Thoughts about the new Unity user interface in Ubuntu 11.04

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May 10th, 2011

Ubuntu has brought a major change to the Linux desktop with their 6 months update of the Linux OS and it’s called Unity. Ubuntu tries to innovate on two fields: maximising workspace for the user, remove clutter form the interface and speed up window and program handling.

Like most new innovations reactions are mixed. Some people like it, and some don’t , mostly because they hate changing their daily habits, or because they lost control how to tweak things.

I like the improvements that Unity brought, so let’s take a look.

Maximising workspace

This is done by ¬†introducing a global menu in the most upper taskbar and out of the window of programs. Whenevr a program has focus, and you press the alt key or move your mouse close to the menu bar, the menu fades visible. This works remarkable well, it’s much like Apple global menu. It gives you appr 5% more vertical desktop space.

The taskbar is  gone, and integrated in the new sliding launcher near the left of the screen, only visible when you close with your mousepointer, or by pressing the super/ windows key.

The menu is gone, also integrated in the launcher, another 5% gain in desktop space. Sure you can’t click programs anymore in the taskbar, but you can do it now in the launcher. And I agree, on widescreens vertical space is more valuable than horizontal!

Application and window management

The launcher creates automatic shortcuts for the 10 most used programs, which you can use not only to open programs but also to bring focus back to an already open program. Let’s say [meta] 1 wil always bring you to your browser, [meta] 2 to your file manager, and [meta ] 3 to image editing software. That is great and really useful in day to day productivity.

Another time saver is the new way to start programs: with quicksearch, you just type the letters of your program in a and it will show all appropriate programs. That’s better then clicking through menu’s and myriad sub-menu’s, let alone all the programs that never got listed in a menu at all!

Switching programs is done fastest by clicking the shortcuts, but off course the application switcher with ALT tab is still their. A workspace switcher, a zoom feature are also available with simple shortcuts.

Unity is driven by compiz the much appreciated composite window manager that enables #D effects and sclaing shadow and all eye-candy you can imagine. It’s beautiful, tweak-able, and it’s fast, but you need a graphics otherwise it won’t work. Their is a Unity 2D version, but I haven’t tried that yet.

Sometimes unity feels a little slower than Gnome 2.3 with Compiz, but that’s only for the document finder, that scans all your directories to enable indexing of your documents. All short-cuts operate without any delay, and faster then the wink of an eye.

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