One of the current controversies in the Linux world is Ubuntu building Unity, their own 3D accelerated interface on top of Gnome, for their upcoming Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal release instead of defaulting to the upcoming Gnome3. I’m not going to bore you with the details – Mark Shuttleworth’s recent blog post is as good a place as any to catch up if you’re interested.
I’d been trying to get Unity and various Natty Alphas running without success, so I couldn’t really give it a fair shake. One of the old Netbook Remixes was supposedly similar and I had mostly enjoyed using that. I had also been trying out alternatives to Gnome, like XFCE, in case Unity and Gnome3 both sucked. In general I was disgruntled, mostly because I couldn’t get the new hotness running to try it out.
This last weekend I attended the Ubuntu Michigan Local Community‘s event for theUbuntu Global Jam. About 20 of us met at SRT Solutions in Ann Arbor and spent half a day installing Ubuntu Natty Betas and running Unity on the laptops and netbooks we had brought. Two Canonical employees, Jorge Castro and Jason Smith, were among the 20 attendees. Jason is an actual Unity developer, so we got to regale him with bugs, annoyances, and opinions thought the event. He handled the pressure with good humor and aplomb while Jorge helped us log and subscribe to bugs in Launchpad.
The vast majority of attendees were able to install Natty, and more than half of us were able to get Unity running. For those able to use Unity, the complaints were mostly discoverability issues, which always seem to come about when you change a user interface. Jorge pointed us to this AskUbuntu post with a list of keyboard and mouse shortcuts for Unity, which I found very intuitive after a few minutes of use.
For those who could not get Unity 3D running due to old hardware or issues with accelerated graphics drivers, Jorge pointed us at Unity 2D, which is a simple sudo apt-get install unity-2d away. It is basically a less-intense backport of Unity designed for older computers. The 2D and 3D versions operated so similarly to each other that I couldn’t tell them apart. This allowed many more people to give the new interface a go.
Both Unity 3D and 2D were surprisingly stable in these trials. My general impression is that Unity is similar in look and function to my daily use system, OSX. In short, quite nice. Call me an Ubuntu fanboy, but I am now looking forward to Ubuntu 11.04 and Unity. Great job guys, keep it up!
We’ll be having a release party for Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal in the Grand Rapids area at the end of April. I will have Unity installed and running for anyone to try out at that event. Stay tuned to the Ubuntu Michigan, GRLUG, or WMLUG mailing list for more details.
P.S. You don’t have to live forever with your choice of Unity 3D, Unity 2D, or regular old Gnome. In fact you can choose which environment you’d like to use each time you login. After selecting your name at your computer’s login screen, a drop-down box appears at the bottom of the screen that offers you Unity, Unity 2D (if it’s installed), and Ubuntu Classic (Gnome).