Sunday, 11 September 2011

Ubuntu Natty And Unity

When I wrote my last piece on the Unity interface I was criticised for not giving Unity a chance. Which one could argue was fare. Unity was still in development at the time. Now that Unity has been the default desktop interface for Ubuntu desktop edition. Introduced to Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal). My fears about Unity have not yet changed.

Unity simply put is lacking in basic features and Ubunty 11.04 as a whole is somewhat unstable. I've just noticed at some point the CD automount feature crashes. Apparently this is an issue with gvfs or some such. And lets not forget compatibility with MusicBrainz is still broken.

So to date what are the major problems with 11.04 and Unity.

CD automount invariably crashes. There appears to be no work around or fix other than rebooting.

Speaking of rebooting. For the first time ever my system is now regularly hanging on reboot. This seems to be a Plymouth issue? I could be wrong. But I've never had this before. All my hardware checks out. So the problem must be software.

Unity has no way to clear the “recently used files” list. This is a basic feature that has existed on most desktop environments for years. Decades! Even Microsoft can pull this one off without a hitch.

Unity has no way of creating a custom launcher from with in the Unity interface. This again is a very basic feature. A launcher is just a link of a sort. Nothing special about it. Why this feature isn't there is a total mystery. It begs the question which type of people Canonical thinks the Ubuntu community is made up of? The work around is to create the launcher manually using Gedit. Not really something a beginner would think of. More time than it's worth for a “power user”. I can see why people are abandoning Unity. Unity isn't even aware /bin exists. Anybody would think any sort of “run application prompt” in Linux would at least be aware of /bin. But no. That's too hard. But it gets worse. Unity doesn't even let you type the path name of your application. It just doesn't accept it.

Unless Unity is made aware your application exists via the creation of a launcher, it's no dice. And unity has no way to create a launcher. So in the age of the ultra slick GUI we're reduced to typing at the command terminal just to launch a simple application. And don't get me wrong. Users shouldn't be afraid of the command terminal. But using just to launch a single app is over kill. It's geek masturbation.

MusicBrainz compatibility is broken. MusicBrainz as I understand it was re-jigged to be Gnome 3.x compatible. Ubuntu Natty is still dragging it's heals at Gnome 2.x. This is a major let down for an OS that claims to be “social from the start”.

These problems might not seem massive. But for a desktop user they can be show stoppers. When your music app can't even tell you the name of your audio CD or even mount it automatically in the first place. It doesn't look good. In fact it looks really, really bad. It's not the sort of OS you want to hand out to people. How can we recommend Ubuntu when Canonical are getting such basic features wrong? You can't recommend an OS and then say “oh never mind if X doesn't work. Canonical will fix that in the next 6 monthly release”. It just doesn't fly. The only positive note is Unity does inprove somewhat in the future. It gets better. But who knows if Canonical will address all the stupid issues that should never have arisen.

At this point in time I feel Canonical would have been better off leaving Unity on the netbook. Developing it in the background while using Gnome 3.x for the time being. Unity just isn't ready for mainstream usage. It gets in the way more than it helps. And when your OS is getting in the way of your work, play or whatever. It's time to find a new OS.

Edit: Alt+F2 still brings up a run command prompt that actually works. Unity is damn confusing. Which brings to mind something else that's missing. An introduction to Unity and what it does.