Two weeks with Ubuntu instead of Windows 7: Linux is great, Unity needs work

I've completed my two-week tour of duty using Ubuntu 11.10 and my feelings are mixed.

Today is my last day with the test machine loaded with Ubuntu 11.10 that Canonical sent me. My conclusion is: Unity is too buggy. I don't want to do my job, 8-10 hours a day, with it. This even though I like its look and feel and there are things about Unity I will miss when I go back to Windows 7.

I'm surprised. I expected to love Unity by now.

Ubuntu Unity

To recap: I put aside the Windows 7 machine issued by my corporate IT team and did all my work on Ubuntu with Unity for two weeks -- long enough to really get to know it, but not so long that I spent a lot of time customizing it. (Although, I'll confess to a little cheating ... more on that in a minute). I wanted to see if the newest version of Ubuntu was just as good or better than Windows 7, an OS I like a lot but am in no way married to. I use Ubuntu 10.04 (Lucid Lynx) on my home computer with GNOME 2.30.2.Day 1: Giving up Windows 7 for Ubuntu 11.10 for two weeksWeek 1: Ubuntu Unity instead of Windows 7 and ready to scream

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Unity is beautiful and slick, but it is so full of bugs that by the end of the first week, I was annoyed. I learned to work around most of them by the end of the second week. If it really operated as intended I probably would have been in love with it.

During the week ...

  • I wrote and edited documents with LibreOffice Writer and exchanged documents with co-workers using Microsoft Office 2007 (Word, Excel and PowerPoint).
  • I did a lot of Web browsing with Firefox and Chromium.
  • I edited images.
  • I uploaded audio (MP3) to the PC to transcribe it.
  • I used Web apps from Microsoft in Windows Live -- which was necessary because LibreOffice writer couldn't process older MS Office documents I received. 
  • I used Web apps from Google in Google Docs.
  • I created blog posts with an HTML editor ... SeaMonkey's Composer (which was buggy) or Blogilo (hated it).
  • I also watched TV via Hulu.
  • I played a couple of simple games.

I did a standard compliment of tasks that a typical PC user would do. I "cheated" with my Windows 7 computer for tasks that required the VPN, instead of installing the VPN on this machine. But I'm not on the VPN much. SO SAYS THE LINUX FOUNDATION: Linux Foundation chief: 'You are an idiot' if you don't give back to open source

What I like best about Unity was ...

  • I work with a lot of open windows ... 10 or more at a time. I liked the Mac-like ability to navigate through the Workspace Switcher.
  • Working with and customizing the Launcher was easy, though I wished I could have moved it.
  • I like that by clicking on a Launcher app, I could navigate to all open instances of an app, across workspaces. However, this was buggy and didn't always work.
  • I liked that the Dash Home could overlay the desktop.
  • I loved that the Dash Home would show me installed applications as well as ones not installed and available from Ubuntu's Software Center, by catorgies.
  • I generally appreciated the sophisticated feel of Unity, compared to the "childish" but far more straightforward look of GNOME 2.3x.

But bugs, bugs, bugs ... . OK, As one reader pointed out in a comment. I'm a Windows user -- I should be used to bugs and system crashes. However Windows 7 is solid and I can't remember a time the whole system crashed (not just one app) in the year that I've been using it. little Canonical has contributed to GNOME and Linux, it might have made its bed here.

Besides bugs, there were things I didn't like about Unity, too. Customizing it isn't intuitive. Even something as simple as adding an application shortcut to the desktop couldn't be done simply by clicking around or dragging it to the desktop (or even to the desktop folder). Ditto for customizing the Dash. Now, some might complain that I'm not technical enough -- but should I really have to fire up terminal and start typing out commands to add a shortcut to the desktop?

I know Unity will improve but wonder how long that will take. Canonical ditched the two desktop communities, GNOME and KDE, to go it alone. Will Unity attract committers willing to roll up their sleeves and fix its problems? Or will most people just pick another desktop, or another distro altogether and let Canonical work it out on its own? Given how

Mostly, I LOVED the way readers of these posts offered me suggestions on fixes and new stuff to try. There is so much good natured help on the 'net for anything you want to do in Linux. That's the beauty of it, and what keeps me coming back for more.


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