Verdict Is?: Ubuntu 11.04 beta arrives

Jack Wallen
Apr 4, 2011
Updated • Dec 5, 2012

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:

  • Unity is now the default Ubuntu Desktop session.
  • Drag and drop re-ordering of launcher icons.
  • Full keyboard navigation support.
  • Launch apps from keyboard activation through keyboard shortcuts
  • Right-click context menu quick-list support.
  • Ability to switch between running applications
  • Icons can be dragged and dropped from the Dash to the launcher.
  • Three session types in GDM: Ubuntu (Unity, requires 3D support), Ubuntu Classic (Classic GNOME), Ubuntu Classic No Effects (Classic GNOME with visual effects turned off).
  • Classic GNOME panel applets not supported in Unity.

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:

  • Gcc 4.5
  • Python 2.7
  • dpkg 1.16.0-pre
  • Upstart 0.9

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.

Overall impressions

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.



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  1. monotasker said on April 9, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    Does anyone know why Canonical insists on using their worst wallpapers as the default? The Natty default clashes with some of the Unity UI and just about any of the community wallpapers would give a much more professional feel. The new image for Ubuntu was supposed to be “light” but between the black of the Unity UI and the dark feel of the default wallpaper I don’t see much “light.”

  2. Joel Zehring said on April 7, 2011 at 5:49 am

    Heartening to hear Unity has made some strides in usability since your previous post. Will Unity help Ubuntu to increase it’s user-base, or will Unity just be another bulletpoint in the Natty reviews?

  3. Charles Norrie said on April 6, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    Having installed the beta I am delighted at the solidity of the OS. Gleaming straight out of the box. And the start up and shut down times are most impressive. The two second boot isn’t quite there yet, but its well within grasp. Congratulations to everybody.

  4. jasray said on April 5, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    For some reason, I really didn’t like the upgrade. Oddly enough, I had a harder time finding programs than I ever have had. Shortcuts for installs would be placed in illogical locations or several times programs no longer had icons installed in the menu. Sometimes I could find thing by opening the all applications–just wasn’t all that great. Much prefer Mint and PCLinuxOS. I suppose it’s a matter of getting used to it.

  5. wally sturgeon said on April 5, 2011 at 10:49 am

    “Icons can be dragged and dropped from the Dash to the launcher”

    Change I’ve been waiting for.

    Now if they’s speed up network opening shares I’d be ecstatic. Opening my NAS is skow..


  6. Stephen Murcott said on April 5, 2011 at 7:45 am

    Nice article, thanks. The format was easy to read and not so full of emotive statements as so many articles on this release have been. I am too happy with my current Ubuntu desktop installs to change to the latest desktop at the moment but it is reassuring to read a more positive review, I like the distro and the community and hope to see it continue to move Linux onto more desktops.

  7. Miggs said on April 5, 2011 at 6:42 am

    Waiting for the final release. I’m not happy with the stability yet.

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