Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Ubuntu Precise Pangolin - Another KDE user tastes Unity

The new Ubuntu LTS release looming in the horizon tempted me to try it out as a candidate for a my next Linux OS. Here's what I think.

Ubuntu 12.04 LTS is pretty stable for its current status as beta. The linux kernel at version 3.2.0-20 feels good and seems to support wider range of hardware. The AMD Turion CPU seemed to be reasonably cool while idle. But still Linux has a long way to go in terms of prolonging battery usage. All applications are up to date at least to the latest stable versions which is the best thing in Ubuntu.

Now jumping into the hot topic of opining about Unity, I have mixed feelings. I have migrated from my favourite KDE and experimenting with Unity here. To me Gnome is as strange as is Unity. So I am unlike any long term Gnome follower. Unity is stable enough at this stage than in Ubuntu 10.10 where it froze and was unusable in my laptop configuration. The best thing I liked is the use of the Windows button which triggers the HUD (Heads up display / launcher) and you can open up any program without the hassle of clicking various menus. This way of launching programs is a definite plus for CLI savvy users but might not impress everyone. Unity has simplified the use of menus significantly and in one way claimed more desktop space (I have set the left menu bar to autohide). Moreover there is only only top panel instead of two in Gnome 2.

Now coming to the things I don't like about Unity. I can't figure out why have they designed the launch bar to be on the left side of the screen. Leave aside usability, I have to say its huge and its ugly. I am not closed to change, but change should be beautiful. The dock at the bottom in MacOS X simply feels much more aesthetic.

The second major issue is again in the dock (left bar). All minimized windows go back to the left bar along with the launch icons. Its a new thing and all users must to get used to it. Instead of clicking the minimized programs in the bottom task bar, users have to seek their minimized programs stacked in the left dock. This is the major hurdle that many users face and its the same which makes people hate Unity. We are so used to MS "Windows" style operation that this is a big hurdle in usability. Again the buttons on the left is a hurdle from my point of view.

Every new gadget will have a new interface and people have to learn to use it. But computers to most of us is not a new gadget. If Ubuntu is targeting virgin computer users with Unity, then it might be a different thing, but not the general population who are used to computers since the age of Windows 95. Even for new computer adopters the usability of Unity is should be tested and can be improved.

I would say Unity is a bold move on Canonical's part but they have to be very careful to lure users not shun them away. As I see, they are not quite there in luring users. As many bloggers and columnists have pointed out, its hard for me to see where Ubuntu will be in another five years. They are betting everything in innovation which particularly is not so attractive as MacOS would have made.

But still Precise Pangolin will be a wonderful release and will form a great basis for the thousands Ubuntu based remixes to follow. So the greatness of Canonical's job is that despite Unity, their efforts will still play a major role in the Linux world.

My message to Canonical is, I like your ideas about innovation, but can you figure out a way to create a better dock.