Friday, August 27, 2010

Unity part 2

So I've had pretty much a full week now of dogfooding on Unity, and no major problems. Overall, I think it's a step in the right direction for a netbook interface, which it was intended for. It makes good use of the limited space on these screens, has enough eye-candy to keep up with the alternatives out there, and has buttons on the side that are potentially large enough to be finger friendly. I think things like that will become increasingly important as more devices become available with touch screens. It's been inevitable for years now, as people get more and more used to things like touch and gestures on their smartphones. This would need to come quite a ways more for a touchscreen-only interface, but for a netbook it's just about right.

One thing I did find interesting was a few days ago when my wife looked at it, having never seen unity before. She had something she needed to figure out quickly on a calculator, and said "how do I get to a calculator on this thing?" It was a good question, as it's probably not immediately obvious to someone who's never used this interface before. Getting to common apps like a web browser, email, etc are easy. They are right there on the bar with easily identifiable icons. Anything else? For that you have to know which one of those icons is for applications. Then you have to search for it. The easiest way seems to be to use the search box and start typing, but I've had it still not find certain things that way (gnome-display-properties for example). I think having an obvious, easy to use, place to click to get to those applications that are not on the dock would be a big win here.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Next stop: Unity

Unity isn't fully cooked yet, but as we're approaching Ubuntu 10.10 beta, it seems like a good time to jump in and start taking a hard look at it. Also, I've been hearing a lot of good things about it so I can't resist the urge to go check it out for myself.

First impressions: shiny. Yes, it neat and modern looking. Unfortunately, I've seen enough things like that only to later realize how completely non-useful they are after trying to actually use them, that I'm now mistrusting of "shiny" things. But to be fair, I see a lot of things that make sense. The "dock" for lack of a better term, that stores default application launchers and icons for currently active applications is on the left side of the screen, which makes good use of horizontal screen space that is normally plentiful. On netbooks, for which this was primarily designed, vertical screen space is often at a premium, so elimination of the bottom bar is a good thing there.

The top bar is still around, but sadly has become very mac-like. Application menus, for most applications at least, seem to be on the top bar rather than in the application. I hate this, but to be fair, that's because I think it's too mac-like. I've never been able to "get" Apple's philosophy on UI design. However, I understand that doing this accomplishes a similar goal as above - to make better use of vertical screen space.

There are a few rough edges that I suspect will be worked out before release, but all in all it's not to bad. The virtual desktop switcher is just cool. There's also an application menu with search. I'm kind of undecided on that one. I miss being able to press alt-f2 and launch an application. Perhaps a hotkey could be assigned to automatically bring up this application menu, or maybe it has and I just haven't found it yet.

I'll keep it as my default desktop for the week, and see how it shakes out.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Xubuntu... what day is it?

It's been a little over a full week now, and I'm still on Xubuntu for my primary desktop. I like to try out all the latest stuff, so I likely won't stay on it forever. But for now, it's looking like a good default. A few observations to wrap this up:

The default media player seems to be parole rather than totem. It seems to be nice an lightweight, but had problems opening some sound files that I received in an email. Possibly a bit of work to be done here, but looking ok. Fortunately, it's easy to reset that default for now.

Exaile seems to be the default music player for Xubuntu. I love Exaile, and have for quite some time. This makes me happy. :)

Xubuntu lives up to the hype of being a good balance between lightweight, but also good looking and easy to use. A few defaults seem to need some tweaking IMHO, but that's subjective. All in all, I recommend checking it out, especially if you don't have the latest/greatest hardware and don't care about compositing and other such eye candy. I've found it to be stable, functional, and an all around good experience to use.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Xubuntu - Day 2,3

Two more days with Xubuntu, and still very pleased. I did run into one odd thing yesterday. I clicked on a link in an email (Apparently I had a rich uncle in Nigeria, who died and left me all his money, who knew?) and the browser opened the link properly. However, instead of moving me to the virtual terminal where I normally keep my browser, it moved the browser to me. A quick skim through the XFCE settings menu and I found the option to change it back to what I'm used to. So far, my biggest annoyance with Xubuntu has been just been a few defaults that don't suit me.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A week with Xubuntu

Time to give Xubuntu a try.
apt-get install xubuntu-desktop
As long as I've been using Ubuntu, it never fails to impress me how simple it is to make such a significant change. A few minutes later, and several new packages installed, I logged out and logged back into Xubuntu for the first time in a while.

The first two words that come to mind are "beautiful" and "simple". I really enjoy Xubuntu and right now I can't think of why I haven't been using it all this time. Network manager is used, so I don't expect any odd problems like I saw with KDE and attaching to various wireless networks. A simple change in preferences lets me change the functionality of the bottom panel to show me all open applications and not just the ones for this desktop, and another preference change to give me 4 virtual desktops instead of 2. Although on that last one, I was a bit surprised that I couldn't right click on the desktop switcher and change it in those preferences. Xubuntu papercut anyone? So far, I'm looking forward to this week. :)