My thoughts on Unity.

I love ubuntu.  The Community, the Operating System, and especially the philosophy; “I am who I am because you are who you are.”  It can be applied to so many things in life, and is a great mantra for an Open Source Project.


I have to be honest; when unity first appeared I though it looked like a very interesting idea – and since studying UI design at University (even doing a project on UI design in Gnome2) – there were lots of opportunities to be taken up by differentiating Ubuntu through it’s clean, friendly, UI-driven linux desktop environment.  However, Unity seems to be on a pathway to division.

A key paradigm across all my software development has been “developers are not the users” – and ‘clever’ design lies in simplicity, not complexity.  Users should be able to intuitively pick up and go without having to think about how the desktop works.  I personally believe this last bit to be especially true.  Many people are of the belief that using a computer and mouse is unnatural; that may well be so – but through consistency of action, and predictability of response – all systems can be easily learned.

The big issues that I have with Unity at the moment, are that simple things are no longer simple.  When left click used to mean ‘action something’, and right click brought up a menu – users were able to innovate and design and mess with their own desktop.  With the unity approach, even experienced computer users are having to open google to work out how to add an application to the sidebar.  I no longer know where to find things in the menu, and am finding myself having to rely on pressing a combination of keyboard buttons and mouse movements in order to do relatively simple things.  I can’t see an easy way of adding an application to the launcher, and there appears to be very few casual customisation options available to the end user.

Of course, the caveat to all this is that it’s still an unfinished product.  I see the non-LTS releases of Ubuntu as glorified BETAs – showing the developers and community the vision for what can be put into an LTS release.  I’m not sure where or how I’m going to cope with future upgrades, but for now a quick ‘aptitude install xbuntu-desktop’ has put me straight back into my comfort zone.  I hope that’s not the same story with too many other people.

Posted Monday, October 24th, 2011 under ICT.

Tags: , ,

  • Anonymous

    Seriously??  I mean I figured it out how to add an icon to the panel in a couple minutes.  Just find the app and drag it to the panel.  Couldn’t be easier.  I will agree it could use some work but it’s not a trainwreck.  It’s just different.

    • andylockran

      Seriously. I have a javaws program.  I run it using javaws /path/to/program.  There is not a straightforward way of adding that to the sidebar.  Definitely not for a ‘new’ user.

      • Anonymous

        But that is not something a new user would be DOING. New users will be working with the software that is installed or installing items from the Ubuntu Software Center. If this is in a support organization, then you should be setting that up for them.

        • andylockran

          I’m not sure.  A few people I’ve introduced Ubuntu to, on upgrade, have asked me to set the default desktop back to gnome as they just can’t get to grips with Unity as it’s too much of a change.  That said, gnome3 has also got many problems (you need to ‘alt+right click’) to right click on the panel with that.  Most have been happy when I’ve switched them to xubuntu.

        • Dillon Weyer

          That sounds like Microsoft talk. As far as I am concerned, is the point of ubuntu was always that you could easily do what every you wanted to with the system. I have only recently converted from Windows and I loved that fact that with very little knowledge I could set up the system the way I wanted. Now I have to do what feel like hacks to get things like I want,

        • Kwabena Aning

          I am not sure you can confidently decide what new uses would be doing with an OS. It doesn’t matter if it’s a custom path to an application or a wine application the point is that Unity represents a large deviation from the norm and the things one would “normally” look for on a desktop.

          • Anonymous

            Actually I kind of can.  New users who have never used a computer come to the table with nopreconceptions.  Remember, they don’t know as much as I do or maybe even yourself.  They don’t knw how to use a computer at all.  That is the exact audience that Canoncal is trying to reach.

          • Kwabena Aning

            For the sake of this argument I would say that it would be a very limiting strategy to target people who have _never_ used a computer with a Unity interface that is pushed to audiences who have and have not used a computer before. I can understand that canonical is trying to reach a new audience. What I cannot agree on is that fact that they tailor their user interface to that demographic alone thereby paying very little consideration to the other audience that they have worked so hard to get.

  • Paul Hunt

    Huzzah for Xubuntu!

  • Full Circle Podcast

    I just quoted you in response to Julie Bort’s 2-week Unity trial on Network World.

    As an Ubuntu fan but not an apologist, Ubuntu is a great distro, but Unity is a car crash. I’d simply say to the apologists: no, it’s not simply ‘an inopportune time’, as a ‘work in progress’ Unity is simply not ready for use. That’s if you agree with the design principles in the first place. If it’s not ready, Canonical should not have released it!

    My advice – install Xfce4 for a desktop that works! RC