Is Ubuntu 12.04 a Linux Game Changer?

Monday Mar 5th 2012 by Matt Hartley
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With improvements in Unity, the upcoming Ubuntu release has much to recommend it.

Ever since the Unity desktop first came to Ubuntu, I've been critical of it and found myself completely disinterested in it. Some aspects of this discontent may have stemmed from my refusal to try something new. But certainly Unity had some rough edges in the beginning.

In short, Unity was a neat idea that needed more time to develop.

With Ubuntu 12.04 just around the corner, I was shocked to discover that Unity now offers a stable and configurable desktop experience. Thanks to the HUD (heads up display), more Unity-based configuration options, support for Sandy Bridge, and improved power consumption, Ubuntu 12.04 is shaping up to be a really solid release.

On top of all these great features, another great thing about Ubuntu is that you're never really stuck with only one desktop environment. The end user can just as easily install Cinnamon or an alternative lightweight desktop, should they wish to.

In this article, I will share some items that have recently caught my attention, along with some needed changes, that may entice others into giving Ubuntu another run.

Power savings

As the kernel stands now in older Linux releases, the power consumption for notebooks is abysmal. For those who think I'm kidding, I'd suggest installing a command line application called PowerTop.

This little utility will not only help to see where the most power usage is taking place, but it even offers fixes to address the issues themselves. I've been a fan of this software for sometime now.

Thankfully, this may become less of an issue due to the new Linux kernel bundled with Ubuntu 12.04. Considering that all of the great features in the world mean very little when a notebook loses a lot of its battery life quickly, I'd call this perfect timing. Hopefully, kernel power issues don't regress with future updates.

Making Unity usable

A major hangup I had with Unity out of the box was the lack of customization that was possible. Recently, though, I've discovered something wonderful called MyUnity.

This fantastic utility divides all the tweaks you could ever want into the following categories: Launcher, Dash, Panel, Desktop, Font, and Themes. By offering this access to the Unity underpinnings, I finally feel like I'm the one running Unity rather than the other way around!

Additionally Unity will now come with the keys to control what shows up in the launcher, as well as the colors used, transparency in various areas of the desktop, enable/disable available apps in the dash, plus so much more. I haven't tested out MyUnity with 12.04 just yet, but it seems that the functionality will remain just as robust as with past releases.

The great news: according to its developers, MyUnity will come with full 12.04 support. Which also means it includes a new "quicklist editor" as well. This will allow you to quickly and effectively make specific settings changes to the application launcher properties.

Dual monitor support remains questionable

One area that I disagree with most people is the belief that Unity has finally dealt with dual-monitor issues. While there are reports of success in tackling issues within the global menu, the fact that panel indicators still appear in both monitors is just silly.

It's not a deal breaker, but it is largely unnecessary and should be a focus for the design team in the near future.

Another issue that has been reported is inconsistent behavior with the wallpaper background. Basically, it doesn't always fit the wallpaper as one would expect. Perhaps this is only a “paper cut” of an issue, however for the sake of aesthetics, it's unfortunate.

On the positive side of things, I'm happy to report that 12.04 does include a behaving launcher, along with a workplace switcher that fits in properly with the two monitors, and proper window drag to size functionality.

Panel indicators are catching up

Indicator applets are beginning to catch up to their older Gnome 2 counter parts. Options such as Ubuntu One, System Monitor, Touchpad controls, CPUFreq, even a variety of clipboard managers are available via PPA(s) from OMGUbuntu directly.

There are still some missing applets that I'd love to see ported, such as my beloved PulseAudio Mixer Applet. This applet is a true time saver for me as it allows me to easily select the audio devices I want activated with minimal effort. It comes in very handy when you're running both PC speakers and USB headphones.

Privacy improved

One area I give Ubuntu props for are the advances made in regard to privacy controls. With so many other aspects of our computing lives losing privacy each day, it's nice to see that Ubuntu has taken the stance of empowerment in this space.

The privacy controls handle such niceties as history deletion, disabling of file activity, and prevention of application logging.

While the need for these privacy features might seem paranoid, I imagine there are some circumstances with shared computers that might make this an attractive feature to utilize. It's a fantastic crossover between going full-on Kiosk mode and retaining regular desktop PC functionality.

ClickPad support has finally arrived

Finally, Ubuntu has proper support for most ClickPads like the one on the Apple MacBook, among others with this type of trackpad.

Previously, Ubuntu users were forced to use various work-a-rounds, which offered limited functionality for ClickPad enabled notebooks. While the support provided isn't perfect, it's a strong step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, it's reported by Ubuntu's own feature list that ClickPad functionality can be a little buggy with click actions. To put it bluntly, you will not find click action support combined with your ClickPad. It's simply not happening with the Ubuntu 12.04 release.

The good and the bad

After weighing out the good with the bad, I think that I will continue to push myself into using Unity a little bit more. Nothing listed above would be problematic enough to prevent me from using it, as the Unity desktop is now faster and more responsive than in the past.

This isn't to say that I'm going to give up on other desktop environments, rather that I'm willing to spend more time adapting to what Unity has to offer.

As Ubuntu 12.04 comes to fruition, I fully expect that there will be minor issues initially. Then again, I also expect a lot more from the development team and hope that they are keeping a watchful eye as to how they might make future releases of Ubuntu even more compelling than the last.

In the future, some features that I think will ensure an even greater experience would include the prompt to consider creating a dedicated /home/ partition, and the ability to scan my existing system and attempt to match up my components with any open bugs. Those two items are on the top of my wish list.

Nothing to stop me from trying 12.04 myself, but certainly something I'd be excited to try in future releases of Ubuntu down the road.

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