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Ubuntu 12.04 Review: The Evolution Of Ubuntu

Hello everyone, my warm welcome to everyone reading this Ubuntu 12.04 Review. Please note, this is definitely not a post highlighting the new features of Ubuntu 12.04, but rather a critical view of a Ubuntu user. Ubuntu 12.04 LTS has finally been unleashed, marking the 4th LTS release for Ubuntu. The goals of Ubuntu 12.04 was polish, precision and most importantly much expected stability. Everyone has high expectations for it. Ubuntu 12.04 is the buzz word this time around creating ripples through out the community. Will Ubuntu 12.04 meet the expectations of the community? Let’s find out, shall we?

To check the progress achieved in this release, we need to first remind ourselves of the issues faced while trying out Ubuntu 11.04 and 11.10.

Issues faced by users – Past Nightmares

Unity made its first debut in Ubuntu 11.04 as the default desktop shell. It was also the time when Gnome Shell also made its appearance. The transition from Gnome 2 to Gnome 3 and Unity has left a bad after taste for many users. Well it has been almost a year and a half since then. Things were haywire in the Gnome world due to the many rough edges both these shells presented. Some of the common issues faced by users were:

  • Unity was incomplete in terms of features, customization options, stability and what not.*Frequent crashes, memory leaks and bad performance of Compiz and Unity.
  • The multi-monitor experience offered by Unity did not meet the Industry standards by a huge margin.
  • Privacy concerns were looming due to the constant logging of activity which were displayed in the Unity dash.
  • Design decisions such as the position of the launcher, default home lens, global menu * Files and Folders lens not performing as expected since it only shows the recently used files and folders and does not allow searching through the entire file system as a typical lens would do.
  • Poor battery life when using Linux (not just Ubuntu but due to the kernel) compared to Windows and Mac OS.

These were critical gaping flaws in Ubuntu 11.04 and 11.10 leading to a bad work flow experience. But these are typical of every new software. It can be compared to the transition from KDE 3 to KDE 4. Let’s now proceed to know more about the current situation of Unity and Ubuntu.

A year and a half down the line – Present Time

Coming back to the current situation, Unity after a year and half in development is ready to shine. After been using Unity for almost 4 months now in Precise since its alpha stages, it has improved leaps and bounds thanks to the efforts of the Unity developers. This is also due to the goals of the Ubuntu 12.04 release. This was a crucial time for Unity since it is making its first debut in a Long Term Stable (LTS) release. Any blunder during this stage can set it back a long way due to the adoption of LTS releases by quite a lot of users and enterprises. That said, I am glad to proudly say that Unity has met the standards and expectations and is finally ready.

Every development release of Unity brought with it huge performance improvements. Compiz has been worked on extensively to ensure a smooth experience for Ubuntu users. The working of Compiz has been critically viewed and tweaks to improve the rendering, memory usage had been accomplished. This has resulted in better battery time for laptop users. The compiz CPU usage has been decreased by an astounding 40%! In addition to this, the CPU wake ups have also been decreased resulting in better battery life. The Linux Kernel also brings some much needed power saving improvements. This all should effectively solve the power issues faced by users in the past.

Multi-monitor experience is another area which has been the focus of Ubuntu developers. You can now access a wide range of multi-monitor options through the system settings.

Customization options are available now through the system settings as well. You can access them at System Settings → Appearance. You can adjust the launcher behavior and the launcher icon size. There are also many Unity customization programs created by the community. Notable ones include Unity Tweak, MyUnity and UnSettings. You can install MyUnity from the Ubuntu Software Center.

The privacy concerns have also been addressed in this release with the introduction of the Privacy Manager. You can access the Privacy Manager from the system settings. It provides an array of options to choose from. If you wish so, you can disable activity logging completely. Options are also provided to blacklist only certain information. At the end of the day, you have complete control over what appears on the dash.

The File and Folders is also much improved and can now search your system for a particular file or folder. It is no longer restricted to only showing your most recently used files and folders. The dash is becoming a central desktop search platform, presenting information when the user is looking for something. In the current time and in the future where huge amount of data is present, a potential problem would be finding the information you are looking for. The Unity dash is capable of solving that very problem. The addition of the video lens completes the default lens collection.

Ubuntu developers have also started working on potential solutions for solving the global menu issue for users with large screen resolution monitors. However, the solutions could not be completed in time to make it into Precise. It may land as a Stable Release Update (SRU) or in the future releases of Ubuntu. They have however revamped the home lens which previously showed big icons to access the email client, Internet browser and some common application categories. This has been replaced by showing more useful information such as Recently used apps and Recently used files and folders thereby providing a more productive solution.

However certain design decisions have not been changed like the positioning of the Launcher. There are however community customizations out there which can modify this behavior. They are however not officially recognized. Ubuntu has in the past, and even now have provided well reasoned explanation for this behavior.

Head up display (HUD)

This is the most prominent new feature making its first debut in Ubuntu 12.04. The HUD is meant to be complimentary to the global menu in Ubuntu. In a way it can be compared to Gnome Do. HUD provides an easy way of accomplishing things in an application without having to hunt through the menu structure to find the menu option. A common use case scenario could be a user trying to edit an image to Gimp. A user can now just type in what he wants to do and can instantly do it. If he was looking for filters, he can type in filters and HUD automatically finds all the filter supported by Gimp. This is much faster than a user trying to find out the filters menu item in Gimp. One potential issue that could rise is discoverability. However, this is something being actively developed and a solution should be available soon.


Image courtesy of ubuntu.com

Other new features and improvements

Ubuntu 12.04 brings in better trackpad support. Clickpad Synaptics are now recognized out of the box without any configuration required. Thereby the Apple Macbook trackpads work better in this release. Default applications are better integrated to Unity with the addition of quicklist support to quite a number of applications. The Unity dash brings in many minor visual improvements such as better spacing of icons, clear and crisp icons etc.

Conclusions, Final Thoughts

Personally I am extremely happy with this release of Ubuntu. I would happily recommend it to new users trying out Linux for the first time. Ubuntu set out with bringing out Linux for Human Beings and they are certainly in the right path by making it so very easy to install and use Ubuntu. Some of their design decisions can be controversial. However they are bold, confident of every decision they make and has served them well. They are looking into the future and adapting to it with every new release of Ubuntu.

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