12.04 Ubuntu Biannual Forced Death March Report


Since we now have “new” versions of Ubuntu and its kissing cousin/brother/sister Kubuntu, I decided to take the 6 month plunge into icy waters and see how they are coming along. Sadly, things are still pretty much what they have been for the last few years… a train wreck. Nowhere is this more evident than Ubuntu’s Unity “interface”.

Unity tries to pretend (successfully at first glance) to be a Touch-centric type of interface. The icons stacked along the left hand side are of a decent size for touch input and have improved to the point where the programs they launch are fairly easy to figure out. In the past this wasn’t so, so I do have to say things have improved.

In the upper left is “Dash Home” (Heh? All that free talent coming together and that is the best name they could give it?) which opens a search field that will also show you commonly used programs and programs you have used recently. Not bad over all, even though I do NOT understand this overwhelming need to make everything transparent that can possibly be made transparent (at least launching a terminal doesn’t result in a transparent box).

Unfortunately after that first glance, Unity starts falling apart. The only indications you get about which programs are running is a tiny white triangle to the left hand side of the icon in the semi-adequate bar. You get another tiny triangle to the right of the icon to show which program has focus.

Of more concern–since Unity is pretending to be a touch-centric (or at least semi touch-capable) U–is the window controls. We have the standard 3 (X      ⃞  ) located in the upper left hand corner. However they are so small and grouped together so closely that fingers are not going to be able to use them very well; hopefully any touch device running this will offer a tutorial on first run that offers gestures for controlling windows. In fact, the controls are so small it is hard to hit them accurately with a mouse… fingers need not apply.

Furthermore, for some reason, Chuthulu  the “designers” (Mark Shuttleworth) of Unity decided that the best thing to do when maximizing a window was to combine the window title bar–with controls–into the “what the heck is it for?” toolbar located at the top of the screen. However, not content with doing this, they also decided to HIDE the window controls a couple of seconds after mazimizing a window. What really makes that special is that the “what the heck is it for?” toolbar is very thin and the controls for the window are located directly above the “Dash Home” icon. Unless you have the fingers of a two year old–or have a two year old on your lap so you can use his/hers fingers as a stylus–this promises to cause much aggravation amongst touch device users who are silly enough to install–or got bamboozled into trying–Ubuntu.

At the end of the day, Unity is at heart a disorganized Clusterfuck UI looking for a place to happen (forbid it should actually happen on a touch device… shudder!). It is a mix of some usable elements combined with funky/weird UI decisions based solely on the fact they are funky/weird UI decisions.

However, I will say that over the last couple of years, installing has become much easier, and the last couple of “versions” have offered straight up ,before the actual install, to, well, install stuff you are gonna need to make your experience a good bit better: namely PROPRIETARY THIRD PARTY SOFTWARE! (or in this case common stuff like Flash and some commonly used audio and video codices that perplex Freetardia to no end). I guess that I should also note that I installed this stuff in a VM as I don’t wish to deal with the headache of rooting it out later. VirtualBox was my software of choice, and pleasantly enough Ubuntu was more than willing to install Guest Additions quickly and painlessly. Reboot afterwards and check for updates which it also installed with no major glitches and reboot… huh?? Stop the TRAIN! Yes, you read that right, after the security updates Ubuntu requires (REQUIRES!) a reboot. So, I guess that old saw about never needing a reboot is what it has been for a few years: misinformation. But seriously the reboot only took a short while and nothing went kablooey.

As a preliminary grade, I’ll give it a D- over-all. I would give it at least a C+(+?)/B- based on the fact that at least the icons now actually indicate what they are supposed to launch, and the fact I don’t have to dick around search in the repo looking for stuff like Flash or some standard (to the rest of the world) Audio/Video codex. However, the “Didn’t attend class” clusterfuck Unity UI drags the whole shebang down into the gutter and pretty much voids any grade I could give it.


About DigitalAtheist
Out to find out how much Linux-loving hype is just hype and how much is true. Hype seems to be winning.

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