What's coming in Ubuntu's new Unity Linux desktop

What's coming in Ubuntu's new Unity Linux desktop

Summary: Windows 8 isn't the only operating system that's bringing a new look to the PC desktop. Canonical is changing the looks of its Ubuntu Unity Linux desktop.

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As Microsoft shows Windows 8 off in its first dog and pony show, it seems to me to be a good time to note that Microsoft isn't the only company bringing out a new look for the PC desktop. Canonical, Ubuntu Linux's parent company is also transforming its Unity desktop.

Unity, for those of you who don't know it, is based on the GNOME desktop, but it takes an entirely different approach with the desktop shell. Since I dislike the latest GNOME 3 desktop, that's fine by me. Unity, with its tablet-style interface isn't designed for hard-core Linux users, although we can use it too. It's really designed more for casual users who are new to Linux or casual Windows users who want to try something better.

According to Canonical founder, Mark Shuttleworth the next version of Unity, which is due out in October, "Our goal with Unity is unprecedented ease of use, visual style and performance on the Linux desktop."

In a recent blog posting on Dash, Ubuntu Unity 11.10, Shuttleworth talked about the biggest changes from Ubuntu 11.04. In Dash. "Places," Web servers, file servers, and directories will be handled by Scopes and Lenses. "Scopes are data sources, and can tap into any online or off-line data set as long as they can generate categorized results for a search, describe a set of filters and support some standard interfaces. Lenses are various ways to present the data that come from Scopes."

Shuttleworth went on, "The Scopes have a range of filtering options they can use, such as ratings ("show me all the 5 star apps in the Software Center please") and categories ("… that are games or media related"). Over time, the sophistication of this search system will grow but the goal is to keep it visual and immediate - something anyone can drive at first attempt."

I've long thought that Unity was meant to be not just a desktop but a tablet interface as well. Shuttleworth sees it the same way. "This delivers on the original goal of creating a device-like experience that was search driven. Collaboration with the always-excellent Zeitgeist crew (quite a few of whom are now full time on the Unity team!) has improved the search experience substantially. .... Since we introduced the Dash as a full screen device-like search experience, the same idea has made its way into several other shells, most notably Mac OS X Lion.

Of course this is still a work in progress, "The existing Places are all in the process of being updated to the Scopes and Lenses model, it's a bit of a construction site at the moment so hard-hats are advised but dive in if you have good ideas for some more interesting scopes. I've heard all sorts of rumors about cool scopes in the pipeline and I bet this will be fertile ground for innovation. It's pretty straightforward to make a scope, I'm sure others will blog and document the precise mechanisms but for those who want a head start, just use the source, Luke."

At the same time, the Ubuntu crew is working on improving the Unity panel. So, for example, in Ubuntu 11.10, "You'll see that the top left corner is now consistently used to close whatever has the focus. Maximizing a window keeps the window controls in the same position relative to the window - the top left corner. We have time to refine the behavior of this based on user testing of the betas; for example, in one view, one should be able to close successive windows from that top left corner even if they are not maximized"

Why on the left instead of the right? Shuttleworth explained, "It was the only place where we could ultimately keep them consistent all the way up to a maximized window with the title bar integrated into the panel. I'm confident this part will all be settled by 12.04."

The interface is also changing in other ways. Shuttleworth continued, "As part of this two-step shuffle, the Dash invocation is now integrated in the Launcher. While this is slightly less of a Fitts-fantastic location, we consider it appropriate for a number of reasons. First, it preserves the top left corner for closing windows. Second, the Dash is best invoked with the Super key (sometimes erroneously and anachronistically referred to as the 'Windows' key, for some reason). And finally, observations during user testing showed people as more inclined to try clicking on items in the Launcher than on the top left icon in the panel, unless that icon was something explicit like a close button for the window. Evidence based design rules."

Shuttleworth and company are also working on Dash's fine-tuning. "Rather than a flat darkening, we're introducing a wash based on the desktop color. The dash thus adjusts to your preferred palette based on your wallpaper. The same principle will drive some of the login experience - choosing a user will shift the login screen towards that users wallpaper and palette."

"We've also integrated the panel and the dash, so indicators are rendered in a more holographic fashion inside the dash. Together with efforts to mute the contrast of Launcher icons the result is a more striking dash altogether: content is presented more dramatically," added Shuttleworth. Ubuntu is also working on speeding up the Unity desktop. They're able to do this because, "We have raw access to the GL pipeline, we're taking advantage of that with some real-time blur effects to help the readability and presentation of overlay content in the Dash, too. Both Nux [the OpenGL based widget toolkit]in the case of Unity-3D and Qt [a popular open-source, graphics software development framework] in the case of Unity-2D have rich GL capabilities, and we'd like to make the most of whatever graphics stack you have on your hardware, while still running smoothly on the low end." In other words, as improvements are made to the graphic libraries, Ubuntu's developers are picking them up on the fly to improve the desktop's performance.

The result, based on what I've seen of the recently release Ubuntu 11.10 beta looks pretty impressive. While I don't think millions of users are going to be switching from Windows to Ubuntu anytime soon, I do think that Unity is looking a lot more usable than Windows 8's interface does at this point. Soon, you'll be able to see for yourself.

Related Stories:

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Shuttleworth on Ubuntu 11.04 Linux & Unity

The new Ubuntu Desktop: Unity

Ubuntu: The desktop Linux with the cloud inside

Topics: Hardware, Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

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  • RE: What's coming in Ubuntu's new Unity Linux desktop

    It's starting to look like Win8. Not interested.
    Return_of_the_jedi
    • RE: What's coming in Ubuntu's new Unity Linux desktop

      @Return_of_the_jedi

      Well, that UI is REALLY good for my wife's netbook (older HP mini SSD affair that doesn't run Windows very well), but I don't necessarily like it for desktop usage, and I have been running Kubuntu instead. Lubuntu is a great alternative as well and very fast on limited hardware, and very very fast on modern hardware.
      admiraljkb
      • RE: What's coming in Ubuntu's new Unity Linux desktop

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    • RE: What's coming in Ubuntu's new Unity Linux desktop

      @Return_of_the_jedi

      So you choose your OS on how closely it looks like Windows? I choose based on how it works, but alright I guess.
      Michael Alan Goff
      • RE: What's coming in Ubuntu's new Unity Linux desktop

        @Michael Alan Goff
        Good question. What can I do with it with my existing stuff and then how does it look. If I have to be in it all day then I want something that looks good. And that would put Linxu (which I use) 3rd.
        ItsTheBottomLine
      • RE: What's coming in Ubuntu's new Unity Linux desktop

        @Michael Alan Goff

        You ever though maybe he is referring to how it works and saying that Unity looks to be going that same direction? I mean we are talking about a graphical interface here so how it looks is a part of how it works.
        storm14k
  • What's the point?

    Desktop Linux is done. To me, Ubuntu is like haiku-os.org. Pointless.
    People
    • RE: What's coming in Ubuntu's new Unity Linux desktop

      @People

      The only place left for the desktop to go is out the windows. It already went from the top of the desk, hence desktop, to the floor.
      Return_of_the_jedi
    • RE: What's coming in Ubuntu's new Unity Linux desktop

      @People <br><br>Well, I run (K)Ubuntu full time on multiple machines. With everything being online, there are few applications that I need Windows for (*cough* Outlook), and I run that in a VM. Why? I like to have a more secure OS running on native hardware, and running Windows in a VM (NAT'd without a real IP) for just one or two applications is a lot more secure than running all apps on it on native hardware, and you can move the VM around or replace hardware without activation problems.<br><br>With the world shifting continually further away from MS due to the iPod/iPhone/iPad and the Android mobile devices being on the internet, Desktop Linux is getting more viable all the time as a consequence.<br><br>Really the only big issue now is Games... I have ONE machine left that dual boots to Win7... Why? Games are still the province of Windows, although Xbox and other consoles are eating into the PC on that side. Everything else is now (surprisingly) easier on Ubuntu than Windows: Installation, application installs, maintenance, and security. There is a learning curve as a field engineer or other support personnel, but it isn't too bad. My wife still hasn't figured that I replaced Windows with Ubuntu on her machine 5 years ago after she malware'd it out one time too many. :) (and back then Ubuntu was a lot harder to install/setup/maintain, now it's pretty easy)
      admiraljkb
      • RE: What's coming in Ubuntu's new Unity Linux desktop

        @admiraljkb
        "Really the only big issue now is Games..."
        again, sadly, this is not true. try running adobe creative suite, protools, logic, cubase etc. surely, these companies hasn't ported true linux versions yet so you cant really blame "linux" but try beeing a bit more honest towards the linux thing before luring windows using into using a os that requires computer skills from the 1960's, like using a command prompt.
        still, sadly, windows xp wich is 10 years + is "more usable" than the latest ubuntu version. that says it all.
        snosk
      • RE: What's coming in Ubuntu's new Unity Linux desktop

        @snosk <br>Linux based system are characterised for stability and performance. A linux based system can eventually work 24/7 for more than 15 years without need to restart the system due to any spontanous error .If you meant "usable" for "stability" , you are wrong.Talking about "usability" you have kubuntu like Windows7 Ubuntu >11 a mix between Windows8 and mac and better than them and Ubuntu <11 much better than XP. And hundreds of other linux distributions for everything you want. And you can do with Ubuntu GUI commands more than you can do with Windows7 commands. Terminal is only for administrative purposes.
        AfrimOS
      • RE: What's coming in Ubuntu's new Unity Linux desktop

        @snosk

        Well, you are using different apps than I am, so your statement quite fairly corrects mine. :) I will say a lot of apps are running fine under Wine now, including MS Office (except for Outlook... ARGH). But my current experience is Ubuntu Linux is that it far easier to setup and maintain than Windows overall, and with the repositories everything gets updated pretty quick. Takes less than 2 hours to get an Ubuntu box setup and fully operational. Not to mention I don't have to suffer endless reboots during Windows Update during initial install. Due to the way Windows handles updates, it is a few hours for a Windows install to complete.

        Anyway, Ubuntu (and Linux in general) comes in many flavors, I use Kubuntu which is quite usable and without all the Unity problems, others use Lubuntu and Xubuntu which are both pretty nice/fast. I'm also playing around with Windows 8 right now (after all, I'm still a Windows guy at the end of the day...), and I'm finding the new Metro UI making Unity look really, really good in comparison. After getting it nearly perfect with Win7, MS may be on the way to another MS-Bob with 8. Unfortunately MS Windows doesn't come in multiple flavors when the distributor gets it wrong, or the distributor just ticks you off... Vista had me scrambling for something stable/workable, and I ended up on Ubuntu and variants. Win7 has FIXED most of my complaints, and is a NICE OS, but I'm happier running it in a VM now for those few apps that won't work under Linux than going through the hassle of running it on native hardware.
        admiraljkb
      • RE: What's coming in Ubuntu's new Unity Linux desktop

        @snosk

        Well, you're using different apps than I am. Fair enough. :) I really should have added a "for me" onto the "big issue is games" statement. I have stated that I run any Windows apps I need in a Windows VM. Given modern processor architecture (any current AMD Athlon II, PhenomII or Intel i7), apps run at native speed and are more secure behind a NAT'd "firewall" and also in a VM only being used for specific apps than running on native hardware. Where this practice breaks down is games since they require near direct access to the video card. For that, I still have to dual boot my primary workstation. The other laptops/netbook/desktops in the house stay in Ubuntu/Kubuntu/Lubuntu full time.
        admiraljkb
    • RE: What's coming in Ubuntu's new Unity Linux desktop

      @People

      Why would you equate Ubuntu with desktop Linux?
      True most new users and people easily led tend to use it because of all the hype paid for by Mark Shuttleworth, but there is a whole multitude of other distributions available If you have found Ubuntu's direction unacceptable.
      Why not try one or more of those before you declare the Linux desktop dead based on things done by a version of Linux most experienced Linux users wouldn't use if they were paid to.
      itsgregman
    • RE: What's coming in Ubuntu's new Unity Linux desktop

      [i]Why not try one or more of those before you declare the Linux desktop dead based on things done by a version of Linux most experienced Linux users wouldn't use if they were paid to.[/i]

      Wouldn't matter. If it didn't have the Redmond brand on it and they didn't pay out the_ass for it, then they wouldn't bother. They're actually beginning to sound like the Apple folks.
      ScorpioBlue
    • RE: What's coming in Ubuntu's new Unity Linux desktop

      @People Thats nice for you. It powers every computer I use at home AND at work. So for me Windows is pointless.
      storm14k
  • RE: What's coming in Ubuntu's new Unity Linux desktop

    Yawn
    Stan57
  • I like the Metro interface

    Looking good Ubuntu, now you need a Lync client and run Microsoft Office, then it would be nearly perfect.
    Your Non Advocate
    • RE: What's coming in Ubuntu's new Unity Linux desktop

      @facebook@...

      Ummm, Metro came a 1.5 years AFTER Ubuntu's Unity interface, and they don't resemble each other in the slightest. I'm using both. Unity I don't like much on the desktop (but love on a Netbook), and Metro I just despise as the clunkiest thing I've seen since Windows 1, or Microsoft Bob. :)
      admiraljkb
  • RE: What's coming in Ubuntu's new Unity Linux desktop

    Canonical must improve performances....Ubuntu 10.10 was perfect...better than a Mac on my laptop (Hp g62 340us)....i'm testing Ubuntu 11.10...but it still lacks performances...however, the interface is taking shape and is a step forward compared to Ubuntu 11.04....let's wait and see.
    tacco