nice lenses you can get for the launcher – I see that being a good thing.

  • kevin says:

    I installed 11.04 along side win7. I like it but some programs I use allot are not available or don’t work as well. Skype for one. the o/s Seems to be very quick and I like some of the visuals. (the way the screen snaps)After I installed I had to find how to get drivers as even the dialogue is different than windows, not saying its a bad thing just different. overall I think its just fine. Communication is not as good and hard pc gamers will not like it, but for personal web use its fine, and I believe those other features will catch up. I don’t need a virus protection either a major plus.

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