The latest Ubuntu Unity: Good or bad?

Jack Wallen
Feb 27, 2011
Updated • Dec 5, 2012

It's almost here. Ubuntu 11.04 will be arriving in less than two months and when it does, there will be reactions. Big reactions. Some of those reactions will not be so great. I took the time to install the latest Ubuntu Unity and thought I should give my reaction to how this new desktop is going to effect the crowds. My overall reaction really surprised even me.

Has it improved?

Yes. From the last time I installed Unity I have to say it has improved quite a bit. Gone are windows always opening maximized. Gone are the rampant memory leaks I found in the last release I had installed on my desktop machine. It's smoother, it's more refined, and it's finally usable.


What are the problems?

Although this desktop will seem very straight-forward to first-time users of GNOME and first-time users of Linux, once you get beyond "getting to know" you will find this desktop riddled with problems that will have users scrambling to either another distribution or another desktop.

No run dialog. I run a lot of programs by hitting Alt-F2 and then typing the command. That no longer works. With Ubuntu Unity there is no run dialog. You would have to have the gnome-panel running in order to get it back (you can do this if you like, but it will not be the default behavior). This strikes me as odd, because the run dialog has been a part of GNOME (and most desktops) for years. Why would this not be included?

Another HUGE problem (at least from my perspective) is the lack of "Connect To Server". In GNOME as we know it, if you click Places you will see the Connect To Server link. That will open the tool to help you connect to a remote machine. Guess what? No Connect To Server. You can even open up Nautilus, check in the Go menu and not find the ability to connect to a server. This is bad...especially for power users.

Speaking of menus...

It looks like Unity has gone the way of Mac and placed some application menus in the panel at the top of the screen. But not all applications will adhere to this function. For example, Firefox will retain it's menus within it's own window. This is inconsistent and will only serve to frustrate users. Any application that is not a GTK+ application will find it's menus stuck in the application window.


Not a single right-click anywhere on the desktop. You can no longer right-click the desktop to change your background, you can't right-click the panel, you can't right-click the launcher panel. This function has become second-nature to people. When they want to configure their desktop they tend to go right-click happy. Now, from the bird's eye view, there is no where to begin if you want to configure anything on your desktop. Sure, you'll find it if you click Applications > System > Appearance. There you can configure your Theme, Background, Fonts, and (supposedly) Visual Effects. Of course you can't actually configure your visual effects because, as it stands now, Mutter controls the visual effects. And guess what? There's no way to configure Mutter.

The conclusion

From the looks of it as of right at this moment, Unity is going to tank. When I first heard of this desktop replacement I was on the side of Ubuntu. I assumed they were going to bring something user-friendly and worthwhile to the fore. They did not. Unity is going to do quite the opposite of its title for Ubuntu. 


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  1. whocares said on March 1, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    unity is a way for ubuntu to copy mac os x stupid interface.
    after copying the stupid close/min/max on the left and global menu, why not copy their finder with its inability to do copy folder merge and finder’s stupid needs to subdivide finder window to navigate through folders.

    everything about mac is wrong. from needless mouse movement to drag trash across big lcd monitor to the trashbin when you can right mouse click delete. or drag a file to install, move mouse to the global menu or top close/max/min buttons. all these uneccesary mouse mouvements.
    so unintuitive and wasted marathon of hand-mouse mouvements to accomplished same task.

    so stop copying mac. i rather ubuntu copy windows 7. a more pleasant experience. i like fedora.
    gnome shell is beautiful.

  2. IGnatius T Foobar said on October 25, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    Unity is terrible. Canonical has joined Apple and Microsoft in their quest to turn our computer desktops into overgrown smartphones.

    I’m now running Xfce, since GNOME3 and KDE4 are almost as bad. And because of that, I might as well just switch to stock Debian, right? I’ve been a happy Ubuntu user since 2006.

    So yeah, Ubuntu has jumped the shark.

  3. John said on August 30, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    I consider myself a Linux hobbyist who tries Linux (especially Ubuntu) from time to time. For the most part hardware issues have always kept me from adopting Ubuntu for a primary OS. So now I have tried Ubuntu 11.4 and frankly, its really a step backwards for Ubuntu. I think many will hate the new UI and the bugs are much worse at least in my experience that it leads me to believe Ubuntu will loose its popularity. What little it had to begin with. My only advice for Ubuntu is too stop with the changes and start making the OS solid and hardware compliant. All they have basically done is created another layer of problems to solve.

  4. DublinFrench said on July 12, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    Unity was a disaster for me, because:
    1 – I love my cube. I want my compiz to be on a 3D cube with the cool effects. Life sucks enough to have a few guilty pleasure people don;t take over from you without warning.
    2 – I often have a lot of different applications open at the same time on my screen. I want to see all my applications menu at the same time. I don’t want to have only one menu displayed at the same time on the top screen, and to have to click on an application window to have visual access to their top menu. This is a huge reduction of my visual possibilities.
    3 – my desktop is my working tool. I can’t have everything different like that one morning for my professional tools. The ergonomic is too strongly remade. Please keep teenagers under acid influence out of the Ubuntu development team.
    4 – at the same time, I will appreciate my application and preferences to stop disappearing from my Ubuntu after every release update. If I install Virtual box, it is because I use it. I don’t want to have to reinstall it once again after a release update. I know i had a lot of useful software before, I don’t really remember their name as I didn;t use some of them very often, but I know they were here, somewhere, ready to be used again if I need. And they disappeared after the released. So bad for me.
    5 – More generally, I’m an IT developer. I learnt with the time it is very bad to brutally change and break everything in a good working tool. You have to go by small updates, to offer choices, to add functionalities, but you can’t break everything to make new as you lose a lot of your users who were very satisfied _before_ you decided to move everything. Only apple made that once, and they said later they regret and it was bad decisions.

  5. Just Another Ex Ubuntu User said on May 18, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    With the forcing of Unity on the user base Ubuntu has not so much jumped the Shark but launched itself into orbit over the worlds biggest shoal of sharks.

    Personally I’ve now gone Debian with XFCE and I’m not going back.

  6. Irfaan said on May 14, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    I really do like Ubuntu. I’ve written a little review about it here:

  7. ah said on April 9, 2011 at 9:47 am

    i have already moved to fedora ! though it is alpha it hasnt crashed on me even once !

  8. al bondigas said on April 5, 2011 at 8:20 am

    having tried the unity interface after installing the netbook remix on my lady’s netbook, i was pleasantly surprised. personally, it doesn’t work with what i like to do things on my linux machines (web development and most anything LAMP), but i can appreciate what i think they’re trying to do.

    for people who are comfortable with the UIs of popular mobile phones (apple or android), its an easy switch. the interface seems to be designed with that perspective in mind. as a run of the mill computer user she likes it alot better than windows 7 or osx, and she’s got machines with both. the os doesn’t get in the way of doing basic desktop tasks…. so ubuntu and the unity interface will bode well for some users.

    testing gnome 3 in the fedora 14 alpha, i found it frustrating being a current gnome user myself. already installed xfce as a fallback for the day gnome3 hits debian testing. there is a definite learning curve, and right now it isn’t the way I want to do my computing……

    let’s face it, those of us who know how to configure our systems to behave how we want them to behave will continue to do so with or without gnome-shell or unity. there’s other other options available and we know where to find them.

    the more people that become aware of free software and alternatives to windows or osx the better IMO. if gnome-shell or unity assists in that, i’m all for it.

    for myself, i guess i’ll be using xfce!

  9. DJ said on April 4, 2011 at 12:58 am

    ubuntu im donr headed to fedora.

  10. Frederico A. Mendes said on March 18, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    Canonical should follow a new strategy for the launch of Unity.
    Below is a link to view the model of the idea.
    Community participation and a greater period of development is important.

  11. Ian said on March 14, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    As an update to the information in this article:

    Alt+F2 now opens the Unity launcher (Dash) in “Run mode” Here, you can enter a command and run it, just like the Run dialog.

    Right-clicking to change your desktop background is re-implemented.

    Global menu support for Firefox and LibreOffice is shaping up nicely. While this doesn’t quite fix the entire issue, having the issue patched in XUL, LO, and QT (I think it’s there; Amarok has it on my system) it is fixed for an overwhelming majority of applications.

  12. Luke said on March 13, 2011 at 1:40 am

    Oh, man… This article and many of the comments — or at least the ones by MRK — are hilarious. Dumping on an interface that’s not even in beta yet, screaming ‘GET OFF MAH LAWN!” to noobs and whining because Canonical is daring to open the doors to your secret little clubhouse to people who aren’t l33t haxx0rs. You guys sound like /b/ complaining about newfags and cancer.

    The best part… Unity will still be optional in 11.04. Don’t like it, just switch to the standard Gnome desktop and customize to your heart’s content.

  13. Tom Wright said on March 11, 2011 at 12:52 am

    Ok, as of now almost all of the issues you have listed have been fixed in the latest version of Unity including:
    – lack of run dialog
    – firefox global menu integration
    – right click on desktop
    and connect to server was there all the time.

  14. Bhaskar said on March 9, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    I absolutely agree with your conclusion, unity is sure to tank. There’s not a single thing that I like about the UI. The buggy gnome shell UI looks a lot more promising than this crap.

    1. Sashin said on March 13, 2011 at 2:39 am

      What the hell could you possibly use to support this view?

  15. Siegfried said on March 4, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    It’s sad and funny at the same time how people make their comments about lack of quality and lack of productivity about OS features that are clearly unfinished. Power user this and power user that, oh my oh my oh my, what a bunch of nonsense.

    I used every version of windows for 18 years. There are 3 primary reasons why I switched to Linux 2 years ago, in particular to Ubuntu.

    1. Because I got sick of all the license requirements and associated windows installation problems when trying to sell custom built computers.
    2. I got sick and tired of the involved costs … not just for windows licensing, but also for 5 additional applications that I’d uses over the years, programs such as Office, Photoshop, and so on.
    3. Security and stability, another thing that’s not as readily available with windows as with just about any Linux based OS.

    Being a professional power user those points were much more important to me than anything else and having come from the windows environment, simple point ‘n’ click was just about as important. YES, I’ve tried at least half a dozen linux flavors in the past 10 years, beginning with red hat, but it doesn’t change the fact that if you really want to get new users, windows users, and mac users … you’ll have to do whatever it takes COMPETITIVELY to make that happen … which means that all of you terminal happy old time linux users can either find another distro (Mint, Kubuntu, Fedora, and so on) to complete your personal terminal needs – OR – like me, become ecstatic that Ubuntu is reaching more and more of it’s initial goals by providing a free desktop system that just about anyone in the world can use, on top of putting one together that even competes with the available visual bling of all those other non-linux systems out there.

    Don’t know if I’ll like unity – won’t run alphas and betas because I don’t see the point for my own use – but I won’t shoot it down no matter what, because Ubuntu is going in the direction that it’s always meant to go (in my opinion). If I don’t like that direction anymore, then I’ll follow my own advice and find another distro …. peace!

  16. Tiptz said on March 1, 2011 at 11:10 am

    There seem to be errors in your configuration.

    a) Connect to Server is in the menu if you click on the desktop and then in the menu it’s under “File”
    b) Right click is essentially unchanged from 10.10.
    c) Firefox will have the global application menu for 11.04 (it just hasn’t landed yet.

    Sounds like your nautilus has either crashed or isn’t running, that would cause a) and b) to occur.

  17. malleeman said on February 28, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    I’m with you Jack. I installed Natty in a virtual box a month ago to see what all the fuss about Unity (from various write-ups) was about and I hated Unity from the get go. So much was it not what I wanted, I have since left Ubuntu for good (have been Ubuntu since Hardy) and am now using the Pinguy OS (based on Ubuntu, but not Ubuntu). It too has gone the route of placing some application menus in the panel at the top of the screen and, as you noted, there is some frustration that not all applications adhere to this function. Even so, I like the mix in Pinguy OS and that he’s gone to a LOT of trouble to make it a nice and very useable OS right out of the box. I feel like I’ve got the Ubuntu I’ve always loved plus just enough eye-candy to keep me happy (I’m sold, as you can probably tell). I want nothing to do with Unity. I’ve not liked it from the mockups and hate it in it’s current form. As others have already said, if I wanted the feel of a Mac or a Win then I’d be using a Mac or a Win. Great article btw.

  18. akashtaker001 said on February 28, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    Guys why are you bashing Canonical and Ubuntu when they are trying to do something new for the Linux desktop. For ages all the distros have been same with Gnome, KDE, Xfce etc…
    Ubuntu is trying Unity to add an exclusivity to it with Unity. Gnome is also trying something different with Gnome Shell.
    Lets see which one works well (I hope both does well)
    If you don’t like Gnome Shell or Unity go for KDE or XFCE or LXDE there are so many options available. An interesting changes in Linux are waiting for us for so many years everything was just same. For a common user a new release of Linux Distro was just same with new wallpaper and theme.

  19. Jim Watson said on February 28, 2011 at 11:10 am

    ‘Another HUGE problem (at least from my perspective) is the lack of “Connect To Server”’

    On 10.10 Netbook (Unity) remix, ‘connect to server’ is under Nautilus’ ‘File’ menu – it would be more logical (IMHO) under the Go menu but at least it’s there – is it not the same with the Unity version that you’ve tested?


    1. Sashin said on February 28, 2011 at 11:51 am

      It’s in the latest, 11.04 as well.

  20. Jason said on February 28, 2011 at 1:24 am

    I think changes are needed. Change can be tough cause we got to learn new impulses and patterned routines that we’ve lived with for years. That doesn’t make them the best way of doing things. But I think these new designs are going to work out great once people acclimate to them. I’m really excited that we have two options available. Try Unity, it don’t work, try Gnome-shell, try KDE. It’s more options than Windows. Give the new stuff a chance and I think folks are going to like the changes.

  21. eggdeng said on February 27, 2011 at 11:15 pm

    some application menus in the panel at the top of the screen

    WTF, not again!
    If I wanted a Mac, I’d use a Mac.

    The worst part is that when Gnome commits hari-kiri with Gnome 3, there will be no decent desktop left to go to.
    Go Android!

    1. ES said on February 28, 2011 at 12:06 am

      Right. Its official, now. Windows controls on the left and menu on the top makes any OS a Mac.

      Oh wait. The dock’s on the left.

      Don’t let facts get in the way of a good rant.

      1. Mikael said on April 5, 2011 at 1:17 am

        And remember, don’t let superficial differences get in the way of a snide reply…

        Unity does make the UI feel a lot more like the Mac OS X UI, I should know, I work in it regularly. I see several problems arising from that, but on the other hand, I hope the open source mentality of the UI redesign over at Canonical will prevent the worst of it.

  22. Richard said on February 27, 2011 at 11:13 pm

    I must admit I have been using Unity on the current alpha and so far I find it a backward step. But in saying that it is alpha and it will change and improve I am sure.

    My concern is that if it does not live up what we expect from Ubuntu then many people will jump ship and hurt the distro. At the moment I have begun testing other distro’s again, something I haven’t done for a couple of years as I am really happy with Maverick and I am concerned about usability on Natty.

    In the past I have not liked KDE at all, yet after testing the latest verions of Kubuntu I am finding that a more comfortable fit on usability than Gnome Shell or Unity. Maybe I have got too used to Gnome 2.32.

    Likewise I miss not having the connect to server option in the places menu and shouldn’t have to go to nautilus to get to it.

    1. llewton said on February 27, 2011 at 11:32 pm

      You people don’t seem to understand at all. For 6-7 years Ubuntu’s moved nowhere outside the LInux world, made no dent whatsoever bringing over users from Windows, just took users from other distros. Canonical doesn’t care about people already using Ubuntu because they are so few in numbers, looking at the big picture. They want to bring over new people and think they can bring over more Windows users than will lose those now using Ubuntu. That, or call it quits. We can sit back and watch what happens. But existing users are absolutely irrelevant, get used to that and stop whining.

      1. MRK said on February 28, 2011 at 1:36 am

        Say what?
        If they want “Windows” they can have “Windows”.
        Where is the logic in making a Corvette into an SUV; one with defective floormats, a DVD player so the driver can watch TV, and stylish “limo-type” shades on the windows so no one can see in (or out).
        Making something “spiffy keen” just because you can will only impress those who are easily impressed, while important and finite resources diverted for the “wow factor” ensure a perpetual “tail chase” instead of a firm foundation. Oh yea, they can hire more magicians to make more money appear in the hat, but… Oh, “well whatever, nevermind.”

      2. ES said on February 28, 2011 at 12:08 am

        Isn’t that what the linux community has been trying to do for ages. You know, the never ending Linux on the Desktop year.

        Now that Canonical/Ubuntu has the **** to do it, why isn’t everybody supporting them.

  23. nlvivar said on February 27, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    I was so worried about Unity and the push for bleeding-edge features in Ubuntu lately that I preemptively made the jump to Debian testing (was Squeeze, now Wheezy) and CrunchBang (on my netbook). Both are kind of bland and don’t carry the bleeding edge updates, but they are as up-to-date as I need them and are hassle free.

    I don’t really want to bash Ubuntu, since it was my first GNU/Linux that I really used full-time (I had dabbled with Mandrake and Fedora before.), but the push for crazy features like Unity that don’t really add functionality but add bugs has turned me off.

  24. Jason said on February 27, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    I agree with Sashin. (I was going to mention this). Unity is only Alpha. A lot’s going to change in two months.

  25. Sashin said on February 27, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    I believe you are misinformed, if you are using the same version of unity as I am this can’t be right.
    I am using an up to date 11.04 alpha and find that not only can I right click the desktop to find the same options as GNOME, I can also connect to the server albeit via menu in nautilus.

    ALSO, if you had been following development closer you would have realised that the alt+F2 is a temporary thing that they will add back later in the cycle.

    On top of all this, there are extensions that will be finished by release to handle global menus on XUL applications (firefox, thunderbird). Please refrain from criticising an OS that is only in alpha stage as it doesn’t represent the final quality of the product.

  26. Jason said on February 27, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    I haven’t even been able to get Unity to install!

    I tried Gnome-Shell though–and LOVE it. I’m excited about Unity. But I’m not worried about if I’ll like it or not because I’ll just use Gnome-shell if I don’t. I’m switching to Gnome-shell soon as it comes out 4 April. I’ll give Unity a try at some point. Personally, I don’t think Unity’s going to reach a point where you can get a true sense of its potential until 12.04.

  27. Ellipsis said on February 27, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    Has anyone even looked at GNOME Shell before complaining about Unity?

    GNOME Shell’s changes are much more radical and have a similar set of problems. I am not saying GNOME Shell is bad or the GNOME team won’t continue to improve it. But the changes there are a whole lot less natural then Unity (for now at least).

    1. Basico said on February 27, 2011 at 8:58 pm

      I totally agree. Gnome shell is much more radical.

  28. MartinJB said on February 27, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    Having found Jack’s instructions on how to try Unity and taken it for a test spin I wasn’t impressed and went back to gnome. As a relatively new Ubuntu user I didn’t come to the system for its flashiness but rather a stable alternative to Windows. I think that maybe MRK has some good points. So does Dev so we’ll wait for the release and see what the gurus have to say then.

  29. Dev said on February 27, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    Remember still not released: Alpha 3, Beta 1, Beta 2, and Final.

    >Any application that is not a GTK+ application will find it’s menus stuck in the application window.
    Qt apps works forward with global menu, now works, but integration is later.

    >Firefox will retain it’s menus within it’s own window.
    Firefox 4 works with global menu too, in the beta. Remember, this is Alpha 2 of Ubuntu 11.04

    >you can’t right-click the panel
    Why you can right-click the panel? is for menus and indicators with menu.

    >you can’t right-click the launcher panel
    You can right-click for open the menu.

    >here is no where to begin if you want to configure anything on your desktop
    Ubuntu 11.04 use GNOME 3 with the new unified Control Center. Soon (Beta).

    >Mutter controls the visual effects.
    It’s Compiz. Ubuntu 11.04 use Compiz not mutter, GNOME Shell use Mutter (Mutter is slow). To configure effects use Compiz Setting UI.

  30. akedemo said on February 27, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    Mutter is no longer an effect manager in Unity. Unity is now using Compiz for effects.

  31. David (GNU/Linux supporter) said on February 27, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Canonical appear to be focussed on the new user to the exclusion of all other users…with power user options gone so as to “simplify” things for the newbie I can’t see why an experienced user would opt for Ubuntu…perhaps they will opt to migrate to one of the other Canonical provided desktop environment versions with, I expect, Kubuntu being the most likely one.

    1. MRK said on February 27, 2011 at 6:13 pm

      No, Dave, as I have noticed even during Lucid testing, they seem to be motivated by the filthy lucre and the “dogs and ponies” to dazzle the Noobs, the easily amused and the “iX…” generation of “pay to play”. Those where entertainment is more important than stability and security. Those known to Text themselves into fountains and GPS themselves onto train tracks.
      I have stayed with the LTS, straamlined it for speed and stability, but am seriously looking at Debian 6 to replace Ubuntu. It seems that the worst of “Closed Source”, the bloat and flaws of Microsoft and the arrogance of Apple are the new “par-a-dyne” of Ubuntu.
      ‘Tis a pity…

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