Ubuntu Unity Refugee

I gave Ubuntu Unity in 11.04 Natty Narwhal an honest chance (for about 15 minutes). Short answer in the short amount of time spent with it: not for me. I just couldn’t get the hang of the application launcher sidebar and it felt fairly disruptive. Apparently I’m not the only one because these days blog posts, comments, etc. indicate a lot of people are abandoning or preparing to abandon Ubuntu because of Unity. Honestly, I tried the same thing. A brief list of distributions I have tried in the past week, both in VirtualBox VMs and actually installing on my MacBook: Elementary OS Jupiter (Enlightenment), Fedora 15 (GNOME 3/Shell and KDE), Kubuntu 11.04 (KDE), Linux Mint 11 (GNOME), Lubuntu 11.04 (LXDE), Mageia 1 (GNOME 2), OpenSUSE 11.4 (GNOME 2), and Xubuntu 11.04 (XFCE).

I have come to the realization that I have been going about it the wrong way. I don’t need to change my distribution just because the interface is not for me. I need to change my GUI. I like a lot of things Ubuntu does right. The Live CD recognized my wireless card for the first time ever (for the record, Fedora 15 KDE also had wireless working right out of the box). I like Ubuntu Software Center a lot, especially with its one-click installation of important (to me) stuff such as Skype. I am used to the Debian way of things much more than the Fedora way of things. So my primary focus has been on Kubuntu, Xubuntu, and Lubuntu.

I have used LXDE for a year and a half on a Debian install. I really like its minimalistic GUI because it doesn’t get in the way and lets me work. Installing Lubuntu on my MacBook made me realize something: I couldn’t easily configure two-finger scrolling or even right-click. This was a big obstacle and then I thought when there’s so much to choose from, why spend time on such small things. I then skipped Xubuntu from serious consideration for no apparent reason. Moving on to Kubuntu, I started with a VM.

I have always found KDE cumbersome. I can’t wrap my head around the new-fangled desktop metaphor in it. There are too many options to choose from for your perfect desktop setup, and they are hidden in tons of menus. But then some things KDE is doing right and I would like to list them here. Both GNOME Shell and Unity are trying to make the desktop cleaner by hiding stuff away from plain sight. As more and more devices come out with smaller screens, say netbooks or tablets, this becomes an advantage. On the other hand, on notebooks and desktops, I feel there’s still a real, tangible need for the traditional desktop, with its application launchers, notification areas, master menus, and so on. I love to see at a glace what time it is, whether audio is enabled or not, which applications I have open, which applications I have selected for my main use, and how to access other stuff in as few clicks as possible. Minimalism has its place but not really on my desktop. KDE is in my corner, I feel.

As far as I have read, KDE 4 has been a major shift in thinking about the desktop. The devs have come up with a framework that allows building traditional desktops or minimalist interfaces. I may be late to the party, but I believe that’s where the future lies. Instead of coming up with new metaphors like GNOME Shell and Unity, come up with the tools for users to come up with their own metaphors. Don’t tie us users down in terms of what you think is best, but give us ideas and the tools to implement those ideas. Has someone tried to implement the ideas of GNOME Shell or Unity using KDE (or is it QT? I don’t really know)? Maybe that would be a worthwhile project to demonstrate that “the framework” is the future not a particular implementation.

Now that I have ranted enough, let me share my experience. I installed Kubuntu in a VM and immediately found a huge piece missing: Ubuntu Software Center. I really do need it. Searching the web brought up one discouraging piece of information: Software Center is not available in Kubuntu. Cue the various epithets aimed at the short-sightedness of folks at Ubuntu. But I should have been more patient. I didn’t think of it but someone pointed out a very simple way to install Ubuntu Software Center in Kubuntu. Open up KPackageKit, make sure you enable relevant repositories in there, and then search for “Ubuntu Software” (search in “find by description” not just in “find by name”; for some reason it finds it only when searched in description). Install it and you are good to go.

I have embarked on a new journey. I am leaving GNOME for KDE because Ubuntu Unity was not for me and GNOME Shell was too minimalistic. Plus I am belatedly starting to believe that the KDE devs may be on the right path. I am a Unity refugee but I will stick with Ubuntu for some time to come. They do a lot of things right and I would like to support their efforts some more. But if things start to decline, my next stop will be Fedora. I like Fedora especially because they bring in new technology and they remain fairly vanilla. But that’s for another post altogether. And if Fedora doesn’t seem like a good fit, Linux Mint shall be another option. They do Ubuntu with a UI of their own: maybe best of both worlds.

For now, a lesson I have learned: don’t abandon a distribution because the UI is not likeable. Try out some other options out there, like KDE, XFCE, and LXDE. If none of them seem to suit you, only then should you try another brand of distribution altogether. Stick with what best works for you and encourage the development of ideas in that area. Let’s let the users decide which UI is the future.

One Response to Ubuntu Unity Refugee

  1. daengbo says:

    I like LXDE and have used it for years, but you really should have given Unity more of a chance. Fifteen minutes isn’t enough. Give yourself a week or two, and learn the keyboard shortcuts.

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