It has been a year since I last posted and I’m going to pick up where I left off. I last posted about how my laptop was broken and that thus I was thus not willing to attempt to reinstall Fedora. This left me stuct with Ubuntu 10.04. a year and two versions of Ubuntu later and I still haven’t gone back to Fedora (at least not full time). I had Ubuntu on my laptop because it had just come out and I installed it to write a review. So I think it is fitting that I should pick back up with a review of ubuntu 11.04 Natty narwhal (which sounds like the name that would be given to a “craft” version of cheap Busch beer marketed towards some sub-culture)
Before I jump into that, I would like to explain a bit about why I have not moved back to Fedora. Like I said in my last post my laptop was broken and trying to install Fedora would have been difficult or impossible. That laptop quickly became unusable and I had to switch to a Dell gx150 that I had laying around. the gx150s were on the low end of the pc spectrum when they came out a decade (or whatever) ago. being that I had two laptops die in 2 years I decided investing in a desktop might be a better option. So I harvested what I could from the laptop and pieced together a desktop from whatever I could find on sale or craigslist. now I have a desktop with a intel core 2 quad q84000, 6gb of ram, and an nvidia 9600 video card. It may not be the fastest machine on the block, but it is certainly a few steps up from my laptop. (I also just finally upgraded from an old dying crt to a used lcd monitor that I was given by someone who claimed it didn’t work)
Now on to the review. I’m going to break this up into two posts so if you are reading this much after the post date you should be able to follow the link below to continue, if not you will just have to come back for more. Also as is usual if you find spelling and grammatical errors it is because I don’t care enough to proof read any of this stuff. It takes long enough to write it in the first place, if I were to proof read it, I would never post it.
Installation as far as I can tell/remember is identical to 10.10. There is really nothing special or interesting here. Below is a screen shot of what 11.04 looks like right after install (minus the folder on the desktop). Its pretty sleek looking (click to enlarge).
The only real change of notice in Natty Narwhal is Unity, which I actually rather like. Unity is by no means perfect (see next post), but I’m hoping that with time it could be great. I heard a few people complaining bitterly about unity when it was first included in the netbook edition, but I have always liked docks (which is essentially what this is) in just about any form, including the windows taskbar. The Launcher (as canonical calls it) is not the only feature of Unity. There is also a mac os/compiz style virtual desktop viewer called expo (as seen below). One really cool feature that expo has is that you can drag windows around between the desktops. You can also use expo without ever touching your mouse. Meta(win)+s opens expo and the arrow keys can be used to select the desktops. When you have found the desktop you want just hit enter.
Unity also features a new search/launch thing called the dash that is very similar to the one in Gnome 3 (press the meta(win) key to access). unfortunately I could not get a screenshot of this because print screen is disabled while the dash is open. I’m sure I could get a picture if I really cared, but I don’t. I wasn’t a huge fan of the dash like thing in Gnome 3 but this one is actually quite usable. I think the difference maybe the ease of use from a keyboard. If my memory serves me correctly it was difficult to use the one in Gnome 3 without the mouse. I am basing this on the version of Gnome 3 that the fedora 15 alpha used so things may have changed (it is also possible that unity has these problems but I haven’t noticed them as much for whatever reason). I absolutely hated Gnome3 and I thought I was going to hate unity but I actually like it a lot (except for a few fairly minor things which I will discuss next time). There are two other less impressive new features which should be noted; one is the new rating system built into the software center (bad screen shot of software center below). and the other I will discuss in the complaints section and the other I will discuss in the complaints section. It is probably worth mentioning at this point that the launcher, the dash, and expo all require graphics acceleration and therefore for most people also require that you install proprietary video drivers. I’m not a complete FLOSS zealot so I don’t really mind this but I’m sure a lot of people out there will. If you are one of those people or if you just have a old graphics card Canonical has graciously provided a default mode (just in the same way Gnome 3 does) which looks very similar to gnome 2.x.
So lets talk about the launcher for a bit. The launcher will dodge out of the way of windows as you can see in the next two screenshots. This is the major source of my complains about Unity. The launcher needs a good polishing. It is the face of Unity and frankly I’m not sure it is really ready for mainstream use. though I have had no problems with Unity crashing, it seems that many people have. I believe I read that almost every user in a test group for the release candidate crashed it. I would be willing to bet that many of the people experiencing crashing with Unity have under powered graphics and thus anyone with a decent graphics card should not have this issue. This might be fixed by now so don’t take what I say for granted. Despite its problems as I have said a few times already, I like it. One feature of note (though I think it is kind of annoying) is that when the launcher is hidden if when a program wants you attention it will pop out and wiggle (which I believe is also a feature found in mac os). Despite the constant referencing of mac os, I think the launcher more resembles the windows taskbar than Apple’s dock. You can think of it as something that is in between.
Moving applications around in the launcher is not intuitive and it took me a day or two of using Unity before I figured out how to do it. The two pictures below show the process. You can not simply click on an icon and drag it up or down, nor can you right click and select move like you could in gnome. In order to move an icon you must drag it to the right out of the launcher and then move it up and down. When the icon is dragged out, a little gray line appear indicated where the icon will be dropped when you let it go. I discovered this only after seeing if I could remove an icon from the launcher by dragging it out like in just about every other similar program (you can’t).
The last bit about the launcher is how it keeps track of multiple windows. As you can see in the picture below there are dots on the left of the icon and an arrow on the right. the dots indicate the number of total windows for that application and the arrow on the right indicates that at least one window is open. If the application only has one window the dots are replaced by a single arrow as can be seen in a few of the other screenshots.
The next thing to point out is that the menu bar is gone! As you can see in the picture below, application menus and the window buttons have been moved to the top panel like in mac os. Unlike mac os however, you can only see the menus while mousing over them. When you do not have your mouse over the top panel the window title is displayed. I’m not sure if I really need to say this or not, but I’m going to just for good measure. This is really freaking annoying.
One last thing I just noticed. If you drag a window to the left or right the window will “maximize” to fill half of the screen or the full screen in the case of the top. I don’t believe gnome does/did this, but if I’m just being forgetful let me know. Even if gnome didn’t do this its still not terribly impressive, but it does need to be mentioned.
As you can see and may experience the only thing to really talk about in Natty Narwhal is Unity. As I have said several times now, I like unity but it needs a lot of polish. I think they did a really grate job on this so far. It looks and acts very very similarly to Gnome 3, yet somehow I don’t hate it. I actually like it! Anyway, if you have been afraid to upgrade to 11.04 you should probably get over your fears and take the plunge because while it may not be perfect and it might take you a day to get used to the launcher and the dash, I don’t think it will negatively affect your productivity and you just might like it as much or more than I do. If you are still on the fence because I keep talking about how there are lots of little problems without ever telling you quite what they are you should come back later/check out the link below to see my next and final installment on this review.