Oct 102010

I was thrilled with Ubuntu 10.04 Netbook Remix. It made excellent use of the small screen and the single-full-screen application usage model. It had its warts. You had to leave your application to access the menu. Some dialogs didn’t work well on small screens, making it difficult to get at the buttons on the bottom. But all in all, it worked really well. I was particularly fond of the menu system’s use of the desktop to display icons – with the caveat that it would have been nice to be able to get at things without completing obscuring your current application.

Enter Ubuntu 10.10 (Maverick) Netbook Edition with the new Unity interface. I was expecting a polished up version of 10.04 – what I got was… lost. The new menu system displays icons on the left-most column, and maximized windows do not obscure it. So far, so good in my opinion. But wait… where did the menu organization go? You know “Internet” “Graphics”… etc. You have to scroll down to the “Applications” icon (mouse hover is the only way to be sure that’s what it is) which brings up a menu system reminiscent of the 10.04 menu, except without much in the way useful organization. There are some breadcrumb style categories at the top, but all those that I would expect. Figuring there must be some preferences to adjust this sort of thing, I started looking for preferences… … … not a preferences category in sight – OK, I used the handy search bar. That brought up some plausible settings programs. Clicking on one of them brought up… the application installer! The search showed me preferences tools for applications that were not even installed!

Once an application is found, I expected to be able to add it to the menu as a favorite, or some other similar model. No such luck, right click is impotent, although it is used to remove icons from the menu. As it happens you can only add it to the menu by launching the application and then right clicking on the newly added icon on the menu and selecting “Keep in Launcher”. I found the “+” around the icon in 10.04 to be a much more discoverable mechanism.

Besides objections to its design, I ran into some implementation annoyances as well. The Application and System launchers took long enough to load that I was tempted to press them again. Perhaps this is do to time spent searching the package manager for applications I haven’t installed? The mouse-hover descriptions of the menu icons would occasionally stick – leaving “Firefox Web Browser” obscuring the browser itself.

Perhaps things will “click” and I’ll fall madly in love with Unity – but I doubt it. For now, I must bide my time until my better half logs into her account on this netbook and looks up at me with that knowing glare that says, “You just couldn’t resist could you? WTF is my browser?”

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