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Ubuntu Linux 11.04 (Natty Narwhal) is out

By: 30 April 2011 51 Comments

Ubuntu Unity. Not ready for prime time.

Ubuntu rolled out its latest Linux distribution — 11.04, which has been dubbed Natty Narwhal — was released on Thursday (April 28) and comes with a couple of new features worth mentioning.

Let’s get the irritating parts of the distribution out of the way first. First of all, this thing takes a couple of hours to install, including the download over a broadband Internet connection and the expected configuration, obnoxious prompt screens, etc. The download and upgrade takes quite some time, clocking in at over two hours form start to finish. That’s two hours when you can’t use your computer to do much of anything and the prompts you’ll have to answer to keep the process moving along means you can’t just set it, leave it alone and come back to it later.

Still, anyone who’s spent time installing operating systems knows that the process does typically take some time. A long upgrade time is forgivable (particularly when comparing the Ubuntu upgrade to a major one for Windows), but that blasted Unity desktop bundled with the latest Ubuntu distribution is downright frustrating. Yes, Unity was bad under the last major distribution, but it might have actually gotten worse with Natty Narwhal. It’s slow, clunky and — in spite of the hype — about as revolutionary as an IBM Selectric.

Unity is, in essence, a strip of icons that sits mockingly on the left side of the screen and makes running and switching between applications very clumsy. Think of the Unity desktop as something similar to those icon-laden task bars under Mac OS X or Microsoft Windows 7, only slower and less useful. Apple and Microsoft are years ahead of Ubuntu in that regard.

It’s buggy, too. In order to save space, the Unity icon strip will automatically hide and pop back up when the mouse pointer gets anywhere close to it. The “buggy” part rears its ugly head as the weird, auto hide feature is rather hit or miss — the desktop might pop back up when you want it to or it might not, leaving the impression it’s either lazy or shy. Scrolling through the icons is a cumbersome process, indeed.

The Unity desktop is the default for Ubuntu 11.04, but the Gnome 2 desktop is still available to people who don’t care one whit for Unity. Getting rid of Unity is an easy enough matter — simply click the “shut down” icon in the upper right hand corner of the screen, choose “system settings” from the pull down menu, go to “login screen” and the select “Ubuntu classic” as the default session.

Bear in mind that I’m running Unity on a netbook and it may work better on faster hardware (I may test that theory one day by setting up my desktop as a dual-boot system, but that’ll wait until later). Regardless, one of the selling points of Linux is that it uses even systems with meager hardware resources efficiently. Unity is a bloated mess that appears to fly right in the face of that philosophy.

And that seems more than a bit odd as Unity was the standard interface for netbooks under 10.10 and it was apparently designed initially to work well with small screens and limited hardware resources. That focus has shifted in that people using netbooks and older systems are steered to the lighter Unity 2D desktop, while the standard Unity has a lot of bells and whistles and the drain on resources to match.

Unfortunately, it seems Ubuntu won’t use Gnome 2 as a backup when 11.10 (Oneiric Ocelot) is released in a few months. Here’s something else for Linux fans to consider — seen Gnome 3 yet? The same philosophies that gave birth to Unity appear to be firmly in place with the latest version of Gnome 3. Those days of the Gnome 2 interface (which still looks a heck of a lot like Windows XP and/or Mac OS 9) are clearly numbered.

Look at it this way — Gnome 2 is great for mouse-driven systems, but what if  we’re heading toward more touch screens and the like that will make navigating in interfaces like Gnome 2 downright impractical? Unity (and Gnome 3, for that matter) make a lot of sense when one thinks about where technology could be headed. Still, Unity needs quite a bit of work in terms of both stability and working out another issue. Finding applications under Unity, see, means either finding the program directly under the sidebar or searching for an app by typing its name and searching for it (and pinning it to the dock for easy future access if you want to do that). How is all that typing going to work well on a touchscreen?

Think of it this way — you can search for apps by typing them in on your iPhone, but how often do you do that? No, you’ve got icons for everything and you touch them to launch them. The Unity dock simply doesn’t have enough space for icons for everything, so how is that going to work? To be fair, Windows and Mac OS will struggle with the same issue (and probably are already).

That said, another change that is decidedly major but will be invisible to most users is the inclusion of the latest Linux kernel — 2.6.38. You get the expected bug fixes and support for more hardware, but perhaps the most significant update has to do with the so-called “wonder patch.” You can read the specifics about that here, but the wonder patch is supposed to speed up the system by tweaking the way processes are handled by the Linux scheduler. As Linux proponents tend to point out the speed and efficiency advantages of the operating system, that comes as good news.

Ah, but does the patch make a noticeable difference? It does appear to make the system a bit snappier, at least when comparing 11.04 to 10.1o under the Gnome 2 desktop. Speed improvements are evident when accessing Web sites and — interestingly enough — starting up The GIMP. You’ll find some discussion of the speed enhancements of the patch here. For a look at the major upgrades in the new Linux kernel, go here.

Another major change is that — the default Ubuntu office suite — has been replaced by LibreOffice, which is very similar to and based on that suite. It, like, is compatible with Microsoft Word and seems to run quite a bit faster than its predecessor.

Another change is that the trusty Rhythmbox music player has been replaced by Banshee. No complaints there as Banshee is a solid player. You also get the latest version of Firefox by default in the latest distribution of Ubuntu.

The workspaces feature is new, too (or, at least easier to find than in earlier distributions). Users can easily pull up the different workspaces up on the screen at once to allow for side-by-side manipulation. Of course, one of the hallmarks of Linux is that it has traditionally taken multitasking quite far by allowing independent workspaces to handle separate tasks.

And, yes, there’s some more refinement Ubuntu One, which is the developer’s foray into cloud computing. It’s a bit easier to set up and use than last time around and allows pretty effective sharing of files and media streaming to portable devices.

All in all, 11.04 is — on the surface — a refined release rather than a huge leap forward from the last distribution. Outside of the dreadful Unity interface, there’s really not a whole lot to criticize. One does have to wonder if Unity will improve with the next distribution or just got more bloated and irritating.

The final verdict here is this — if you’re happy with Ubuntu 10.10, you’ve got to ask yourself if you’ll gain that much with 11.04. Once Unity is turned off, the system looks and behaves much like it did running under 10.10 in spite of the upgrade. You’ll get the latest kernel and the aforementioned wonder patch and those are enhancements worth mentioning, but this release still seems centered around the Unity desktop. Honestly, I’m glad I went ahead and upgraded as there are a few enhancements and — with Gnome 2 activated — my system acts like it did under 10.10.

If you’re on the fence about upgrading, you can always download it, install it on a CD or USB drive and try it out before installing.

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email =


  • JamesonLewis3rd said:

    Thank you very much for that tip on getting rid of the so-called “Unity” desktop. You saved me a lot of grief and mouse-clicks.

    Yesterday, I was wracked with regret as I wondered if I would need to downgrade to escape the anxiety lavished upon me by my grotesque desktop–this morning, though, I breathed a sigh of relief.

  • Sashin said:

    It installs really quickly, did it dual boot as well within 15 minutes including partitioning…

    And Unity is great, my workflow is way faster with the new UI than the old… It’s not slow at all and it saves heaps of space…

  • Red Oscar said:

    And people ask me why I still run Gutsy Gibbon. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

  • Asp7yxia said:

    its human nature to resist change.
    ur fear and apprehension about unity is well justified :D
    u see, ur only being human.
    and ubuntu is for human beings!!

  • Asp7yxia said:

    “…First of all, this thing takes a couple of hours to install, including the download over a broadband Internet connection…”

    i mean what?!?
    when did the norms change and download times started being accounted as installation time?!?

    seriously, i want to know ur logic behind it!!!
    :) :D

  • Kubulai said:

    Resistance is futile. Halt and be assimilated!

    Ok, I went through like cupture shock, but man I’m getting over it, OK? And yeah I’d like to be able to choose my GNU, KDE, or whatever at the login screen on a session by session basis, but the things I am looking for right now are:
    1. Does VMWare Player / Workstation still work, or will it not compile (often takes 1-2 months for VMWare to catch up after a release)
    2. Can I get more than 4 workspaces? I usually run 8 (six for specific jobs and two spares)
    3. Since I already did the LibreOffice switch thingie I’m cool with that already.
    4. Do I still have my command shell?
    5. Do all the other ttys still work? (CTRL-ALT-F1, through F12)

    So the bottom line is easy: this is the future: now how can I still be productive with it?

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Jameson — Glad to help. It took me a bit to figure out how to turn off Unity, too, as I haven’t had to make that switch since Ubuntu 10 and, like forgot.

    Sashin — I’m revising the article to point out that the installation took place on a netbook and was an upgrade rather than a fresh install. Why? Fresh installs are quicker, for one thing and — for another — this install was about as slow limited hardware as Windows (there’s an irony there). Also, Unity hogs real estate rather than saves it compared to the classic Ubuntu desktop.

    Red Oscar — that’s rather how I’m feeling about upgrading to Natty Narwhal…

    Asp7xia — since the system is practically useless through the download process, it seems appropriate to mention it. However, I do see your point — those who are doing a new install won’t care that much about the download time as that will all be more in the background. People who are upgrading, however, might want to know how long their systems will be down.

    Kubulal –
    1. Couldn’t say — haven’t tried to install that.
    2. Looks like you’re limited to four workspaces. However, like anything else, there’s probably a workaround out there somewhere.
    3. Not a bad program at all, is it?
    4. The terminal is still there, and thank goodness.
    5. Oh, yeah — all that still works.
    6. I’m as productive as ever, after switching to Gnome, of course.

  • matt said:

    how do you get Ubuntu 10.10 back!?

  • Thom said:

    Hmm. My thinkpad t42 doesn’t have the hardware needed to handle Unity, but it runs fine under gnome. Too bad, I was looking forward to playing around with the new interface.

  • Jeremy Bicha said:

    Kubulai, 2, 4, & 5: Yes, see also Not sure about #1 as I just use VirtualBox.

    This review has several inaccuracies. Installation does not take longer than Ubuntu 10.10. Workspaces were in previous Ubuntu releases; just maybe not as obvious.

    The fact that the left launcher autohides is not “buggy”; it is a feature. There is a setting to change it to neverhide but it’s a little tricky to get to.

  • Jeremy Bicha said:

    Oh, I see you did an upgrade instead of a clean install. Upgrading does take a few hours.

  • Joseph Tricomo said:

    I have a love/ hate relationship with the Ubuntu 11.04 distribution.They seemed to do a great job of making it more confusing to do simple things like find preferences and administration, and the disappearing sidebar is annoying. I loved what happens when you click on the tiny icon in the upper left corner. It puts some icons like apps on the screen in a black sky, more like an ipad. it seems to me that everything could be accessed via this tiny icon as an app, and do away with the side bar entirely.

  • donna said:

    Help! What did this ‘upgrade’ do to my laptop? This morning I wanted to ‘help’ my computer by keeping it updated. It took well over an hour to download and seemed like it went well, however, when it asked to restart now, i did and now my computer is not working. At all!!!The light comes on when i turned it on, but nothing; just a black screen. Please, anyone, what has happened?


  • lilhelp said:

    the “blank screen” thing happened b/c you need to go into gnome, install drivers, and then reboot into unity (happened to me but i figured it out)

  • Karen the Programmer said:

    #1 – before upgrading make a live cd and try it out. I guarantee you will hate it as much as Windows…lots of flash, unusuable, can’t even connect to my old wireless router…HORRIBLE.

    Unfortunately if you do upgrade (and with my cable connection that operates at a slow 20kbytes/sec) it will take you HOURS like over night and then some.

    Then say goodbye to you your beautiful page set up where you can reach your System, Applications and custom launchers with one easy click. The disappearing and reappearing sidebar is a PAIN. Half the time it appears when you are trying to click on the edge of a window. Half the time it takes enough time to make you frustrated to GET it to appear. Then you have to scroll down the oversized icons until you find what used to be an easily accessible launcher.

    I never did figure out how to resize the windows…no handles, no max/min button. I simply could not figure out how to get from one window to another besides scrolling dooooooown the side icons, clicking on this + and then having the windows appear miniaturized in a grid and then clicking on them.

    As I meantioned earlier – what a PAIN. I tell you truthfully, I’d rather use Windows [makes sign to ward off evil]

    The only good thing I can say about Natty is that it loads fast…but who cares if YOU CAN’T USE IT!!!!

    If this is the direction Ubuntu development is going in, I’m going to either never upgrade from 10.4 (which I just reinstalled and retweaked taking me over an ENTIRE DAY) or I’ll have to move to another flavor of Linux.

  • Karen the Programmer said:

    BTW Donna – here’s (I fear) what you’re going to need to do:

    Get hold of an ubuntu live cd for a previous version (10.4 Lucid Lynx is IMO the best)

    Boot up off the cd.

    Back up your entire home folder (like maybe it is /home/donna ?) If you backed up your home folder before you upgraded skip this step.

    Then INSTALL Lucid Lynx from the cd. When you partition, you’ll need to delete the partitions that contain Natty. and then CREATE an EXT4 out of that space before proceeding to install the operating system.

    If you are dual booting with Windows DO NOT TOUCH the partitions that are labeled NTFS – they’re your Windows partitions.

    Once you’re done installing Lucid, copy the backup of your home folder onto your new home folder.

    Unless, of course, you wanted to forge on and try to use Natty — in which case, ignore the above instructions.

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Matt and Donna — Looks like that question has been answered by some helpful souls. That’s the great thing about Linux — finding help with a problem usually involves simply asking a question and folks will rush in to help. Very cool community, indeed.

    Thom — That may be a blessing in disguise. Unity is terrible. I wonder why people who like that sort of thing don’t simply buy a Mac or switch to Windows and have done with it. The Gnome interface is fast, well organized and reliable, so why mess with it? Linux is not Windows and attempts to make it look and behave more like it are disturbing.

    Jeremy — clearly, I wasn’t specific about why I’ve claimed Unity is buggy. Thanks for pointing that out as I’ve expanded on that in the article. The auto hide feature seems to work when it wants to and I define that as buggy because well, it doesn’t work as it should. I’m not sure what else is inaccurate, however.

    Joseph — I agree with every bit of that. Hitting that icon at the top and accessing apps that way is far easier than dealing with the icon strip thingie. Perhaps that’s where the desktop is heading and that might be a good thing.

    Illhelp and Karen — thanks for stopping by to answer some questions and offer advice. And, Karen, I agree — I’d steal my wife’s laptop and use Windows 7 before I fooled around with Unity for too long. What a terrible idea. Thank goodness Gnome is still an option for now.

  • Matthew Titzel said:

    Really? TWO WHOLE HOURS! Two whole hours of doing something besides being on the computer?

  • Mustafa said:

    I hope people don’t feel discouraged by negative comments about the new version and the Unity interface. I personally found it an amazing improvement over the old GNOME shell.

    Let me cite a couple of reasons:

    1- The old GNOME panel was probably the most unstable part of the whole system. My icons would randomly and frantically change their locations on startup. Locking it, and restarting, whatever else suggested on the web, would not help. And this was true for most versions since 8.04. There are dozens of bugs filed about this weird behavior of the GNOME panel. I am quite happy that now I have a *solid* and *robust* panel, without anything flickering, without the icons sleep-walking all across the panel.

    2- The single most troublesome area for my themes was the panel itself. Most of the time, the themes themselves would display certain elements awkwardly. Try to fix it yourself, and if you are no “technical people”, then good luck.

    3- Yes, docky is an awesome launcher, it’s full-fledged and all. However, in my Maverick installation, docky exhibited a weird behavior that conflicts with Compiz. I do not know why, there are bug reports about this one as well, with no solutions. I am happy now that my dock/launcher does not conflict with the rest of the system. From my point of view, Unity’s dock is much better than docky.

    4- About a billion people complained about moving to mac-like global menu. I respect them but disagree with their views. First of all, the screen looks much cleaner and neat without a dozen of menu bars scattered all around. Secondly, some people complained about the distance between the specific program window and the place of the menu on the top of the screen. My several-days experience with Unity and global menu does not agree with that. You actually do not use the menus so frequently. Most of the new software (starting with all the modern browsers today) did away with it. If you are using LibreOffice, the icons are there, in many other programs, you already use the keyboard shortcuts.

    5- Speaking of keyboard shortcuts, I kind of get an idea that the new Unity interface encourages people to use them more often and it’s a better thing.

    6-The way Unity treats the workspaces is just amazing. It is only because of the biases of the author that keeps him from praising this. There is no need to explain how intuitive the new workspaces feature is.

    7- The author argues that the old GNOME (2.x) interface is “more reliable and far more utilitarian.” Well, I would like to know how he measured this. Or, could he just provide us some figures, like 7.8 times more reliable and 93.3 times more utilitarian? I honestly think it’s the opposite, with Unity it’s faster to access programs, files and folders for me; and it seems more robust, nothing seems to break so far; and the whole organization of the desktop is definitely more intuitive. The only thing the GNOME 2.x shell was, it was “classic”, which means, people were used to using it and living with it, and they thought they could not do without it. This may be called comfort, familiarity, or inertia, but not efficiency by any means.

    8- The author did not sacrifice his time to check the new interface thoroughly, however, he was so quick to find a bug, which I could not so far. Unlucky me.

    If you are going to come up with convincing arguments, please do so. If not, offer people something more than bias, such as thoughtful criticism, and let alone honest appreciation.

  • Sam said:

    This kind of trash is so silly. Linux can be anything you want it to be, and the new Ubuntu release is identical. Unity is a tiny improvement compared to the numerous security and stability updates that are included in this, yet it’s the only thing getting attention.

    is ‘sudo apt-get install gnome’ really that difficult? If you can’t figure something that simple out, is a hobbyist OS like linux really the right choice in the first place?

  • Nueva versión de Ubuntu | El terminal de Linux said:

    [...] Ubuntu Linux 11.04 (Natty Narwhal) Pages: Ubuntunmd2011, noticias ← Mi primer “Pipe” /* */ [...]

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Matthew — well, it was worth mentioning…

    Mustafa — I must also be unlucky as Gnome has proven reliable thus far and hasn’t exhibited the odd behavior you’ve mentioned. Could it be that we’re both so biased in favor of our favorite shells that we’re ignoring their faults and emphasizing those of the ones we dislike? Possibly.

    Again, that Unity desktop appears to be heavily under development. If you like that sort of thing, grab a Mac or Windows — you’ll get a similar interface and one that’s years ahead in development.

    Frankly, I’m glad that switching back to Gnome is as easy as opening a menu and clicking an icon. That won’t be the case forever and that’s well worth mentioning. It sounds a lot like stripping out Unity will be considerably more difficult in the future.

    Sam — hobbyist OS? I promise you the folks at Ubuntu don’t view it that way, and that’s kind of the point. Again, it appears Unity is going to be the standard, hard-t0-get-rid-of-it interface starting with the next release.

    And, by the way, you don’t even have to bother with opening up a terminal and typing in “sudo apt-get install gnome” to switch back to Gnome. Simply opening a menu and setting up Gnome is easy enough.

  • marcus harris said:

    Ethan, man, do you like, have more than one computer?

    Yeah, I can’t do much with my computer when I’m upgrading it… doh.


    I just use the ‘other ones’….

    The days of one computer are long gone… and man, are you really using a netbook… like for your primary computer???? … dude, get a real computer.

    I would like to recommend a 4-core Intel 3Ghz system… notebooks are great… with a wide screen, and about 350G hard-drive.

    Netbook— ? and you’re a writer?!?

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Marcus — Heck yeah the netbook is my primary system (the one I used the most, at least). It’s convenient and I can do pretty much everything I want with it (except for gaming, of course — got a desktop running Windows, an Xbox and a Wii for that).

    Again, the point of mentioning a long upgrade is that your stuck hanging around your computer for a couple of hours so you can click a dialog or two so the thing will proceed. That sucks.

  • Sashin said:

    Actually, since the global menu and window controls integrate with the top bar. And the face that the sidebar hides… (hence doesn’t take any space,

    It is the most screen estate efficient interface I’ve seen. So long as you don’t use old desktop paradigms when operating it. Its built around search, hit a key type a few letters and enter. Or simply pin apps to the bar.

    It makes the assumption that most users don’t use more apps on a regular basis that fit on the sidebar / they can care to remember the name. Which seems.

    The app menus that take many clicks to navigate are supposed to be used to find apps, not launch them. Once you’ve found an app, if you’ll use it frequently you are meant to pin it/remember its name.

    Unity is NOT meant to be used in the same way as gnome panels, or windows/mac for that matter. So long as its used correctly it is indeed a more efficient interface than traditional gnome.

    Unity wasn’t designed by morons, real user testing went into it and it was created by qualified interface designers.

    Also, although it admittedly shouldn’t matter. I suspect that your experience might be marred by having upgraded it as opposed to a fresh install. For example on the systems I’ve used, the sidebar behaves as expected and dodges windows.

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Sashin — Who ever said Unity was designed by morons? Still, it feels like an early release and one day may prove to be a tolerable desktop. Only time will tell there. The pull down on speed, the buggy auto-hide feature and the fact that it’s hard to tell what my system is doing (click on an icon, wait and wonder if the program is loading as Unity gives no clue as to such status) raises the question about how far along this thing thing is in its development.

    And, for better or worse, you fans of Unity will get your way on this eventually. Gnome 3 is heading in the same direction and it’s clear that when touch devices become the norm, interfaces like Gnome 2 simply won’t be practical. That said, the “search” function does take some getting used to after years of choosing icons from a list, clicking and launching programs. When we do see more “touching” rather than “mousing,” what happens then? Typing and searching will be about as archaic as Gnome 2 appears to some users now.

    I can’t agree about the efficient use of real estate. Hiding top and bottom tool bars under Gnome 2 pretty well keep the screen clear of clutter.

    Again, you fans of Unity will win out in the end. Here’s hoping the interface improves as both Windows 7 and Mac OS X absolutely crush Unity in terms of user experience. Still, that’s to be expected — Unity is, clearly, still under heavy development.

  • Lagonda said:

    I lasted about 2 hours with Unity before reverting back to Gnome 2.
    It seems very unintuitive and difficult to use. If its trying to save real estate why does it use these huge clunky icons. Finding applications is a nightmare.

    I am using 11.04 on my desktop which does not have a touch screen. Unity is not good for non touch screen devices why cant we have both and just be prompted for which one we want to use at install. After all the great think about Linux is the variety of distributions and user interfaces. If Ubuntu tries to go down a one size fits all approach I can see myself switching to a different distribution.

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Lagonda — I had the same experience with Unity. Furthermore, I’d agree that we should be allowed to choose which desktop to use when installing or upgrading — now and in the future. Yes, it looks like Unity will be the only “official” desktop for Ubuntu in the near future. Hopefully, they’ll do better next time around.

  • Andy said:

    I’m glad that I read this article. I will not be “upgrading” thank you very much. I don’t know why the developers feel like they have to fix something that’s been working just fine (gnome, OpenOffice) Just curious, does compiz fusion work on this new release? I’ve spent enough time tweaking what I have, I don’t want to start all over again.

  • Gürkan Sengün said:

    They should have used window maker…

  • Sashin said:

    If an app is starting up (and doesn’t do so instantly) the icon should flash…

    Regarding search taking time to get used to, I can’t really say anything as the people I know that have used it haven’t really spent that many years on a computer.

    What I can say is that, I think Canonical believes that for the time being the traditional mouse/touchpad/keyboard input system will not be replaced by touchscreen (which are really unergonomic). To me Unity is clearly designed for Desktops (although with touchpads on netbooks and notebooks considered) as the keyboard is the fastest way to use it. I believe the rationale for making the bigger coloured icons is not to make them a bigger hit area for the sake of touchscreens, but rather because they are much more quickly recognisable (no reading, so less thinking).

    I think in conclusion (minus bugs which aren’t a part of design) that Unity indeed works better for its intended audience. Also some of the things you said might have been specific to your experience (there are alot of bugs that only occur on very specific hardware).

  • Frank in San Antonio, TX said:

    I tried to install 11.04 (i don’t do cute nicknames) yesterday. I already have Ubuntu 10.04 installed with grub2 managing dual boot with the pre-installed win7. Except for issues caused by win7 the computer has been pretty much trouble-free. I really like the 10.04 release of Ubuntu.

    So I downloaded the new 11.04 and tried it out… to a black screen just spinning up the CD… the new 11.04 Ubuntu has issues with the most common graphics hardware out there (both ATI Radeon and Nvidia… was never a problem for me with 10.04). So I interrupted the startup and got the startup prompt to allow override of options, etc., and went with “nomodeset” and selected the Live mode. It looked alot like 11.04 but being nervous with the graphics issues already I chose to install it to sdb (USB attached disk) instead of sda. Install was very long, I had chosen to download updates and use the profile of my 10.04 Ubuntu partition. At the end of the install it crashed with a prompt to report the bug, but no way to do since it was in the process of shutting down.

    Then on restart I discovered the 11.04 install had corrupted the grub2 and I couldn’t boot any existing partition on either disk. Can you say “I’m not impressed!”. I was able to recover using my 10.04 live cd and going to the terminal session and restoring grub. I still can’t start the 11.04, but after my own experience and reading the preceeding article, I’m not at all sure I want to.

  • Justin Buser said:

    Personally I think this release is amazing, at least the Kubuntu variant ( I didn’t have to deal with the upgrade process, but that’s because I’m smart enough to know that upgrading between major OS releases is never a good idea. This is the first desktop distribution I’ve installed that I can honestly say leaves nothing to be desired. I deleted my Windows 7 partition 1 hour after installing Natty, it Windows somehow seems to run faster in VirtualBox than it does by itself anyway.

    Point being, you shouldn’t be a hater, if you don’t like Unity there are like 4 other flavors to choose from. Personally I’ve never really liked Gnome, I run KDE for general purpose stuff and switch over to XFCE when I need a more “utilitarian” environment as it’s far more efficient than Gnome.

    Either way I’m elated, I can finally recommend Linux to my less tech-savy clients/friends without having to worry that I’ll be spending hours at a time holding their hands.

  • boggs said:

    There are things I have noticed in this latest release of Ubuntu.  One is that it installs fast enough.  It has most of the latest software packages installed in this version which is nice.  The Unity desktop environment is smooth to use from my point of view of course.  You also have the option of choosing the classic GNOME environment if you are not yet ready for the Unity desktop environment.  And also It's stable enough on my 3 years old PC which I am using right now as I am writing this comment.
    However, there are some few problems about this version.  One is that you cannot minimize from the side dock/Unity dock where it should have work with other docks like Cairo, Dock, AWN, etc.  That upsets me where you have to click the minimize on the window where in fact you can work the either way around.  Another thing is when go back to the GNOME classic environment and I install CCSM (a.k.a Compiz Configuration) and make some configurations the way I would want to act like in my 10.04/10.10 versions everything went haywire.  So I am stuck with this Unity environment for a while till I can find a way to revert or find a fix for the classic GNOME environment.
    I hope the Ubuntu team will polish this Unity dock by putting a "Minimize, launch new windows/programs, etc." or put a patch in this recent version so that we can minimize natively from the Unity dock and make our lives a little bit easier when using Ubuntu 11.04.
    But all in all the Ubuntu Linux team did a splendid job with this release.  More power Ubuntu Linux!!!

  • Ryan Garnet said:

    Reading this review and the comments…are you all sure you guys are using the same Ubuntu 11.04 as I am? Because not only do I find Unity a great UI, but there seems to be a number of things mentioned here that are completely wrong.

    For example, I’m not sure how you upgraded, but when I upgraded from 10.10 through the Update Manager it did the entire upgrade start to finish in the background. I was able to use my computer as normal for the entire time, except for the last 5-6 minutes where it had to put on the finishing touches and restart the computer. I was pleasantly surprised by this, so I have no idea what happened with your upgrade. And I use a netbook too, so I doubt it’s a hardware difference.

    But anyway, as a poster mentioned above, Unity is a great interface when it’s used the way it’s supposed to. I agree that Unity isn’t too great of a system for using your mouse (it requires too many clicks to get what you want) but once you get a hang of the keyboard shortcuts it becomes very easy to get around and (IMO) faster to get at things than Gnome.

    If Unity lags, I suggest downloading Unity 2D, a version of Unity without some of the bells and whistles so it works on older hardware. It looks and functions almost identically, so you’re not missing out much.

    Personally, I suggest upgrading. You can always switch back to Gnome later if you don’t like Unity. The interface isn’t the only update to Ubuntu, there’s behind-the-scenes improvements as well. In my opinion, this makes upgrading worth it regardless.

  • Owen said:

    If you are using a netbook shouldn’t you be using the netbook remix?
    The Unity desktop seems to be designed to save space on widescreen monitors, which I believe are in the majority right now. This focus on top to bottom (over left to right) real estate is common in every major browser right now for the same reason.

    Writing a review of a GUI based on it’s performance on a limited sized, underpowered platform is hardly good journalism, why not try it on several systems before you give a review?

    At best you have given us a narrow interpretation that provides no insight into the performance of the new distribution on the average system. At worst you have provided a negative review based on an incomplete test.

  • Ryan Garnet said:

    @Owen: The Netbook Remix version died. One Ubuntu version for all, now.

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Andy — The article was just my experience with Unity (which wasn’t pleasant at all). Don’t just take my word for it — download it to a flash drive and try it out for yourself. Although I don’t know why, some people like the new Unity desktop. I was encouraged that everything went back to the way I had it when I chose to use the “classic Ubuntu” desktop at startup, but bear in mind I had almost no GUI tweaks in place and it seems there’s a good chance those will vanish during an upgrade.

    Gurkan — Not familiar with that one.

    Sashin — That rather confuses me. It’s a matter of personal preference, I know, but I can’t fathom the reasons for Unity unless it’s geared toward future touch interfaces. Unless we’re getting away from the traditional “mouse and keyboard” way of doing things, why change up an interface that’s evolved into a very convenient way of launching programs over the span of a quarter of a century? And, if we’re going to deviate from that, why not offer users a choice instead of gearing up for supporting only one GUI?

    Furthermore, the notion of having just a few icons on a tool bar and searching for everything else seems like a move backward. That might work very well for some people, but what about those of us who have too many programs we use regularly to pin to a strip of icons?

    You did mention an intended audience for Unity. I can’t help but wonder who that intended audience is.

    Frank — At least I didn’t have that slew of problems. It’s good you were able to recover. Honestly, I don’t mind the new version at all now that I’ve opted for Gnome 2 rather than Unity. The system pretty well behaves the way it always did, leading one to believe the big deal about this update is the Unity desktop.

    Justin — well, that kind of was the point — Unity is going to be the only desktop supported under Ubuntu in the very near future. Those who can’t stand it need to keep that in mind. If Unity isn’t improved, well there are other Linux distros to choose from. Microsoft and Apple do make some operating systems people might have heard of, too.

    Ryan — Yep. Pretty certain its the same release.

    Owen — Just a couple of points. One of the things Linux advocates have talked about for years is how the OS maximizes even underpowered hardware. A netbook seems to be the perfect platform for reviewing the OS. That’s one of the main reasons I chose to put Linux on my netbook, in fact — the thing just bogged down under Windows but runs like a champ under Linux. If Unity is moving away from providing a zippy OS on systems with smaller resources, then that’s a shame. Yes, you can get the watered-down, no-bells-and-whistles version of Unity for netbooks, but that seems a bit extreme when Gnome 2 works perfectly fine and coincides with the admirable philosophy of providing and OS that everyone can use regardless of whether they’ve got the newest, fastest hardware.

    Losing that focus is the real shame here and could, in fact, cost Ubuntu some users because one of the reasons for switching to Linux could well vanish with unity (I love the speed of Linux with Gnome 2 on this system, but could get along perfectly well with Windows 7 on the netbook — why move from one slow interface to another (or, at least, that stripped down Unity 2D thing?))

    Finally, I don’t see the real estate savings under Unity. Auto-hide top and bottom tool bars work perfectly fine under Gnome 2.

  • Kaz said:

    Be careful about what you read here; The author Ethan C Nobles is obviously not a very sophisticated computer/linux user. This review is fairly shallow.

    It’s not clear whether he did a download/install or an online upgrade. Anybody experienced enough with Ubuntu (to be writing a critical review!) should know that Ubuntu’s release day is a bad day to do either thing due to huge increases in volume of traffic on the mirrors. Also, you would do everybody a favour by downloading a bit torrent. There are plenty of other reasons why his installation could be slow for NO fault of Ubuntu.

    Ubuntu makes no claims about running on old/limited hardware. There are other distros, some ubuntu-based, that specialise in this. Ubuntu is quite the opposite; it is a fully-fledged distro that specialises in providing an easy to use, out of the box experience – this costs resources and affects performance. By the way, where exactly is the “bloat” in Unity – I found it refreshingly light compared to other dock style UI’s.

    If you want to use Ubuntu with a different UI, why go to all the work of ripping out Unity and installing something else, possibly leaving yourself with an unsupportable configuration. I’m sure it’s possible, but all you need to do is install one of Kubuntu, Lubuntu, Xubuntu, …. which will get you a new desktop UI.

    It’s a little naive to state that Unity is “just a strip of Icons”. The sidebar is a dock+launcher. It’s not a new concept either. Many people have been using this style of UI in the shape of Cairo-dock, Docky, Awn etc. But Unity finally provides an integrated dock/launcher. And it’s not as bad as he says – I found it quite responsive running on a modest laptop.

    Of course it’s buggy – that’s just Linux, and particularly Ubuntu! They release to a schedule, bugs-and-all. The bugs will get fixed and patched in due course. Sorry, but any seasoned Ubuntu user knows this and put’s up with it as a trade-off for getting the famous easy-to-use Ubuntu experience. Importantly, I did NOT experience any of the “bugs” Ethan refers to. I hope he took the trouble to feed them back into the community for investigation.

    Finally (because I COULD go on …) Natty is more than a “refined release”, whatever the heck that means! This is a ridiculous statement.

    Natty is an IMPORTANT release – just look at the kernel version number. If he could be bothered googling a bit Ethan might have found out about the major changes in the 2.6.38 kernel. Even if he couldn’t understand the detail he would have got the gist; i.e. it’s important! I quote:

    “Torvalds hopes 2.6.38 ends up being “a fairly calm release” despite the really deep changes.” – (

    So, Ethan, you are clearly a Linux supporter and that’s great. You try to be balanced, which is good. But if you want to write reviews you should stick to what you understand and/or do a bit of research before you publish.

  • Thomas said:

    If you upgraded to ubuntu 11.04 and for some reason don’t like the new appearance, just choose “ubuntu classic” at login. (make it default by: Administartion -> login screen). No need to go back to 10.10, what I feared first.

    I think the apple like launcher is quite ok for far the most users, but for the terminal based unix-programmer it is not that convenient at the moment indeed: too much mouse clicks to switch between different programs and workspaces.

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Kaz — you raise some good points and I always appreciate constructive criticism. However, I’ll mention that I’m relatively new to Linux but have been around since the 8-bit days. I can find my way around a computer.

    Having said that, you are absolutely correct about the new kernel and I should have mentioned that (the article has been revised). The most significant things about this upgrade, I think, have to do with the the so-called “wonder kernel” and the new Unity shell. I went off on the Unity shell as it annoys me and, I fear, it will put off a lot of users. That’s the most obvious change in this update and the one that most consumers will see.

    I’m well aware there are bugs with the shell, but I’m simply not impressed with where the new desktop is headed. Yes, the new philosophies embeded in Unity (Gnome 3, Mac OS, Windows) will win out as we seem to be going for touch screens and mobile devices. I’ll be the first to admit that will take some getting used to, but Unity appears more oddly complex and necessary than necessary. And I’d argue that Ubuntu often points out its performance advantages over Windows and slower hardware — that point is made time and time again on the Ubuntu site and I still count it as one of the reasons to consider Linux in the first place. Following the “upgrade that hardware often” trend is something well worth mentioning.

    Furthermore, the download time was included in the “long install” section as I do think people need to be aware of that. You’re talking about a 685 MB download and that takes time. Those using 10.10 who respond to the “update” prompt need to be fully aware of that.

    Again, thanks for the comments and I’m glad you stopped in as it prompted me to update the article a bit. Hopefully it’s an improvement.

  • Sashin said:

    User testing found out that most people use less programs than fit on the sidebar on a regular basis. (of course on a netbook the sidebar would be smaller)

    Basically Unity serves the average non computer savvy user. Perhaps they also make the assumption that people advanced enough to use more programs than fit on the sidebar.

    But think about it, its easier to recognise pictures and colours than text. Text requires reading. Processes like this occurring in the mind are made much quicker this way. It’s nothing to do with touchscreens or anything like that, otherwise they wouldn’t have a global menu, app-indicators and things like that.

    Unity’s intended audience includes people that aren’t computer savvy (causal computer users), or people that are savvy buy young/adaptable to change. Basically people that don’t have the traditional usage of a computer molded into them. Having used traditional interfaces for a long time, you aren’t the intended audience for unity. This is a quote from another blog that kinda explains it (but I’m not sure if Shuttleworth actually said it).

    “Is Unity too simple for power users? Yes, it is. But, as Shuttleworth tells us that’s by design. If you don’t like simple, consumer-oriented desktops, you’ll want to look at another Linux distribution because that’s exactly where Ubuntu is now and will continue to go.”

  • Blackwiddow42 said:

    The moment 11.04 was installed (after two hours) I was a little shocked.
    The regular menu-system was dissapeared and I struggled a long time to find some of the basic functional menu’s! Some of them I can’t still find.

    Thanks Ethan, for telling us how to go back to the former setting of this desk-top.

    But I googled about a problem with my touch-pad settings, because my touch-pad doesn’t work proper. And still it won’t work.

    I found out that there are a lot of commands to type before this problem is solved. Personally I think that Linux developers have take care after this kind of problems first, before they lance new releases! Just because of the fact I use a laptop, and the fact that this kind op programs are especialy made for laptops and netbooks, this kind of major bugs should not have to exist.

    Maybe there are people who like to work in de dossy-like environment, with all kind of command-lines, but it’s not very easy for a normal comp-user!

    I use this OS together with Windows 7, so I can choose or change at any moment. My first choice is Linux-ubuntu, despite some problems!

    Hoorn (N-H)

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Blackwiddow — I had a similar problem after installing Ubuntu for the first time in that my Wi-Fi didn’t work. Fortunately, finding the solution to that was easy thanks to the Ubuntu community that keeps on top of such things. I’m surprised you haven’t found a solution specific to your specific situation — if you’re having a hardware issue, the chances are good someone else has dealt with the same thing and they typically post solutions.

    That terminal can be intimidating, so thank goodness I spent a lot of years going through DOS interfaces — that background helps me make sense of it all.

    Good luck on resolving that touchpad problem. Sadly, nothing’s perfect under any operating system that runs on non-proprietary hardware (those Mac fans have it easy, don’t they?)

  • Ubuntu 11.04, Unity Released to Mixed Reactions « Matias Vangsnes said:

    [...] C. Nobles said, “Unity is, in essence, a strip of icons that sits mockingly on the left side of the screen [...]

  • Ubuntu 11.04, Unity Released to Mixed Reactions « xtasc said:

    [...] C. Nobles said, “Unity is, in essence, a strip of icons that sits mockingly on the left side of the screen [...]

  • JackyPants said:

    My netbook was running 10.10 with the original ‘test’ Unity interface, and I thought it was ok, but clearly not done “baking”. I upgraded to 11.04 on the assumption that Unity would have improved, but the author is correct – it’s worse. One of the first things I did was fire up a terminal to start poking around via BASH, and I found that Terminal had no idea how big my desktop was! No visible prompt, at all. Just a blank terminal window with the prompt hidden somewhere in the ether, presumably to the upper-left. If nothing else, a distro’s terminal emulator should open and work quickly and smoothly. No such luck.

    On the upside! Unity has given me a much greater appreciation for Xubuntu 11.04, which is running speedily and beautifully on my 5-year old dell and now my netbook.

    Still love Ubuntu massively, and I’m convinced that I will probably love Unity in a year or two, when it works properly.

  • Learn something Today » Blog Archive » Ubuntu 11.04, Unity Released to Mixed Reactions said:

    [...] C. Nobles said, “Unity is, in essence, a strip of icons that sits mockingly on the left side of the screen [...]

  • Unity much improved in Ubuntu 11.10 | First Arkansas News (FAN) - reporting from across the Natural State said:

    [...] (yes, I was one of the complainers and wrote a nice, long rant about how much I hated Unity here). Here’s the thing — the Gnome 2 desktop is very familiar with its Windows XP-like [...]

  • Unity much improved in Ubuntu 11.10 said:

    [...] (yes, I was one of the complainers and wrote a nice, long rant about how much I hated Unity here). Here’s the thing — the Gnome 2 desktop is very familiar with its Windows XP-like layout and [...]

  • Unity much improved in Ubuntu 11.10 | Matias Vangsnes said:

    [...] (yes, I was one of the complainers and wrote a nice, long rant about how much I hated Unity here). Here’s the thing — the Gnome 2 desktop is very familiar with its Windows XP-like layout and [...]

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