Taking Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin for a spin
Unity UI first rolled out in 10.10, I wasn’t a huge fan. I’m not going to say I “hated” it, but after an trial period I rolled back to “Gnome Classic”. Like many others, I had a number of issues with it: apps doing crazy things and generally finding the UI popping in and out to be extremely obnoxious (hence using Linux Mint KDE last time). For 12.04, Canonical has obviously spent a lot of effort to refine the Unity concept. The “Launcher” bar (Windows Taskbar, OSX Dock) is now fixed in vertical on the left side of the screen (no more appearing/disappearing). Mousing to the top left corner of the screen does nothing (thank god). To get at your applications/files/documents all you need to do is click the “Dash Home” button (the Ubuntu logo — equivalent to the Windows Start button) or press your Windows (Meta) key.
One other small feature that I like is the Title Bar. In the screen shots you’ll notice that Title Bar of the applications has actually been properly integrated into the top status bar. You might inquire as to where the file menu has gone. Well, if you mouse over the title, it appears in the Status Bar (over the title) along with the Maximize/Minimize/Close icons. It’s very smooth and I must say that I like this space saving feature. It’s not a big deal on a desktop with a 24” LCD running 1920×1080, but on my E4200 which only has an 11” screen (1280×800) those little touches help a lot.
Ubuntu Software Center (App Store)
Ubuntu Software Center” (USC) has taken this a few steps further. First off you have a front page of apps that includes new and top rated software. They also break down the software into a fairly standard looking categorization that also has more layers of categorization and top rated for each section. With most of the popular software you’ll find star and comment based reviews — giving it a feel much like Apple’s App Store. Lastly, the USC has added for-pay and non-app materials. Yes, you can buy apps (Free software be damned!) and even books/magazines. I didn’t try the purchase process though.
I wanted to talk about the System Settings as its own section because I think it’s important to new users. The look and feel of the System Settings is very reminiscent of OSX’s settings — in a good way. Many of the common settings you might look for are very intuitive to find. If you want to change the Desktop, that’s under appearance. As it happens, so is the setting to turn on the auto-hide of the Launcher (with a nice big on/off flip switch). In case you don’t know where the setting you want is located, you can search for it from the main System Settings screen and it will filter your options (like OSX).
They also threw in two “settings” that really made me happy. The first is “Privacy”. If you browse to an adult site on your browser, you can tell your browser to forget its history. That’s great, but what happens when you download and open adult material? In most OSs it will show up in your recent file history. With Ubuntu Privacy you can erase the records of your recently opened files and applications. You can even setup the OS to not record certain types of information (like say your NSFW instant messages). Now I’m not saying this is “Porn mode” for your Operating System, though it is the easiest example to use. There are plenty of legit uses too (e.g. don’t want your S.O. to know about the surprise birthday part you are throwing for them).
It’s pretty, it works, it’s easy to use.. I really can’t find anything major to complain about, which (as frequent readers know) is saying something.