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Ubuntu 11.04: Too Natty for Its Own Good?

By Katherine Noyes
May 5, 2011 5:00 AM PT

Well the anticipation had been building for months, and now Natty Narwhal is here at last.

Ubuntu 11.04: Too Natty for Its Own Good?

Rare is the Linux geek today who doesn't know exactly what a narwhal looks like; few have any trouble rattling off a definition of the word "natty" in rapid fire. We've all been watching, waiting and thinking about this new Ubuntu release, and now the thing itself is at our fingertips.

Do we love it? Well, many of us do, it seems. Then again, many of us aren't so sure. The new Unity interface, in particular, has created more than a few furrowed brows.

'Not Fully Evolved'?

"Ubuntu Unity not all that unifying" was one headline, for example.

"Natty Narwhal: Ubuntu marine mammal not fully evolved" was another.

Then again, "Natty Narwhal: the First Linux for Newbies?" put yet a different spin on the matter.

Similar questions were being put forth in watering holes across the blogosphere, including Linux Girl's favorite, the Punchy Penguin. She put on her Extendable Ears and discreetly took a small survey of opinions.

'A Further Nail Into Ubuntu's Coffin'

"I think natty drives a further nail into Ubuntu's eventual coffin," Thoughts on Technology blogger and Bodhi Linux lead developer Jeff Hoogland opined.

"Unity in my opinion truly shows Ubuntu's unwillingness to work with others," Hoogland explained. "Instead of investing in Gnome 3 -- which is horridly similar to Unity -- they off and built an entire desktop because the Gnome foundation rejected a few of their ideas."

Instead, "Ubuntu would have been far better off simply making a few add-ons to Gnome instead of spending piles of development time on yet another GTK-based desktop that really doesn't bring anything special to the table other than a lack of customization options," he concluded. "But hey, maybe some people are into that sort of thing."

'Ubuntu Has Lost Its Way'

Similarly, "Ubuntu 11.04 seems to be a disaster in the making," blogger Robert Pogson agreed.

"Canonical has said they see the new interface attracting new users from that other OS," Pogson pointed out. "I see it as a betrayal of the tens of millions of current users. If we wanted a corporation to yank us around by the user interface, we would stick with M$ or Apple."

Plans to sideline X represent "another blow to a wonderful feature that got GNU/Linux where it is today: widely adopted globally," Pogson opined. "The network-transparent display is a unique feature of GNU/Linux that is ahead of its time in today's search for the virtual desktop, and Ubuntu seems bent on casting it aside. In education, in particular, X is one of the top two or three reasons to use GNU/Linux."

Further, "Canonical has said it is not aiming to release for ARM," he noted. "The explosive growth of ARM on tablets will leave Ubuntu behind. Fortunately we have Android/Linux and Debian GNU/Linux to take up the slack."

In short, Pogson concluded, "it seems to me that Ubuntu has lost its way."

'One Size Fits All - Badly'

Unity may borrow much of its look and feel from mobile operating systems, but it hasn't impressed Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site.

"One size fits all -- badly," Hudson opined. "The idea that laptops, desktops and netbooks need 'a unified look and feel based on a new desktop shell' is silly when you think about how different the user scenarios are for each device.

"New users are mostly going to think, 'No wonder nobody uses Linux!'" Hudson asserted.

'Not Very Dashing'

Unity's features, meanwhile, "aren't that new," Hudson suggested. "The 'New' Launcher? Sorry, but there was a shareware program back in Windows 3.1 that did the same thing, except it defaulted to the right side of the screen. It was a nuisance on desktops back then after the novelty wore off, and there's no reason to believe that people have changed in the interim."

As for Ubuntu's Workspaces, "try 'Compiz Desktop Effects' in other distros," she said. "Select 'Desktop Grid,' then change 'Layout Mode' from 'pager' to 'automatic' to get the tiled windows effect, complete with the ability to drag open windows between tiles, when you hit Ctrl+F8."

The "Dash," meanwhile, is "not very dashing," she opined. "It comes across as change for the sake of change."

In short, "what were they thinking?" Hudson mused. "Instead of trying to mimic Apple's 'Think Different' slogan from 1997, perhaps Canonical should go back 90 years to IBM's 'Think!' and work their way up?"

'I've Been Much More Satisfied'

Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza had a different tale to tell.

"I've been using Natty since the alpha now, and I've been much more satisfied with this than with former Ubuntu releases," Espinoza told Linux Girl. "While it does represent more changes than we've seen at once in Ubuntu in some time, more has remained constant than has changed."

Unity is different, to be sure, "but it is still familiar with its use of a dock and a panel," Espinoza explained. "Compiz continues to do the heavy lifting under the hood; X.Org has not gone away.

"The theme is the same as in the last release, and the window gadgets are still on the left, which actually makes some sense now that the menu bar is being pulled into the panel when applications are maximized -- sometimes, just like OSX," he added. "The user desktop has also become notably more responsive under load, and my boot time is now well under that for Windows XP."

'Smart Enough to Include an Off Switch'

Finally, consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack summed it up nicely with his wait-and-see approach.

"I'm curious to see how well their Unity interface works out for them," Mack said. "At least they were smart enough to include an off switch, so if users hate it, then it shouldn't turn them off of Ubuntu."

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