Friday, 1 July 2011

Dumping Unity

The ceaseless grumbling about Ubuntu's new user interface shows no sign of abating and some commentators have even gone so far as to suggest that Unity is responsible for Ubuntu's recent slide from top-spot in the DistroWatch ranking table.

Whilst I've expressed reservations about Unity in the past, the truth is that my experience of Canonical's latest offering has been largely positive: in terms of stability, it's been a rock-solid interface with few (if any) system crashes and it is delightfully responsive on my old DELL Inspiron 1501. However, last weekend I joined the growing band of Ubuntu fanboys that has decided that it's time to dump Unity. Notice that I said that I was dumping Unity - I did not say that I was dumping Natty!

To be honest, despite Unity's dependability, I found it to be one of the dreariest graphical environments that I've ever used (all black boxes & grey panels) and I wasn't really turned-on by the netbook-style interface over which I had little or no control. Suddenly, I felt hemmed in by my GUI; restricted to Canonical's vision of how an OS should look and I haven't felt like that since...

...well, the last time I booted a Windows® machine actually!

However, the real tipping-point came at the weekend. My 1501 is a test machine: I use it to play around with ideas or to evaluate new software before exposing my stable machines to my tinkering whims. Having figured out how to create and manage an encrypted directory using EncFS, I was disappointed to realize that Unity was not going to co-operate and would not allow the Cryptkeeper applet to appear in my system tray. Of course, there's no reason that I couldn't use the command line to gain access to my encrypted directory but, like many ex-Windows users, I'm familiar with point & click and, where it's the simple option, prefer this method to any other.

Fortunately, Ubuntu makes it easy to switch to something more familiar without the hassle of rolling-back the current operating system: simply select your preferred desktop environment at the login screen. I've gone back to Gnome as my desktop of choice and my Cryptkeeper applet does what it's supposed to do. It also means that some (but, by no means, all) of my customisation options are restored: my AWN dock bar has made a welcome return!

So, I've abandoned Unity but stuck with Natty - let's hope that Canonical irons out some of Unity's wrinkles in the next LTS (due in 2012).

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