Used Unity for over a month

Some of my readers may react like “WTF? Unity again? After writing ‘no thanks’ post?” But yeah — I spent over month using it. And yes — this is going to be past tense during this week.

In March I got tired of KDE4 and switched to XFCE which served me quite well during Ubuntu 11.04 ‘natty’ cycle. But then I had a feeling that it becomes more and more second citizen in Ubuntu world. All those transitions from GTK+2 to GTK+3 which made some applications look ugly etc.

Then there was this discussion on Canonical internal mailing list where I wrote what do I think about Unity. It was not polite and I am sorry for that. So I decided to give Unity/2D and 3D a longer try.

Unity 2D was interesting environment. Some things were not configurable or hard to find without using gconf-editor and had some issues. I reported few bugs and could not reproduce some of them even:

Also I had one issue with Unity/2D and Psi+ running at same time — was looking like Psi+ opened window, Unity composited desktop but did not noticed that window disappeared in meantime:

Unity/2D fun

But as I have graphics card which knows what OpenGL is I decided to make use of it and switched to Unity/3D. This was real change. More configuration options but you have to remember that you should not touch ccsm (Compiz configuration settings manager) which is the only way to configure it.

Why ‘do not touch ccsm’ mantra? Because it is easy to break whole Unity setup with it. But as there is no other way… For example I do not like 2×2 desktop setup which was default but prefer 6×1 one. Or when use wants to change keyboard shortcuts or several other things.

As usual I tried to report what I found:

Some other things went into #ayatana and #ubuntu-desktop channels on irc where I had several discussions with developers. Some suggested that I must have strange configuration that I have some of my problems. There was even suggestion that I should move to QA team but I hope that no one will take it serious ;D

After that month I can admit that Unity may be usable for many users but I am not one of them. Idea of switching applications not desktops (via Start+[1-0] keys) is nice but I was not able to fully adapt to it. Mostly because I tend to have several windows of same application (terminal, gvim, web browser) and in such case I had more switching as Unity Alt-Tab switcher makes it even worse (you need to use cursor keys in it).

Application menus in top panel was one of first things which I removed. When few windows were present on screen I had several focus changes before I went from right side of screen to menu in panel. Why several? Because I am too used to ‘focus under mouse’ way of selecting windows which is not default Unity way. And even with this enabled I did not find out how to disable ‘bring focused window to front’.

Other thing was side panel (launcher one). There is a way to disable devices icons but no way to disable trashcan or workspaces buttons (which I do not use). Good that other things are configurable — so I set it to 32px width and auto hide if any window wants to take space.

Application runner is hard to use. Press “Start+A”, type “xkill” and tell me what you see? Probably nothing. So run “Alt+F2″ and again type “xkill” — this will work. As interface is same in both situations it may confuse users.

To add application into launcher panel you have to start it first, then find it on panel, get to context menu (usually right mouse button) and select ‘keep in launcher’ option. Different then in other systems but can get used to it.

Systray implementation is weird but it will not be changed as there is a pressure to write indicators instead (if you do not know what it is think “panel applets”). In result some of the applications which I used for years became harder to use (Last.fm official client or Psi+ Jabber client). Some of them could get replaced by other ones or dropped.

What else? Unlocking screen can sometimes take ages^Wminutes. With KDE4 or XFCE I was able to turn on monitor, type password and begin hacking, with Unity desktop I had to remind myself what patience is because often I had to wait 1-2 minutes before ‘enter password to unlock screen’ dialog appeared. Sometimes I even got preview of desktop in meantime (which is privacy unfriendly).

Next week I will check how KDE4 looks like and will have to decide which environment to choose. Maybe will try GNOME 3 next year? Who knows…

12 thoughts on “Used Unity for over a month

  1. Omer Akram

    To add application into launcher panel you have to start it first, then find it on panel, get to context menu (usually right mouse button) and select ‘keep in launcher’ option.

    Or you could just drag it and drop over the launcher. ;-)

  2. opi

    I still find that GNOME3/Unity gets in my way. I have GNOME3 on my office computer because, well, I don’t mind because its main focus is running Eclipse.

    I still didn’t find a way to pin Eclipse’s icon to launch-bar, how stupid is that?

  3. Mrk

    I think the main gripes I’ve read about Unity is with power users. Well I think it works out fine with normal users. I mean, I do some coding too and have been using Linux for almost 10 years but I don’t find Unity obtrusive. Then again I’m a simple desktop user. I just open the apps that I need and don’t like anything running that I don’t really need. Bah, as a long-time Linux user there’s only one thing I can say. Default appearance is boring. If you want to make it “pretty” you either make it look like Windows or Mac.

  4. Esben Haabendal

    I actually used (notice past tense) all through 11.04 and a over a month of 11.10. I sort of adopted to the UI concepts. But the bugs, damn. 11.04 had it’s bugs, but it was usable, and I was betting on Canonical actually improving it for 11.10. With 10.10, there was new and more bugs, and some of them were severe enough to really get in the way of doing actual work. Windows moving around. Windows disappearing, though just showing themselves when I switched away from the desktop. I really need to have a reliable way to switch between xterm and Emacs windows!

    Now I am trying out Gnome3/gnome-shell. I thought i would give it a chance, although based on all the bad comments on it, I was not being very optimistic. Maybe I am just easy to satisfy after living 6+ months with Unity, but gnome-shell is actually quite usable. I might have to move away from Ubuntu though, as I have a couple of bugs that seems to not be present on a friends Fedora install. Perhaps Linux Mint 12 could be worth a try…

  5. Michal Smereczynski

    I actually use Xfce (Xubuntu 11.10). I’m not a hacker, I’m not a programmer at all. Am I power user? Intermediate would be a good term. I used Unity for several days, and it is unusable for me. Unity reduces my productivity by at least 30% (or I have only feeling like this… but it is uncomfortable feeling). When I use Gnome Shell I feel productivity redution too, but not so much. When I use KDE 4.x (on my netbook) I miss my favorite GTK applications – I know that there is nothing to prevent me to install them – but I don’t like to use somenthing “not-native” (I know, it’s stupid) ;) IIRC I don’t try to use native GTK3 app in KDE 4.7, so I can’t tell if there is problem with them. KDE 4.7 have bigger hardware requierments than Xfce, maybe bigger than Gnome 3, but I have very strong configuration (PC, not netbook), and Marcin too. So… Is KDE 4.7 our new DE for our PCs? I’m waitin’ for Your KDE 4.7 summary Marcin ;) If it will be positive I will give KDE a chance ;)

  6. ssam

    I also got very wound up by little bugs like the ones you mentioned. Also how if you have a window on desktop A, that goes slightly off the screen onto desktop B, then sometimes when you alt-tab to it you get shown desktop B, and sometimes when you switch to desktop B it is focused. It is also a bit slow on my netbook and crashes more that a DE should (i.e never)

    I then tried gnome 3 for a while (under fedora, so no one can complain that it is broken in ubuntu or some such). I also got frustrated with numerous small things and bugs.

    Then KDE4. This at least works and is stable, but the behaviour is quite different. When I plug in a monitor, i want it to remember the settings I used last time, not pop up an epic monitor configuration panel.

    So after wasting hours, trying to configure desktops, and understand why they done do what I expect I am switching to MATE.

  7. TheWalt

    I am glad you took the time to revisit Unity so I did not have to. From day one I knew it would not work for me, and at the time KDE4 was having its own issues. For a few months I used XFCE in Xubuntu, but like you felt too far out of main support.

    Reports of KDE4 being more stable peaked my interest to give it a try. It was a learning curve as things are done different from Gnome. After time and patches, I grew to like it very much … now using some KDE apps but still running GTK favorites without issue.

    The only compromise with Kubuntu is there are a few applications who install into the Unity environment which will not work with KDE (DropBox for example). I have also had issues with their Widgets not always working consistently. Considering a large portion of my time is spent in shell, both local and remote, these are not major issues for me.

    I would suggest that after you install Kubuntu to add the ppa:kubuntu-ppa and run updates to stay current with KDE4 release.

    Looking forward to your review / opinions.

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