Following the official release of Ubuntu 12.04 LTS (Precise Pangolin), I took the plunge and upgraded my main work PC from Ubuntu 11.10. Up until the release I had been running the 12.04 beta on a second machine. Although I can switch to GNOME 2 (Classic) quite happily on this system, for some reason — yet to be resolved — I can't do this on my work PC. So I decided it was time to scrutinise the latest version of Unity running on the latest version of the OS. Some of the observations that follow relate to new features and some to features already present in Ubuntu 11.10 and earlier versions.
An official description of what's new in Ubuntu 12.04 is now available from the Ubuntu web site. There's also a wiki page for the new features in Ubuntu Server, which I did not cover in my review of the desktop version.
File system navigation
The navigation panel on the left of the Home directory
File system access and navigation under Unity is designed to control user habits. Historically, Linux has always had a more rigidly structured approach to file systems than, say, Microsoft Windows. But with Unity users are guided into using the Home folder — by default, the icon immediately below the Dash icon. This strongly encourages users to create folders and store files within the Home folder; navigation to folders above that, such as the operating system directories, is from the Home folder. The options are displayed in a vertical navigation panel to the left of the Home directory window. An alternate means of accessing user folders and files is available via the Dash File & Folders lens.
The component folders of the operating system itself can be displayed by clicking on File System in the navigation panel, but most of these are protected and can only be changed by the administrator or 'super user'. Super user access is granted via the command-line 'sudo' tool and one new change in Precise Pangolin is that sudo access is now handled under the Sudo user group rather than as previously through the Admin group. This brings Ubuntu into line with the upstream distribution, Debian.
Network browsing is also through the navigation panel in the Home directory window.
The desktop menu and Ubuntu Help
The desktop menu provides direct access to the top of the file system hierarchy
Placing the mouse cursor on the Unity desktop upper menu bar with an empty desktop will reveal another hidden feature — a desktop menu. This provides more direct access to the upper levels of the file system than the Home folder.
The online help file — Ubuntu Desktop Guide
Clicking on Help from the desktop menu and then clicking a further (seemingly redundant) choice of Ubuntu Help displays the Ubuntu Desktop Guide for 12.04. This seems to be well organised and quite comprehensive, and is definitely a recommended read. For example under 'Desktop, apps & windows' there's a guide to 'Useful keyboard shortcuts'. GNOME 2 users can find a similar guide to GNOME via the menu selections Applications / Accessories / Help.
Remmina remote desktop client
Remmina was considered as the replacement for TSClient as the default remote desktop client in Ubuntu 11.04. As it turned out, Vinagre was chosen for 11.04, but Remmina has made it into Precise Pangolin. Remmina supports the RDP, VNC, NX, XDMCP, SSH, Avahi and Telepathy remote desktop protocols.
The Remmina remote desktop client supports a range of remote protocols, allowing IT support staff to perform remote maintenance tasks on computers running different operating systems
While Remmina is running, a remote icon appears to the left of the indicator status menus on the desktop menu bar
In hiding: Wine and print queues
Although Wine itself is now invisible, the Wine tools appear as applications in Dash
In the interests of simplification and clutter removal, some things have gone into hiding. Previously with the GNOME 2 desktop, if you wanted to attempt to run Windows applications and had Wine installed, Wine appeared on the application menu with its own submenu to launch Windows programs. Under Precise Pangolin, Wine is treated as a service or operating system extension and does not appear on menus. Windows programs installed under Wine simply appear as applications in the Applications lens and if clicked will launch under Wine. However, the Wine Configure, Unistall and Winetricks tools — previously presented as part of the Wine sub-group — do appear as applications.
Both Wine and Remmina are available for installation from the Ubuntu Software Centre.
Printer management is accessed from the Unity desktop top menu bar
Printers and print queues are also surprisingly difficult to find. Printers are listed under the system menu accessed through the gear like icon at the top right of the display. Right clicking over individual printer icons will reveal a menu and the printer queue is the last item in that menu. Once that 1,000 page document has been mistakenly dispatched for printing one could wish for a faster, simpler, route to cancelling the job.
Print queues for active print jobs can also be opened from the transient print icon that appears in the Unity desktop menu bar
Fortunately, when a print job is queued, a printer icon appears in the desktop top menu bar; clicking on the icon reveals the current printer, with a further click on the named printer revealing the queue.
Minimised applications also go into hiding and are relaunched from the appropriate Launcher icon. Active minimised applications are indicated by small grey arrowheads that appear to the left of the launcher icons. A similar arrowhead appears to the right of the icon associated with the maximised application. This does feel a little odd, since you expect to be able to toggle that application back and forth between maximised and minimised by repeatedly clicking on the icon, but that does not happen.
Mail, System Settings and more
Liferea (Linux feed reader) can be accessed from the mail drop-down menu
There are many useful bits and pieces tucked away on the right-hand end of the desktop menu bar in the indicator status menus, for example Liferea — the Linux feed reader — in the drop-down menu that appears when the envelope icon is clicked. This menu also offers settings for messaging status and other messaging and mail controls.
To the left of the envelope are the icons for keyboard selection and layouts, and then for weather. To the right of the envelope icon are bluetooth controls, wired network settings, a calendar, account switching and finally the system icon which, apart from system settings, also provides access to the vital system updates and to the Shut Down request.