back to article Ubuntu's high-risk Linux Narwhal beta floats

Canonical's short march towards multi-touch success (or its slow slide in to oblivion) is a step closer to completion. On Thursday, it released the Ubuntu 11.04 beta. Codenamed Natty Narwhal, Ubuntu 11.04 is the first version of the Linux distro that defaults to Unity, the multi-touch interface we were once told was for touch- …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    GNOME Apps

    Does this mean GNOME apps will look utter crap and out of place in Unity? Much like KDE apps do in a GNOME environment.

    1. The BigYin

      I'd like to be able to say "Yes"

      But an install of the Natty beta into VirtualBox is not stable.

      Without the guest additions, you can see the Window decorator crash.

      With the guest additions it doesn't boot properly (can't get to the login screen).

      From what I could see (before I put guest additions on) is that the basic Gnome is even more of an Apple rip-off. Obviously I can't comment on Unity as it doesn't run, but speaking to people who have used it the reviews are not good. Sort of a bastard love-child of iOS and Win7.

      There again, change always scares people.

      1. The BigYin


        Well some digging around Launchpad got Unity working (install vanilla, update packages, install dkms, install vb-ose-x11 doofer - NOT the one provided by Oracle!)

        And....yes. Great on a fondleslab is my guess, I can really see the potential there. Some nice UI features (not sure I like the Apple menu thingy though).

        But for a desktop? That I have to work at each day? No. Takes too bloody long to find anything.

        The complicated a UI gets, the more I feel the urge to become more proficient at the CLI.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re:GNOME Apps

      No, no of course not. Even canonical wouldn't be that silly. They look fine. Unity is more of a modified gnome 2 than a whole new DE, imo.

      It still uses GTK, so they'll just look like normal.

  2. The BigYin


    ...Disunity more like. Why do we need yet another sodding DE/WM/guff? Would it not have been better to throw some weight behind Gnome/KDE and help make them fit-for-purpose? I mean, at least Gnome is accessible to the optically different, unlike Unity!

    Open Source is great. Choice is great.

    But really, guys, have you never heard of "United we stand, divided we fall"?

  3. Greg J Preece


    The thinking nerd's alternative. ;-)

    Teasing aside, have they fixed all the major cockups in 10.10? Plymouth springs to mind...

    1. Anonymous Coward


      Does it work now?

      When they went to the new improved KDE4.0 it didn't play nice with multi-head, swapped to gnome and every time I've tried it since it still didn't work.

      1. Greg J Preece

        I'm posting from KDE on two monitors

        And I've got three at home. :-) And both are ATI cards, if you can believe that.

      2. David Dawson

        Kubuntu/ kde multi head

        Works perfectly for me. Very nicely, in fact.

        Still lingering problems with some of the fancy buff they tried to implement (akonadi), but otherwise I find it really nice, stable and productive.

      3. Ben 42

        In fairness

        The first couple of releases of KDE 4 were terrible, but it's certainly not like that anymore. Still not perfect (is anything?), but much, much better.

  4. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    It's worrying me...

    As with anything new, of course... but my admittedly brief overview of Unity (wouldn't it be nice if there were some nice full-screen images in easy-to-see places?) has not filled me with confidence. Nothing I can put my finger on, yet, I need to read more about it, but a recent discussion about keeping applications permanently running suggests a mindset that does not fit with the way I work and the way I control the usage of my machine. It's not apparent that the system offers multiple desktop spaces, for example, and I'm not convinced by touchy feely screen; I detest touch-pads and much prefer a mouse. But maybe that's just me.

    No doubt I'll try it, but I hope I can come back to 10.04 if I don't like it... or otherwise, it will be goodbye Ubuntu, and that would be a shame.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re: I hope I can come back to 10.04

      If you hate the default "User Experience" of the new release you should be able to configure something else that's to your liking - there will still be Gnome and KDE versions. Remember the fuss when the little buttons were moved to the left of the windows, and how long it took to get them back in the right place?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not forced to use it?

    Presumably if you don't get on with unity, a quick apt-get install gnome-desktop will put things back the way they were?

    1. Mark 65

      Not really the point

      I think the issue people have is that Ubuntu has been the go-to Linux distribution for new users and by radically changing the default interface (these aren't people that enjoy or are possibly even willing to search and dick about with system settings) they are screwing things up. Given Android is the choice for touch interfaces already I'm not sure I see the point of this design aspect. I believe there are other benefits supposedly from removing X or something but I'd guess you could do that without giving everyone's desktop a fisher-price appearance.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Alternate desktop environments

      You can load the "default" gnome 2 by simply choosing if from the session option on login (automatic login, just log out and select it, I think it's called "gnome classic" or something)

  6. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

    I foresee...

    ...a lot of people running to Mint, which seems to have a better handle on what most people actually want.

    1. Orionds

      Mint - not really

      I'm not against Mint myself. I used it for some time and liked it. However, the funny thing is my students all prefer the Gnome desktop to Mint.

      The good news is - students, one by one, are adopting Ubuntu and dropping Windows except when they want to play Windows games.

  7. WonkoTheSane Silver badge

    Don't like Unity?

    Just select "Ubuntu Classic" session when you log in.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Look, its very simple

    You can turn Unity off if you don't like it.

    Don't fancy the default apps either? Ten minutes with either apt-get or the software centre will fix that.

    Or better still, don't update at all and stick with 10.10. Its still far better than Windows whichever way you turn it.

    1. llewton


      you're missing the point. this release is aimed at the type of users who now use windows. they don't know how to switch things off or spend ten minutes doing anything. they use what they're given, including the wallpaper. and- they may well like this.

      people who know their way around any type of computing are not targeted by canonical (or comical as some call them), and they won't use this distro, or get overly upset about where it's headed. after all, what in our world depends on whether ubuntu/canonical sink or swim? luckily they don't contribute back to the community, so the answer is, nothing.

      i wouldn't get too upset. to each her/his own. i use debian.

  9. GrumpyJoe

    Snapshot of the future...

    Linux Mint, the popular ofshoot of Ubuntu (Ubuntu remix if you like) has started tinkering with a straight Debian release - basically trying to freshen up Debian directly with Linux Mint extras - as opposed to taking Ubuntu which is modified Debian and then polishing again.

    Do you think that's pre-emptive step? A move from the Mint guys showing that they are not wanting to depend on Ubuntu for their distro-base?

    Just a thought.

    1. Mark 65


      Taking into account my other post on the merits of buggering around with the go-to distribution for newbies I can possibly see Linux Mint cleaning up if it can do this with the minimum of fuss. Given they have all the codecs etc that Ubuntu doesn't install by default perhaps they should start the "gives you everything Ubuntu used to + more" advertising campaign?

    2. john 17

      Mint debian updates

      Until mint has better download bandwidth, it will not be "loved". I was getting 75 kb/sec last night; about 90 minutes to update a secondary machine that hadn't been updated in a couple of weeks.

  10. penguin slapper

    Can't decide.

    Whether they're very brave or just very stupid?

    We'll find out soon enough.

    Personally I think they're bordering on very stupid.

  11. DrXym

    GNOME isn't gone

    GNOME is still there - all the regular apps are GNOME and are built over GTK. What they've chosen to use is their own shell instead of GNOME shell. Given the recent emailings that suggest GNOME devs are being obstructive to initiatives it's not surprising this has happened.

    The real challenge (and payoff) will come when Ubuntu dump X11 for Wayland. X will still be there for remote connections but the local will benefit hugely from lower context switches & better support for compositing & 3D.

  12. Nat Pryce

    Can't wait

    My laptop has a multitouch (and tablet) screen. It's great to see *anyone* actually integrating the various Linux desktop technologies to take advantage multitouch. Hopefully the multitouch events will be supported in the Firefox and Chromium builds so that multitouch webapps work as espected.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nervous upgrader

    Yes, I'm nervous about changing my desktop shell as I really do use Ubuntu 10.10 on my day to day machine, and it's great, and I don't want to lose my settings (application launchers & file system links in the panels).

    Version upgrade time is always worrying for me. My maxim is that it is better to wait at least a month after release for the major bugs to be squashed before taking the plunge. I guess there will be a live CD to experiment with?

    1. Pawel 1


      Won't force you to use unity.

      1. spicysomtam
        Thumb Down

        Bad move for Ubuntu...

        Yup, I agree, Just upgrade 10.10 to 11.4. Mind you it can take quite a while, but at least you arn't reconfiguring everything to your liking (plus installing everything you installed manually).

        Another poster mentioned you can select Ubuntu Classic when you login? Sounds like a non issue.

        I think Ubuntu are being mad making Unity the default; just when they were making an impact. I looked at Unity for a Netbook; and glad I went for the standard Gnome desktop. It depends on your perspective: are you a power user wanting everything as it is or do you want a dumbed down desktop? Unity looks great as an Andriod replacement, but hey you can have that with a phone or small tablet which doesn't have much processing power/graphics performance?

  14. Albert
    Thumb Up

    Glad to see they are trying

    I use Ubuntu and expect to stick with Gnome, but I do admire Canonical for trying something new.

    The fact that Gnome and KDE are so similar to Windows means new users have an expectation that it will be the same, so the small differences are highlighted even more.

    By going to Unity this expectation of it being like Windows is removed which may be a good thing to bring new people onboard.

    Also, with widescreen displays I'm seeing a lot of notebooks with 1280x800 displays so the vertical real estate has been reduced compared to 4:3 1024x768. Effectively, moving the apps bar to the left gives back some vertical space which means less scrolling.

  15. James Hughes 1

    I'm undecided

    Have Gnome on 10.10, and am quite happy with it. Tried Unity (pretty simple to install and you can select which desktop at login time). Seemed a bit odd to me, but then have used WIMP systems since Windows 2, and Gnome follows the same style, so maybe I am a bit stuck in my ways.

    The fact that the Unity I used was a bit flakey probably didn't help either.

    If Canonical give the option of which desktop to use on installation then I can't see a problem, but I think many may be a bit confused when presented with Unity rather than a more familiar desktop environment. On the other hand, with people now used to Smartphone OS's, maybe its not such a problem.

    Going to be interesting, whichever way it pans out. Might experiment on my AP's, to see what they think of it!

  16. crusty fred
    Thumb Down

    Not LO 3.3, or OO3.3 for that matter !!

    Oh NO !!

    LibreOffice 3.3.2, or for tha matter OO 3.3 on a netbook, doesn't work at all properley on netbook resolutions of 1024x600

    BEFORE going down the LO route by default, they should ensure it at least works as it should on a netbook.

    Other than that, good luck to 'em, but until LO or OO is shown to work on 1024x600 resolutions, I won't be rushing to it anytime soon.


    1. Langalf
      Thumb Up

      re: Not LO 3.3, or OO3.3 for that matter !!

      Is there a major difference between OO 3.3 and OO 3.2 on a netbook? I have no trouble whatsoever with OO 3.2 on my 1024x600 netbook.

  17. Change can be good
    Thumb Up

    Nothing ventured, Nothing Gained

    Happy to know one can turn Unity off if you don't like it.

    One can't stay on 10.10 forever just to avoid these massive changes.

  18. Teddy the Bear

    Unity on netbook...

    Been using Ubuntu Netbook remix with the unity interface on my netbook for a couple of months now... no problems at all. Took all of ten minutes to get used to, works well & does everything I need it to. I am a geek, but I'm also very inexperienced with the penguin. So far everything I've tried on Unity works just as it did before. Hope it helps the penguin become more accepted!

    1. Langalf

      re: Unity on netbook..

      I upgraded to Ubuntu 10.10 from 10.04 Netbook Remix a few months ago and was absolutely aghast. Unity on a netbook is one of the stupidest ideas I have ever seen. On a display with only 1024x600 resolution and limited horsepower, it makes no sense whatsoever. I promptly loaded Lubuntu 10.10, and have no intention of going back to the standard releases. I would prefer to use my netbook's horesepower for my applications, not the damned window manager "experience".

  19. Bilgepipe
    Thumb Down

    Don't Like

    I tried Unity and I thought it was crap - it'll be the first thing to go after upgrading. Useless in a non-touch environment, it had missing icons all over the place, and also highly confusing - I couldn't even see how to open my home folder with it.


    1. Steven Raith

      Home folder?

      Top icon in the app bar is nautilus. Always has been since Alpha 1 as I recall.

      Someone else suggested that the use of desktop spaces wasn't obvious- I'd suggest you haven't actually used it, it's plain as day, one of the default launcher buttons is the workspace switcher!

      As for virtualbox, unity requires full (not flaky/incomplete) 3D support, which might explain it not working.

      Just some thoughts - been using it daily since alpha one, other than some initial compositor problems that are mostly ironed out, it's been fine - and unity is a lot smoother than gnome with compiz enabled on my atom fact, once you get used to full time workspace switching it's much more efficient. YMMV, etc...

      Steven R

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re: Don't Like ... Awful

      I think you'll find that when Narwhal is released everything will be nicely integrated and work together smoothly, at least a lot more so than just dropping Unity on top of a platform that doesn't expect it and doesn't provide the right user interface features.

  20. J 3


    I have been using the netbook remix that first introduced Unity, and I sure don't like it. I liked the old netbook remix interface much better -- and it's not a question of time spent with it; I immediately liked the old one, very practical and used the limited screen space much more efficiently than a regular desktop version of the OS. Have been using Unity a lot but can't get myself to work efficiently using it. And that stupid bar on the left, on a netbook, is a disaster.

    ** Scrolling horizontally is much worse than vertically! **

    If there is a way to hide the bar, I haven't found it in the interface.

    Not to mention it crashes almost every time I close an application, and then all the window decorations and icons look different. Then suddenly they change, usually when I'm not looking. Maybe I do have a gnome in the machine... :-)

    I don't know how I'd like Unity on a real desktop with lots of screen real estate. It might work better in such cases, I don't know. But I suspect I'll be jumping ship from Ubuntu soon, unfortunately. Yeah, I know things are and will be all there in the repositories and can be installed. So what? One thing is to switch to an alternative music player, another is a whole desktop. I started using GNOME Ubuntu because support for KDE (which was always "also there") was half-assed (OK, the horror of KDE's first versions of the 4.x series also didn't help). The default environment gets all the attention to detail and etc. while the others always have integration problems and take a lot of work to get completely functional. I don't know if I want all that. Time to start checking out other distros, see how KDE 4 has (or not) improved, and all that.

  21. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Well, after half an hour playing...

    Some things I like, some I don't, some I hate. These brief comments are based on short usage of the live CD and a self-written Gnome GTK application.

    I have to say that overall it *looks* good; the fonts are subtly different and improved - but don't ask me to say how. I do note that text defined in my application as 'black' is now grayer than default unmarked text. There is some subtle shading of adjacent windows around the selected window, but it's not otherwise easy - with the default setup - to see which window has focus. There's just an orange 'quit' icon.

    The icons are once again on the wrong side of the window - no doubt this is fixable with a configuration as it has been in the past.

    The nice 'stop when you bump into another window' which was so nice in 10.04 has disappeared; if you want two non-overlapping windows with maximum size, you need to be careful how you position them. Vertical positioning does unexpected (to me) things when you get to the top of the screen; it pauses a few pixels below the top bar, then flicks up to it, and then turns the screen blue if you try and go further - no idea why this is required. Dropping the window on the top bar makes the window full screen. Moving away doesn't shrink the window again until it gets some distance away... usable but confusing.

    The single worst point so far: what brain-dead imbecile decided that the menu for a window should be in a position completely unrelated to that window, unless it happens to be full-screen? The top bar of the window is *not* the place for a menu... now, wanting to use a menu on a non-focused window I must first give it focus so it *gets* a bloody menu, then find the item... I remember Macs used to do this, twenty years ago, and it used to annoy the hell out of me then.

    I'm not convinced by the icon bar on the left. That may simply be that I haven't got used to it - but I really do like a proper start menu. I can see why you wouldn't want that with cascading menus, but e.g. having all of open office (yeah, whatever) occupying half the vertical real estate seems unnecessary. I'm *assuming* that it can be modified to taste to remove unwanted items and add new items, and to order them? I'm also unconvinced by the animation; the opacity of the bar increases as the mouse pointer approaches the top left corner of the start icon but unless you hit the top corner it doesn't stay; it fades out. And having made it appear, if you don't select something and move the mouse away, *and* have a window up to the space it uses, it *slides* away... confusing, messy, unnecessary. Though in my not-so-humble opinion, animation has no place on the desktop at all...

    So - for me, it needs changes - in particular the association of the menu with its window - but it's certainly worth a look.

    (One visible bug - compiz died, and although the desktop continued to work, the application now returns the wrong menu to the menu bar. The only option is 'quit' - so much for saving... stupid stupid stupid...)

  22. garyc2011


    Have been following this closely and using betas on spare HDD, for me the jury is out, have been using ubuntu exclusively since 6.10, this is quite possibly their "Vista".

    I am evaluating Mint on another 160Gb Raptor drive and am VERY impressed, so possibly I will format my main 1.5Tb Drive and put mint on it. (I have checked and Ubuntu one will run fine - so all my docs/music are fine), i remember trying mint about 2 years ago and it was a big no no for me, for me it is now ahead of ubuntu, it is just very intuitive to use.

    But I will wait till the final release before I ultimately decide, nd i will really give unity a fair crack of the whip, But I have found the last few releases to be buggy and uninspiring tbh. Also KDE is really not my cup of tea either.

    Just my 0.02$

  23. SilverWave

    10.04 LTS is good enough :-)

    May come back and have a look later... nah :-)

    Maybe 11.10 when they have it polished up a bit ;-)

    TBH I may even wait for the next LTS!

  24. ray hartman

    Ubuntu reaches complexity limits: STOP !

    I use Ubuntu as my production OS ... and it's as complex to make work as I can imagine dealing with. Not just "LINUX theory", but just the whole raft of feckin-A buttons etcetc. I have **real** work to accomplish ... writing ... simulations ... plus blabla generic web0stuff.

    Complications required to perform those tasks are reaching a breaking point. For me, no change in UBUNTU whatsoever is good change.

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