Also, Unity actually got up and running where Gnome 3 via the Fedora live CD just dropped me into fallback mode every time, with barely functional panels and no right click shell menu. I only got ATI cards here, but it is a huge blunder to get such an impression right from the start. I can only assess Gnome Shell from what I've seen in desktop recordings, but Unity for me has already won here.
It doesn't take long to get used to either. In Mac-like fashion we get the applications menu now in the top panel. Not exactly new as you could already set up KDE 3 this way. It also doubles as title bar and dynamically changes with your mouse pointer. You can already see it's all about maximizing screen real estate. The usual notifications are still on the right hand side of the panel, and it's slimmer than Gnome's top panel too. Windows got subtle drop-shadows.
The Ubuntu icon where the old Gnome menu used to be launches an overlay similar to Gnome 3 from where users can search for applications by section or freely from a search box, search for files or dig into pre-defined sections, with a couple of favorites like Shotwell being available right there. All this appears neatly layed out and of good size, with legible crisp fonts. I particularly like that each software section is then further divided into Most Frequently Used, Installed, and Apps Available for Download, which is trying to make suggestions and helped me discover quite a few applications I'd never heard of. There's also the Find Files section which lists recently used documents and the Favorite Folders in your home directory. All in all this is different from what I'm used to and more in the style of recent configuration panels in Gnome and KDE 4, but it feels fast and the smoky opaque black it employs looks good. Access to these is also available from the buttons in the lower left on the dock, just above the trash. Click the lense icon with the paper inside for files and folders, the one above with the plus inside for applications. Again, overall not bad, although I miss easy access to system settings, where ever these are now.
Which brings us to the, at least visually, most important feature, the dock. This basically is your quick launcher and task bar in one and is always visible, except when a window is maximized when it slides into hiding. If you hover over the left edge of the screen a semi-transparent dock comes popping back out, like the auto hiding we know from other panels. Towards the bottom is the pager/ workspace switcher. Unfortunately I haven't found a way yet to move the dock to the right. It may not be possible, given the seeming Ubuntu obsession with moving everything to the left, or it may be added with a future version.
Adding more app launchers to the dock is as easy as launching the program and clicking on Keep in Launcher in the resulting dialog. Uncheck to remove. This and the tiled nature of the dock reminds me of Window Maker, the light and rather fast window manager, so I had no trouble adjusting at all. You can re-order launchers with dragging them out onto the desktop. You'll see a white line in the dock moving about just as when re-ordering bookmarks in Firefox. Let go and the launcher has found a new place. Simple. A white arrow to the left of the launcher indicates the application is open, clicking on it will bring it to the front. The currently active application has two white arrows, left and right.
|Getting squeezed at the bottom|
So, with the size of tiles, what to do when your dock is getting full? If you have more tiles than fit the screen it slides up and down. Normally your application launchers take precedence which sort of squeezes the Trash can applet and other tiles near the bottom, but they can be accessed again just by moving your cursor down.
Overall I find Unity very intuitive to use, it greatly reminds me of other, older environments and window managers like Xfce and Window Maker. It looks prettier, sleeker, more modern, at the same time it is lacking most of the configurability and functionality of all these. Nevertheless, it's a start, and not a bad one. It will be interesting to see Unity mature and more options added. I may even use it in a few releases if it hits the repositories of other distributions, unless Canonical suddenly turned around and dropped mono-libs in their default installation and their own proprietary tools like Ubuntu One and become more like a 'normal' linux distribution, in which case I would consider them again. Not likely, given that they have just replaced Rhythmbox with Banshee, a mono application, in the upcoming release.
I also against expectation found the color scheme in the upcoming 11.04 'Natty Narwhal' visually pleasing. It's giving a bright and dynamic impression with clean sharp looks, and with this new desktop it is definitely different. It seems however clear to me that this is more aimed at the portable market, aka netbooks and tablets, with smaller than "15 screens, and at a generation or a group of users who by and large do not have more than a handful of application windows open at the very most, who are light users and expect some snazzy looks - the migrating crowd of new users who usually only check their email, IM/chat, browse Ebay or facebook and perhaps download and peruse their multimedia files. I would not deploy Unity in its present form on a desktop I do anything heavier on, including gaming. There are better desktop managers for these jobs. However, Unity was stable and responded well, and that counts for something.
That's it, my first post re. Ubuntu. We're all-inclusive here.