About a month ago after I finished my last module, I upgraded to the latest Ubuntu release, 11.04 or ‘Natty Narwhal’. My first impressions over the course of a week or two were sufficient to have me go looking elsewhere.
There were some big problems.
The new Unity interface, whilst it’s very pretty, is totally unfamiliar and feels rather like a toy. The menus I used to start applications from are gone, the taskbar I used to see what was running and place shortcuts on is gone. Now to start a program there’s a glossy, full screen… thing… it’s a bit like a menu… but takes up the whole screen with big Fisher-Price icons. To see what’s running at a glance… I can’t. The idea where the title bar of a window with the window buttons and menus isn’t attached to the window and appears at the top of the screen… seriously? I hear that this idea is nicked from Apple – but it really doesn’t work for me.
I guess the idea is that you type the name of the application instead of finding it in the menus. Nicked from Windows 7, I think. If I want to find and launch applications by typing their names, I use the command line – I’m not sure I get how search instead of menus is a step forward.
Then there was the speed, or rather, the total lack thereof. Using my computer went from effortless to wading through treacle. In snowshoes. I notice performance tips and tweaks guides for 11.04 starting to appear out there, so it’s not just me. The poor performance was the dealbreaker.
I downloaded Fedora 15, having previously been a user of that distro. I know that 15 ships with Gnome 3, but I didn’t realise it would be so similar to Unity, with all the same bizarre UI quirks. On the bright side, it was a lot snappier… but all in, still not really usable.
So yesterday, I pulled Linux Mint 11 off the shelf and I’m happy to say that it is a joy to use. Menus, task bars, windows that work properly, fast, easy to set up. Back to business as usual. If you’re not loving the Gnome 3/Unity thing, I can recommend Mint (so far, based on 24h usage… mileage may vary!)
Serious or Casual?
With my immediate problems addressed, the direction that Gnome and Unity are taking for Linux is interesting. Are we seeing the Linux windowing systems fragment into serious and casual usecases? I can see how the new UI might be familiar and easy for someone who is used to their tablet or their smartphone. Maybe it’s also good angle for relatively small screen devices like netbooks and tablets – certainly the apparent ‘every pixel is precious’ mindset doesn’t make much sense on a big widescreen monitor.
I expect that broadening the appeal of an operating system is a good thing, and perhaps Ubuntu and Fedora are setting their stalls out as ‘for the casual user’. If that’s so, then thank goodness for distros like Mint that give folks who use their computers to do work the power of old(er) school Linux without the pain.