Ubuntu Gnome Remix 12.10 Review

The first stable release of Ubuntu Gnome Remix has arrived with a lot of promises for long-time Gnome users. Ever since Ubuntu switched to Unity, it became harder for Gnome users to get the pure Gnome 3.x experience on top of their preferred operating system. Quite a lot of users moved to other distributions and we saw the rise of derivatives like Linux Mint which seems to have become the favorite distro of seasoned GNU/Linux journalists like Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols.

As a long time Gnome+Ubuntu user, I was personally excited about this release. However, before I picked this review, I reminded myself that ‘this is the first release of Ubuntu Gnome Remix’ so treat it as the first release. At time tend to start judging things in their beta or alpha stages, which is simply unfair. So, before we bring UGR under the microscope keep in mind that this is the very first release and Gnome 3.x is still going through heavy development so my criticism of this release should be taken too seriously.

I have been dabbling with this release and Gnome 3.x on Fedora/openSUSE for a while so there was not much in this release that would excite me. It offers the latest (almost) and greatest from Gnome barn.

Touch Ready
I have been a Gnome user till early this year when I switched to KDE so it was comforting to see pure Gnome Shell experience on top of Ubuntu. It was fresh (compared to the Gnome that we have been using for almost a decade now). Gnome teams are doing an incredible job keeping in mind the ‘touch’ based devices which Windows 8 will bring to the market. KDE is prepared for such devices with their plasma active and so is Gnome 3.x.

I am not sure about how Ubuntu will perform on such devices as despite its focus on keyboard it is not at all optimized for touch-based devices. It will be very hard to navigate using tiny Global Menus when using Unity on such devices.

On the contrary Gnome’s Global Menus are large and designed keeping in mind the touch-based devices and thick fingers. Gnome 3.x looks extremely polished and pleasing. It looks like a DE which you will enjoy if put on a touch enabled tablet.

Not Happy With Default Software Manager
UGR comes with default Gnome applications so you can start using your PC as soon as you are finished installation, which is quite easy. However, I did not feel very comfortable with the Software Manager of UGR. It was slow and looked unfriendly when compared with Software Center (or even Synaptic) so I resorted to terminal and installed Synaptic.

What I don’t like the most about Package Manager is that when you search for an item it doesn’t show the item you searched for on the top. It’s not intelligent enough. For example I searched for Synaptic and the actual packages was buried at the bottom of the list. This will make it very hard for a new user to install anything in Gnome. And looking at the traditional audience of Gnome, it must be extremely easy to find and install applications using the default software manager.

The goal of UGR is to satisfy the Gnome users who want pure Gnome experience with less and less of Ubuntu specific packages. So you can’t complain if it’s missing Synaptic Package Manager of Software Center. Gnome 3.x is still under heavy development an we can see some stability improvement with 3.8.

What’s Ugly
Gnome icons are ugly. This is one are feels like you are dropped in some dirty getto. Gnome icons look out of place and are eyesore. I think the team needs to change the default icon-set.

What’s Hard To Do
Since Gnome is still going through transition and active development a lot of things are still under ‘construction’ so it will be unfair to point out half-baked stuff. It’s still cooking. From design perspective, Gnome retains its ease of use. It has dropped some functionality which an average user may not miss but can be a deal breaker for an advanced user. Nautilus is extremely stripped down and it painful to be used as a decent file manager. There is not much that you can do in Nautilus.

Comparison KDE’s Dolphin vs Gnome Nautilus

Taking complete control of your system is also harder under Gnome. Changing things like themes and icons has become Herculean tasks under Gnome 3.x. KDE on the contrary offers complete control over your desktop.

Comparison KDE’s Desktop Settings vs Gnome System Settings

What’s Missing
Gnome teams have their own set of popular applications, and I don’t understand this duplication. However, the default web browser Web doesn’t support Flash under Ubuntu and if you want to use Flash you will have to install Firefox or Chromium.

Gnome introduced their own implementation of virtual box as Boxes but its missing from UGR as it was not working under Ubuntu. Another notable Gnome application Documents (which allows you to fetch Google Docs for viewing) is also missing as it depends on LibreOffice and UGR doesn’t offer LibreOffice by default.

So, a bit of Gnome 3.x is missing from this release, but this is the first release of Ubuntu Gnome Remix and we can expect things to get better with each release. As a Gnome user one can than Jeremy Bicha for taking the challenge and bringing pure (almost) Gnome experience to Ubuntu users.

With Ubuntu Gnome Remix Jeremy is trying to walk on a tight rope as Ubuntu doesn’t use the the default or latest Gnome packages and patches them for Unity (Gnome Control Center is one such example). So even if UGR wants to offer pure Gnome experience it is stuck with those old packages used by Ubuntu.

Jeremy Bicha

What’s Old
Ubuntu Gnome Remix is still using the old Nautilus 3.4.2 instead of the latest 3.6 in addition to the older versions of System Settings and Totem.

Upgrade Them To Latest
If you want to upgrade to the latest versions of these applications you can try Gnome3PPA.

As a long time Gnome user I am happy to see the ‘return’ of pure Gnome experience on Ubuntu. This release is definitely great news for long time Gnome users. Now you have more choices if you are looking for a Gnome-based distribution. You have vanilla Gnome experience through Fedora or openSUSE or extremely customized Gnome experience via Linux Mint or you also have Ubuntu Gnome Remix which is the first release to offer (as close as possible) pure Gnome experience on top of Ubuntu.

Am I impressed with Ubuntu Gnome Remix?
Yes, I am truly impressed with the job Jeremy has done there. There are quite a lot of wrinkles there but I want to highlight that this is the ‘first’ release of Ubuntu Gnome Remix. I will not judge the future or quality of UGR based on this release. The baby has just born, let’s not get touch on him.

Personally, I have started using KDE as it offers more control and customization which I needed and 4.9 is extremely stable. But not everyone needs that level of customization. Gnome has been known for ease of use and simplicity and this release lives up to that reputation. Gnome has enjoyed a decent user-based and Ubuntu Gnome Remix will satisfy those Gnome users.

I liked everything about Ubuntu Gnome Remix. Jeremy and the team have tried their best to stike a balance between Ubuntu and Gnome 3.x experience. It’s a great, stable release, and once you install Gnome3PPA you will get the latest versions of applications like Nautilus. If you are a Gnome user and want to try pure Gnome on top of Ubuntu, you can download and install it from this link.

About Swapnil Bhartiya

A free software fund-a-mental-ist and Charles Bukowski fan, Swapnil also writes fiction and tries to find cracks in the paper armours of proprietary companies. Swapnil has been covering Linux and Free Software/Open Source since 2005.