Ubuntu Natty Beta 2 is out and this is the last Ubuntu Natty beta before the official release on April 28th. So what's new in this beta? Well compared to the previous beta 1 there aren't many visible changes except for lots of bug fixes and improvement in the stability of unity.
Starting from the Ubuntu installer, upgrading or installing Ubuntu is a breeze. They have made nice user usability improvements in the installer section. A screen-shot of the installation process can be seen below.
Here you can see the various options presented to the user. These options present the user with a clear and easy way of installing Ubuntu Natty instead of having to worry about which disk partition or how much swap memory is required since Ubuntu Natty does it all for you automatically based on the choice you choose above. It automatically detects all the operating systems you have installed on your computer and asks if you want to import the user preferences of certain application like Firefox, Thunderbird from the other operating systems. Ubuntu has in this regard taken one step forward to think about making the installer as easy as possible to use.
This is one of the most talked about topics and is also the key change in Ubuntu Natty compared to previous versions of Ubuntu and it deserves the spotlight due to the features it brings to the table. Unity consists of the launcher and the dash. The launcher looks more like a dock but offers many functionalities which are described below.
A picture of the launcher is shown here. The launcher is revealed if the mouse hovers on the Ubuntu icon or on the left side of the screen. This is new in Ubuntu Natty Beta 2. The default behavior to show the launch is to hover the mouse on the left side of the screen unlike the previous beta where it was necessary to hover it at the top left corner of the screen. However this option can be changed easily. The developers have added a new option in the systems to change to change the launcher behavior (New Feature). Here below is a screen-shot of the new design option.
This is just the beginning of the Unity customization tool development. New users would not be required to tweak with the compiz unity plug-in. The open applications can be seen on the launcher where the white arrows are shown in the side of the open application as shown below. The applications which has focus is shown with the two arrow on both sides of the application. The launcher also has dynamics quicklists which show actions which are used for any particular application. This is very useful to quickly perform a certain task.
You can move icons in the launcher to which ever order you want. However the lens, workspace switcher and the trash icon are fixed and cannot be moved. The top left corner now turns blue (blue triangle) when an application requires attention (New Feature).
The dash is yet another new feature which should increase the work productivity of a user. It helps launch applications quickly in just a few clicks.
A new visual feature which was changed in this beta was the behavior of the launcher when the dash is open. When the dash is open, the launcher is desaturated showing that the focus is on the dash (New Feature). You can easily drag applications from the dash onto the launcher.
The preferred applications for Internet, pictures, mail and music are shown in the general dash.
Another feature of the dashes which is very handy is the places or the lenses. In the screen-shot above there are three lenses installed, the files and folder, the application and the askubuntu lens (last three icons on the launcher). These lenses provide a quick way to search for anything. For instance, the askubuntu lens has one functionality which is that you can search for questions on the askubuntu forum right from the dash itself. In the future you can have other lenses like youtube lens which will allow you to search for youtube videos right from your dash improving your work flow.
Unity provides lots of support for keyboard shortcuts. Some frequently used shortcuts are listed below.
- Press Super to show the dash
- Alt+F1 to put keyboard focus on the launcher
- Super+f to show the files and folder lens
- Super+a to show the application lens
- Hold Super + 0 or 1 or 2...to launch the any application on the launcher
Ubuntu Software Center
The Ubuntu Software Center provides applications installation , PPA management and many more features in one centralized application. Starting with Natty development it has provided support for adding reviews, adding applications to the launcher. However these are not new in Ubuntu Natty Beta 2 since nothing much has changed since the previous beta except for some bug fixes.
However the security has been increased regarding application installations. For instance when you try to install .deb files which are of bad quality, the Ubuntu Software Center gives you an error message “The installation of a package which violates the quality standards isn't allowed. This could cause serious problems on your computer. Please contact the person or organization who provided this package file and include the details beneath.”
This is definitely good since it improve the quality of existing .deb files, and at the same time improving the security for new users.
Canonical is trying its best to attract windows users by making the transition as easy as possible. This can be seen in the Ubuntu One service they offer.
This service is also offered in Windows in case you use both systems Windows and Ubuntu and want to share files between those systems. Ubuntu One makes it very easy to sync your Firefox bookmarks, contacts and files across all the systems you may have. Though this service was available before in Ubuntu 10.10, it has been improved very much since then. The user interface of the Ubuntu One service is a proof of this statement.
Ubuntu Natty Beta 2 comes with Firefox 4.0, LibreOffice 3.3.2, Unity 3.8.6, Banshee 2.0, Evolution 2.32.2, Shotwell 0.9.2 and many more applications in default keeping you updated with the latest software on board.
Ubuntu Classic (New Feature)
In order to reach out to a wider audience, Ubuntu is also providing the old classic gnome setup as a fall back feature. So in case you don't like Unity or your graphics card does not support Unity you can revert back to the Original Ubuntu Classic in which the global menu is disable by default, the notification area is back and also the application, places and system menu on the panel is also present giving a truly classic experience.
Other subtle changes (New Features)
The compiz Grid plug-in has received some nice animations and the default color has been changed to orange.
The unity panel has received a shadow drop which was missing before.
The overlay scrollbars are now default however it does not work for all applications.
Ubuntu Natty Beta 2 is much more usable and stable compared to the previous development version like Alpha 1,2,3 and Beta 1. However I did have compiz crashing randomly although it wasn't very often. It is progressing in the right direction focusing on user usability. It includes a revamped user interface which is clearly a step towards a better future. Since Unity is still under heavy development it still has rough edges which will be sorted before the final release.
Ubuntu Natty is still in its beta. Hence it would not be advisable to install this on your production systems. That said if you do have a spare laptop or computer, try it out and report bugs to improve Ubuntu Natty before the official release.