Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal), Reviewed In Depth

Ubuntu 11.04 Overview

Ubuntu, like any Linux distribution, is just that: a distribution. Linux distributors do not develop everything that goes into a distribution; they must rely on a myriad of open-source software projects to compose the bulk of their end-product. Let's take a moment to see what really makes Ubuntu Ubuntu.

One Kick-Ass Kernel

Ubuntu 11.04 features version 2.6.38 of the Linux kernel, which benefits from the now-famous 200ish lines of code that (purportedly) improve system performance substantially. Our benchmarks will speak to the truth or embellishment of this shortly.


Ubuntu kicked Oracle's OpenOffice to the curb in favor of the Document Foundation's LibreOffice. Natty Narwhal ships with LibreOffice 3.3.2. Writer, Calc, Impress, Draw, and Math all come pre-installed.


Banshee 2.0 unseats RhythmBox as the default music manager in Ubuntu 11.04. This comes as no surprise, since Banshee has been on a steady climb in popularity.

Like RhythmBox before it, quick access to Banshee's playback controls are now accessible via the volume indicator applet in the top panel. Technically, Banshee is the default media manager, since it is also capable of video playback. However, the Totem Movie Player is still included and appears to be the default video application.

The table below lists other essential default software included in Ubuntu 11.04:

Application Type
Web Browser
Email Client
Photo Manager
Video Player
Totem Movie Player
Video Editor
Chat Client
Social Networking Client
BitTorrent Client
2.13 (11501)
Optical Media Editor
Partition Manager
Disk Utility

Ubuntu Software Center 4.0

Natty Narwhal marks the fourth incarnation of the Ubuntu Software Center, which made its debut in Ubuntu 9.10 'Karmic Koala'. Version 4.0 of the Ubuntu Software Center adds a social twist. Sharing reviews of applications found in the Ubuntu Software Center is possible on social networking services via the Gwibber social networking client. So far this includes Facebook, Twitter, and Indenti.ca.

The Ubuntu Software Center is integrated with Unity as well in Natty Narwhal. When installing an application, the option to Add to Launcher is now available. If selected, the application receives a Launcher entry once installation is completed. The Ubuntu Software Center is also integrated into the new Dash 'start menu' (more on Dash and the Launcher later).

Ubuntu One

Ubuntu One is Canonical's cloud sync and storage service, which is integrated into Ubuntu. Ubuntu One first appeared in Ubuntu 9.04 'Jaunty Jackalope' and has incrementally matured with regard to features, ease-of-use, and stability.

New to Natty Narwhal is the Ubuntu One Control Panel, which gives users a pleasant and simple interface for controlling Ubuntu One. Previously, many of the settings could only be manipulated via the Ubuntu One Web site. The Ubuntu One Control Panel puts all of the options within the local application.

The amount of storage currently in use is displayed on every page of the Ubuntu One Control Panel, represented by capacity and percentage of the current storage plan. Sync status and the option to disconnect the machine from Ubuntu One also appear on every page. The main Account page has options to edit personal user information, as well as make changes to the Ubuntu One service plan. The Cloud Folders page allows the user to disable sync on local folders. The Devices page lists all the systems attached to the Ubuntu One account, with the option to remove any system. On the Services page, there are options to disable file sync and to install the Evolution plug-in for contact sync, or the Firefox plug-in for bookmark sync.

System Settings/Control Center

New in Natty Narwhal is a reformed System Settings menu and Control Center. Previous versions of Ubuntu relied on the alphabetically proper (but categorically scattered) System drop-down menu in the Applications/Places/System menu of the upper panel. In Ubuntu 11.04, the Logout menu (located in the far-right edge of the upper panel) now houses the new System Settings option just below Shut Down.

Selecting System Settings opens the new Control Center. The Control Center is organized much like that of the Windows Control Panel, Mac OS X System Preferences, and KDE System Settings. The Control Center in Natty Narwhal is divided into two panes. The right-hand pane lists all of the system tools grouped into the following categories: Personal, Internet and Network, Hardware, System, and Other. The left-hand pane has sections for: Filter, Groups, and Common Tasks.

The Filter option allows the user to search for specific tools within the system settings. Below Filter is a list of quick links to system settings categories. The last item in the left pane is Common Tasks. So far, the only item in Common Tasks is Set Preferred Applications. This brings up the new Preferred Applications window.

The Preferred Applications window is tabbed for Internet, Multimedia, System, and Accessibility. The default Web browser and email client can be selected in the Internet tab. The Multimedia tab has options for the default “Multimedia Player.” Notice there is no differentiation between audio and video players, probably because the new default music manager (Banshee) also handles video playback. The default terminal emulator can be selected in the System tab, and accessibility options are chosen in the Accessibility tab.

While this is probably the easiest way to access system settings, Ubuntu Classic still has the Applications/Places/System menu in the upper panel, and an alphabetical listing of system settings can also be found within Unity's Dash (more on Dash later).

Note that everything on this page applies to both the new default Ubuntu with Unity, and to Ubuntu Classic with the GNOME 2 shell. Now, let's take a look at these two dueling desktop interfaces, what they have in common, and how they differ.

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  • jryan388
    One problem I faced with the standard unity desktop is the horrible performance even on my Athlon II @ 3.6 and Radeon 5750. I upgraded on launch day, so maybe canonical fixed it by now, but the performance was absolutely abysmal. The easiest fix is the unity-2d package. Great performance, doesn't look any worse.
  • ksa-_-jed
    U should add more distros to the benchmarks like Debian, Fedora, and open SUSE.
  • shiftmx112
    Meh is exactly how I described 10.10 Still gonna try Unity.
  • Yuka
    11.04 sucks; plain and simple.

    Power users can do little to nothing to fix things between gnome3 and the buggy Unity.

    I wouldn't even bother with 11.04 when 10.04 is rock solid.

  • davewolfgang
    I tried the upgrade, but unity is blech. I am still using the upgrade, but doing the classic.

    But I may go back to 10.10 for my EeePC.
  • adamovera
    jryan388One problem I faced with the standard unity desktop is the horrible performance even on my Athlon II @ 3.6 and Radeon 5750. I upgraded on launch day, so maybe canonical fixed it by now, but the performance was absolutely abysmal. The easiest fix is the unity-2d package. Great performance, doesn't look any worse.

    Wow, that isn't right, the old X2 test system which has a considerably older Nvidia card runs it great. What's the full specs?
  • adamovera
    ksa-_-jedU should add more distros to the benchmarks like Debian, Fedora, and open SUSE.

    Fedora 15/GNOME 3 coming up next. I have never had any luck whatsoever with openSUSE, will keep trying new versions as they come out though.
  • bellman80
    I tried 11.04. Unity was more annoying than useful. I installed the new Linux Mint instead, I'm a happy camper now.
  • Tamz_msc
    I'm going to stick with 10.04, because it has been running rock-solid without a glitch for almost a year. It was able to find drivers for my on-board audio which even Windows 7 could not find.

    Unity is not my cup of tea., though I'm looking forward to GNOME 3.0.

    Till then Lucid Lynx FTW!
  • RogueKitsune
    Unity is a nice idea, but not my cup of tea. Overall I am happy with the changes in 11.04. Right now i have my laptop(AMD Turion x2, radeon x1200)running it with no problems(everything worked out of the box)
  • Filiprino
    Well, Unity is a plug-in of Compiz so if you install Compiz-config GUI you can configure more options and a bunch of effects, window management utilites and shortcuts.
  • 3ul
    I think the performance issue in unity 3d is due to the vsync(not sure the name right or wrong) is on by default in compiz setting. Turning this off should fix the performance problem. This issue mostly affected by AMD card.

    BTW unity imo have bright future. This is 1st public release so expect some bugs. By the time unity matured, its going to be a great shell for gnome..
  • antemon
    I'm still waiting for better games for linux

    hope the big names in the industry follow suit with indie devs on this...
  • haplo602
    running the xubuntu variant so not bothered by unity. however ubuntu in general is a bloated mess. the only thing I like is automounter works out of the box.

    However I switched graphics cards and getting it to run again was not automatic. I expected a bit more :)
  • razor512
    the os is good but the UI sucks.

    The unity crap bar makes it hard to launch multiple windows of a program, requiring you to basically use options built into the program to open another window

    the side bar is annoying, when ever you go to click on something on the left side of the window, you can easily accidentally bring out that annoying menu

    the search bar is annoying and will at most drive new users away from ubuntu. Since it requires you to search for things, for a novice user if you don't know what specific option you are looking for but want to discover the options, this makes it hard to do.

    while hardware support has been getting better, the Os has also been getting slower overall. They need to shift their focus from bloat to speed.

    they need to take a lesson from professional software makers. Most new professional apps, eg check out the latest adobe audition or photoshop or maya 3d or the mental ray render engine
    Performance is always improved on the same hardware

    An upgrade is not really a upgrade if you are losing performance.

    Would you "upgrade" from a GTX480 to a GTX460?
  • killerclick
    Linux shouldn't try to be a desktop OS for grandma.

    It's strong in the server segment, it's nearly ubiquitous in the supercomputer segment and Android is now a force in the mobile market. It should build on that and leave the desktop market to Windows and OSX.
  • DSpider
    killerclickLinux shouldn't try to be a desktop OS for grandma.It's strong in the server segment, it's nearly ubiquitous in the supercomputer segment and Android is now a force in the mobile market. It should build on that and leave the desktop market to Windows and OSX.

    Why ? Linux can look like both of them and can do much more. OS for grandma ? Hahahaha. Don't compare Ubuntu to Linux in general. You think grandma can install Arch Linux or Gentoo ?
  • Spanky Deluxe
    I made the mistake of trying Ubuntu 11.04 a few weeks ago when I needed a Linux distro for my CUDA development machine. Can't believe the joke of a GUI that they're using now, Unity is one of the worst user experiences I've ever had. Took me ages to just find where to change the screen resolution - the search terms I put into the search box didn't bring it up. After a few hours I uninstalled it. I gave Fedora a try too but Gnome 3 wasn't much better in terms of usability. In the end I went back to good old Scientific Linux with it's 'traditional' Linux GUI.

    I don't know what these Linux folk are thinking. It seems they're trying to force GUIs that are only useful on Netbooks on everyone. Trust me, a Netbook GUI is a pile of poo on a 2560x1600 display - let alone a 3 monitor setup.

    I don't really understand the point in the whole oversimplification thing either. There is no way in hell that I would ever recommend Linux to any non 'pro' user. Not because of how complicated it may be, which they're trying to do away with here, but because a non 'pro' user would struggle to get support and would struggle to get the software they want. Windows is hardly a big premium on computer costs these days and besides which, if it were for a grandma who'd never used a computer before then I'd get her an iPad instead.

    It really looks like the movers and shakers behind these big Linux distros are disillusioned as to who their customers or potential customers are and they're messing up the GUI for the people that know and love Linux in a vain attempt to encourage a tiny tiny minority of new users. Linux as a whole just went seriously down in my regard.
  • winco
    Still no "shutdown when idle" power management? A big big drawback for me adopting Linux.
  • burnley14
    This should be the desktop background on a loop: