That's right, Ubuntu Natty Narwhal is about to hit the interwebs in its glossy, shiny, well-packaged, full-release form. But for now, we all have to sit back and enjoy the beta release. After downloading and installing this beta release, I thought users would like to know my first impressions on what is being offered up by Canonical and Ubuntu 11.04.
Yes, we've all heard the constant condemnation and kudos to Canonical for making such a bold move. I myself have even said the makers of one of the most user-friendly distributions are making a mistake. But the reality of it is -- it's just a user interface and it's one that works well. It's not perfect. It's not flexible. It's not remotely the norm. But it's what Ubuntu is going with and there you have it. Ubuntu Unity will also not make or break Ubuntu. Why? Because users can choose from Unity or Classic GNOME. Or...users can opt for Kubuntu, or any other distribution based on Ubuntu.
And, truth be told, when you see the version of Unity that should be shipped with the full release, you might start seeing it in a bit of a different light. Even though Unity has had little time for real polishing, it has a fairly sleek look and feel. It's solid and it works exactly as you would expect.
What is new to Unity? Here's a list:
But beyond Unity, what are we getting with 11.04 beta? Let's dig in.
The beta release will bring little new functionality. What was in the final alpha will most like be seen in the beta. The kernel release is 2.6.38-7.39 which is based on the mainline 2.6.38 kernel. One change is that vesafb has be re-enabled as a module to help prevent GPU hangs and screen corruption on boot.
I was quite happy to find out that LibreOffice 3.3.2 is included with the beta release. If you are not familiar with LibreOffice, it is the fork of OpenOffice created after Oracle took over the reigns and starting upturning the open source community.
Also included are:
Of the above list, the major update is upstart which has a number of new features (such as being chroot-aware and support for basic job/event visualization.
My first impression with the 11.04 desktop was surprisingly positive. I was very much prepared to be underwhelmed, but found quite the opposite to be the case. The Unity desktop ran smooth and was very efficient. After playing with the desktop for a while it becomes quite clear the ultimate goal is that of touch screens. But even being touch-screen-centric, the desktop still works well under the current norm of mouse and keyboard.
I was also pleased to see how quickly the startup and shutdown process was. 11.04 might well be the fastest I have ever experienced.
Ultimately the decision to use Ubuntu 11.04 is going to boil down to how much you like the desktop. But even if you do not like Unity, there is always another desktop you can use instead. That is one of the best features of Linux, after all -- flexibility.
I believe Ubuntu 11.04 is going to continue the tradition Ubuntu started long ago, which means 11.04 will still be one of the most user-friendly Linux distributions available. If you want to give 11.04 beta a try, download it here.
Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.