Ubuntu 11.04 Review

The latest and greatest version of Ubuntu Linux operating system has been released. For those that do not know, Ubuntu is the most popular Linux Distribution and arguably the largest number of users amongst the Linux community. This reputation was not achieved by accident, as Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, with support from the community of users and developers, have the reputation of quality releases devoid of bugs, where everything “just works”.

The Latest release of Ubuntu codenamed “Natty Narwhal” follows the normal 6 month cycle for Ubuntu releases. It features an array of Software for web browsing, email management, word processor, photo management, etc. All these are usually found in previous Ubuntu releases, although some of them have been updated with this release, that is not, where all the buzz is.

Look-wise, Ubuntu 11.04 bears little resemblance to its predecessor, released just 6 months ago. This new version features a brand new graphical user interface shell known as the “Unity shell”.

Ubuntu Unity

On booting up Ubuntu 11.04, one first notices the bar on the left hand side with several icons. This servers as the app launcher. There is also a panel at the top which has several functions, such as app indicators, menu bar for applications, specialized menus, etc., some of which will be highlighted below.

One of the more noticeable features of the new Unity Interface found on Ubuntu 11.04 is the new scrollbars. These scrollbars commonly known as “overlay scrollbars” mimic the behaviour of scrollbars found on mobile device operating systems. This makes the Os look more modern. The Unity shell is not just a chanfe for shange sake though. It integrates several features that either improve usability or has the potential to do so.

One of the said features is the “lenses” feature. This is implemented in the default installation in the “applications lens” and “places lens”. Both lenses give an overview of your applications or files, categorizing them by most recently used; all the while, doing this in a very visually appealing manner. This helps you find files easier and locate recently used applications without getting lost in menus.

Other notable improvements in this new version of Ubuntu can be found in the  Ubuntu Software Centre. This application, which helps users find and install useful applications easily on Ubuntu has improbed greatly in this version, acquiring new features such as reviews and ratings, paid apps, preview applications before installation, showing locations of installed applications, etc.

Multimedia management has always been a strong suit of Ubuntu, and with Ubuntu natty, it got even stronger, with the introduction of Banshee media player to replace the former default Rhythmbox media player. With the introduction of Banshee media player comes new features such as media sync support for almost every media plater in existence (including iOS devices), smart playlists, etc.

It has always been a tradidion of Ubuntu, and most other Linu distributions to ship an offline office suite by default. The Suite of choice has always been Openoffice.org from Oracle (formally Sun Microsystems), however, with the creation of LibreOffice, by the Document Foundation, Ubuntu has moved over its defualt office suite to LibreOffice. Right now, LibreOffice, which was derived from OpenOffice.org, looks almost identical to its parent application. However, it holds a lot of promise for the future.

Integration is a word which is often spoken in conjuction with Ubuntu; and that is not less true in this version. Applications relating to messagins such as the Email application, IM application, Social media application, etc. integrates into the Ubuntu Messaging menu found on the indicator area on the top right corner of the screen. The same goes for media applications which are integrated into the sound menu, along with the media playback control buttons.
This integration can also be found in he fact that all applications now have their menubar shown at the top panel, instead of the individual application wondows.

Hardware support in Ubuntu Natty Narwhal is still as excellent as usual, as all my hardware worked out of the box.
One of th features which is being touted in this release is the multi-touch functionality. This provides support for multi-touch devices such as netbooks and trackpads. I however, cannot attest to the quality of the support as I posses no such hardware to test it with.

Ubuntu One is a cloud service offered by Cannonical, Ubuntu’s parent company, to all Ubuntu users. It provides features such as files syncing to the cloud, syncing notes from the default notetaking application (tomboy notes), as well as a music store, and cloud syncing of music to mobile devices, among others. It provides a free 2GB storage to every user with an option of upgrading at several prices and sizes. In Ubuntu Natty, the Ubuntu one service gets better with a new Control panel application and better integration with the overall desktop. This service has been invaluable to me, saving me from losing some important notes I took during a conference last year, and It still has potential for improvement.

Useability and Regression Issues.
On booting a freshly installed version of Ubuntu 11.04, even an experienced computer user might be a little bit confused. The changes are very many and this could lead to the user feeling lost. However, after using it for some hours, auch a person will get used to it and might even find that it improves his/her workflow.
A lot of users have reported having issues with missing features, most notably, the absence of an application to configure the Unity shell. There are third party applications which can be installed to provide this functionality, however, they are not very userfriendly or visible to the casual user.

Overall, Ubuntu Natty is a solid release and has several new features to keep even the veteran users interested and excited. It can be argued that some of the features, especially the Unity shell are half baked and lack some basic functionality. However, it is still very usable and functional. For those who do not like change, or prefer to use what they know and trust, the old Interface (Ubuntu Classic) is available and can be selected from the login window.

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