Dis-Unity?

On a side topic, somewhat distinct from my usual notes on Ubuntu 10.04 LTS, I recently installed the latest Ubuntu release – Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal) – on my development machine, and can provide the following thoughts (diatribe!) on the new look-and-feel of the user interface.

Natty sports the Unity interface which looks quite different – and operates quite differently – from what we have been used to. Now, let me say at once that one can revert to an Ubuntu Classic desktop from the login screen, but the more interesting things to note are some of the “quirks” of the new user interface.

The first issue I came across, when running certain applications, was that the File-Edit-View- menu didn’t seem to be available across the top of the window. Eventually, I discovered that, if I ran the mouse over what used to be the top panel, the application’s menu magically appeared across the top of the screen. They tell me it’s to save screen real estate, for things like netbooks, but this change is going to take a bit of getting used to!

The next item was the case of the “missing” applications menu. Well, it turns out it wasn’t missing at all. It is now housed as one of the icons along the left edge of the screen. It’s actually one of the black-and-white icons, as opposed to the pretty coloured ones used for most of the tabs. And, no, I don’t think there is a way to change black-and-white icons for some other (prettier) images.

Once the application’s menu was opened, the next question was where is Terminal? By default only a few of the available options are displayed, and these are listed in alphabetical order. Clearly, an application starting with “T” wasn’t going to appear in the first group. So, change “All Applications” to “System”, hit “See 10 more results”, and there is Terminal.

Of course, given the new search paradigm that is in place, I could also have started typing T-e-r… and the application would have been quickly displayed in the first row. But, I thought we were using a “graphical” user interface.

Hopefully, I thought, Terminal will show up in the most-frequently-used group (the first row of applications) at some point. Or, better still, I found I could delete the tab for Ubuntu One (which I don’t use) and pin Terminal’s icon to the left side of the screen where it is always available for use. I could even drag it up the column, and drop it immediately below the icon for Firefox, so that the black-and-white icon stands out from its more colourful associates and is thus more easily located.

The one thing I really don’t like, and for which I don’t think there is a current fix, is that any application set to run in a “window” that occupies more than 75% of the display is automatically maximized when it is launched. I really don’t see the point. If I wanted it to run full screen, I wouldn’t have established an 80% window. But, this doesn’t even seem to be configurable. Some screen designer decided that this was best for me – so, have a nice day!

The really bad part is that the window controls, which I carefully configured to be in the top-right corner of the window (this being natural and just), suddenly jump to the top-left of the screen, because that same screen designer decided that they should live in the top panel area, and he knows that I really want them to be on the left!

Oh well. Roll on Version 11.10…

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