While pouring over news on the Ubuntu releases this past weekend I was surprised to see some negative reaction to the new Unity environment for netbooks — notably from Netbooknews.com and surprisingly from Linux-only computer vendor System 76.
Of course I had to investigate; here are some quick and dirty first impressions…
For me the big step forward in this latest netbook spin is multiple desktops. Two would be enough for yours truly, but Unity doubles that. Navigating between them is as easy as using the arrow keys on your keyboard while holding down “Control” & “Alt” with your other hand.
Things started to go sour for me when I launched Firefox. Because of the standard launcher that runs down the left side of the screen many web pages won’t be visible in their full horizontal width. Pressing F11 will put Firefox (or any window) into full-screen mode, but there should also be a way to auto-hide the launcher. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be.
I’ll go a step further and give my opinion that the launcher itself feels like a work in progress. The default apps have colour-coded launcher icons, but the colour assignments seem entirely arbitrary. Icons fold up accordion-style at the top and bottom of your screen — great for eye-candy but kind of against the whole ethos of a low-powered laptop OS.
And then there’s this. Clicking on the “Files & Folders” launcher icon won’t open Nautilus, the proper file manager; instead you’ll get this — Mutter, I think it’s called? It looks nice enough, and in the default view you get to see the last few things you’ve worked on.
Mutter is also used to display a master list of your installed apps.It’s fine for that (though it runs slow as hell and seems to crash a lot), but as an interface for your files it makes absolutely no sense to me, because:
- New users will quite understandably be led to believe that Mutter is their file browser;
- Users seeking Nautilus have no obvious way to get there. I finally figured out that you have to click on the white folder seen at the top-right corner of the screen grab above — not exactly a stellar example of usability.
Oh, and speaking of usability the universally-recognized Linux key combo of Alt+F2 for launching apps is nowhere to be found. I know.
So count me among those who won’t be recommending Unity for netbook users. The multiple desktops are nice, but everything else makes for a case of style over substance.
Fortunately with Linux there’s never a shortage of choice. Here are some other netbook-friendly distros you might be interested in: