I’ve reviewed Ubuntu’s NetBook remix and then 10.10’s Unity, and wasn’t impressed with what appeared to be beta-ware at best. Now that 11.04 is out, I felt I should give it a spin before abandoning my preferred distribution of the last several years. I grabbed the amd64 11.04 live cd, used unetbootin to make a bootable USB Key, and booted my x201 to the Natty Narwhal.
First the good. The Unity interface has been polished up a bit, it’s smoother and less clunky. Some small space savings features are effective: the maximized window title bar in the panel and the mouse-over file menu in the panel (ala Mac OS). The narrow scrollbar will a mouse over grab bar is actually particularly nice (or is this just GTK3?).
Unfortunately, not all the core applications work with these enhancements. Firefox and Libre Office in particular. They use the traditional scroll bars, and Libre Office’s file menu doesn’t relocate to the panel. This sort of partial implementation doesn’t stop there. The new menu system was non-intuitive for me and I found it difficult to navigate. There were few categories and the intent of the Ubuntu button versus the Applications button on the panel (labeled with a magnifying glass with a + ???) is still unclear to me. While the Unity bar and the new full screen menu system feel like a move away from the Desktop/Files/Folder paradigm, there are still icons on the Desktop, which are often obscured by the new UI elements.
Sadly, the dark gray, orange and purple scheme from 10.x persists, and is as garish as ever. The UI’s name doesn’t seem to have done much to influence the design of Ubuntu’s latest desktop. The icon theme feels at odds with the default color scheme and artwork. While the garish colors and the icon theme can be easily changed, some bits here and there, such as the Unity panel, are unaffected by the theming, and remind me again that Unity falls short unifying the components that must work together to provide a polished desktop user experience.
While I have enjoyed using Ubuntu for several years, I have become increasingly disappointed in their focus on creating their own UI rather than embracing, infuencing, and supporting efforts like GNOME 3. I won’t be using the Install icon, when it comes to upgrade, I’ll be moving on to Fedora 15.