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uTouch

Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal), Reviewed In Depth
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uTouch is a touchscreen gesture language that was developed to complement Unity. Due to a lack of compatible touchscreen slates currently in production, we used the Apple Magic Trackpad to go hands-on with uTouch. The Apple Magic Trackpad was chosen because, of the compatible devices, it currently provides the best sensitivity and supports ten-finger multi-touch gestures.

Using Ubuntu 11.04 on a touchscreen-only device or with a button-less touchpad like Apple's Magic Trackpad means that tap-to-click must be enabled. With tap-to-click disabled, there appears to be no way to perform a right-click. While this may seem ridiculous to touchpad owners, remember that touchscreen-only devices have no cursor or buttons. Therefore tap-to-click is mandatory, effectively making this a non-issue on anything except a button-less touchpad.

Let's break down all of the currently-implemented uTouch gestures:

One-Finger Tap = Left-Click

This one is pretty obvious; tap the multi-touch surface with a single finger to perform a left-click.

Double One-Finger Tap = Double Click

Quickly double-tap the multi-touch surface with a single finger to perform a double-click.

Double One-Finger Tap + Drag = Click And Drag

To click and drag an item, such as a file, folder, or tab, double-tap the multi-touch surface with a single finger, but hold your finger to the surface after the second tap and drag.

Two-Finger Tap = Right-Click

Tap the multi-touch surface with two fingers to perform a right-click.

Two-Finger Swipe = Scroll

Though not enabled by default, two-finger scrolling can be activated via the Mouse tool in the Hardware section of the new Control Center. Single-finger edge scrolling is the current default.

When enabled, swiping two fingers on the multi-touch surface controls the scroll bar of the currently-selected application. Swiping up scrolls up, while swiping down scrolls down. This gesture is always responsive, and it reflects momentum very well.

Horizontal scrolling is also possible with a two-finger swipe, though it is also disabled by default. Once again, the Mouse tool in the Hardware section of the new Control Center has a check box to activate it. When two-finger scrolling and horizontal scrolling are activated, swiping two fingers to the left scrolls left, while swiping right scrolls right.

Although simultaneous vertical and horizontal scrolling (also known as panning) is possible with uTouch, it is not at all fluid. You are always aware that you're manipulating two separate axes. This is not a fault with Unity or uTouch. It's a limitation in the X.org windowing system used by almost every graphical Linux distribution. Support for hardware scrolling was designed around scroll wheels on mice. Originally, all scroll wheels would incrementally click for each scrolling motion (most still do). Basically, when scroll wheel support was built into X.org, each click of the scroll wheel moved a set length of the scroll bar. Some newer scroll wheels can freely scroll non-incrementally, and can even build momentum. Scrolling gestures on touchscreens and touchpads similarly aren't confined to incremental motions. Since X.org is attaching scrolling to a set increment, continuous scrolling simply repeats the set increment, making the overall scrolling motion choppy. This effect is highly accentuated when attempting to simultaneously scroll vertically and horizontally.

Three-Finger Tap = Window Manipulation Mode

Tapping the multi-touch surface with three fingers over any windowed application activates Window Manipulation Mode. Window Manipulation Mode overlays orange resize controls on the four sides and four corners of the selected window.

Clicking and dragging these controls will resize the window from the selected resize point. Another orange overlay appears in the center of the window for movement.

It should be noted that Window Manipulation Mode currently does not support maximization through snapping. Windows need to be dragged to the top of the screen by the title bar in order to maximize via snap. However, vertical snap does work in Window Manipulation Mode.

Three-Finger Tap + Swipe = Move Window

While you can do the three-finger tap to initiate Window Manipulation Mode and then select the centered move overlay to move a window, another method also exists. If you perform a three-finger tap, but hold the three fingers to the multi-touch surface after the tap, you will be able to drag the window around the screen using three fingers.

Unlike the centered 'move' widget of Window Manipulation Mode, moving a window in this fashion does not activate any form of window snap.

Four-Finger Tap = Dash

Tapping four fingers anywhere on the multi-touch surface launches Dash. The same result can be accomplished by clicking the Ubuntu button in the upper-left corner or pressing the Windows key on the keyboard, but this is the most efficient way to launch Dash, assuming you have a multi-touch input.

Four-Finger Swipe = Show/Hide Launcher

Placing four fingers anywhere on the multi-touch surface and swiping to the right reveals and locks the Launcher, while swiping to the left hides it.

The action on this gesture is smooth and accurate. We experienced no failures to recognize this gesture on Apple's Magic Trackpad. In fact, the four-finger swipe in uTouch is the saving grace of the Launcher's auto-hide behavior. Coming from someone who typically hates auto-hide of any sort, combined with uTouch, this implementation is superb. And it appears we're not the only ones interested in this approach to task management for touch-slates: Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8 appears to use the very same dynamic.

Pinch = Zoom

Just like on the iPhone, placing two fingers on the multi-touch surface and moving them apart zooms in, while moving them together zooms out. Pinch-to-zoom only works in supported applications, and so far we've found this gesture only works in Shotwell. Unlike the pinch-to-zoom implementation in iOS and Mac OS X, this gesture is hit-or-miss (at best) in Ubuntu 11.04.

Ctrl + Two-Finger Swipe = Zoom

While pinch-to-zoom doesn't work so swell, holding the control key and performing a two-finger scroll never fails, and it works in every application we encountered with a zoom feature. Obviously, the downside here is that Ctrl/Zoom relies on the Ctrl key, something that slate-style tablets just don't have.

Overall, uTouch is actually pretty damn remarkable. While our experience with the Apple Magic Trackpad was not quite as lush in Ubuntu 11.04 as in Mac OS X 10.6.7, it is still a pleasure to use. If you happen to have a multi-touch input device, uTouch definitely adds something special to the Ubuntu experience.

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  • 4 Hide
    jryan388 , June 10, 2011 4:25 AM
    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.
  • 5 Hide
    ksa-_-jed , June 10, 2011 4:30 AM
    U should add more distros to the benchmarks like Debian, Fedora, and open SUSE.
  • 0 Hide
    shiftmx112 , June 10, 2011 4:32 AM
    Meh is exactly how I described 10.10 Still gonna try Unity.
  • 3 Hide
    Yuka , June 10, 2011 4:34 AM
    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.

    Cheers!
  • 1 Hide
    davewolfgang , June 10, 2011 4:45 AM
    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.
  • 0 Hide
    adamovera , June 10, 2011 4:53 AM
    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?
  • 0 Hide
    adamovera , June 10, 2011 4:56 AM
    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.
  • 2 Hide
    bellman80 , June 10, 2011 4:58 AM
    I tried 11.04. Unity was more annoying than useful. I installed the new Linux Mint instead, I'm a happy camper now.
  • 1 Hide
    Tamz_msc , June 10, 2011 5:14 AM
    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!
  • 1 Hide
    RogueKitsune , June 10, 2011 5:20 AM
    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)
  • 0 Hide
    Filiprino , June 10, 2011 5:31 AM
    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.
  • 0 Hide
    3ul , June 10, 2011 6:21 AM
    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..
  • 0 Hide
    antemon , June 10, 2011 6:25 AM
    I'm still waiting for better games for linux

    hope the big names in the industry follow suit with indie devs on this...
  • 1 Hide
    haplo602 , June 10, 2011 6:36 AM
    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 :) 
  • 1 Hide
    razor512 , June 10, 2011 8:56 AM
    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?
  • -1 Hide
    killerclick , June 10, 2011 9:03 AM
    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.
  • 5 Hide
    DSpider , June 10, 2011 9:34 AM
    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 ?
  • 7 Hide
    Spanky Deluxe , June 10, 2011 9:48 AM
    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.
  • 1 Hide
    winco , June 10, 2011 10:00 AM
    Still no "shutdown when idle" power management? A big big drawback for me adopting Linux.
  • 2 Hide
    burnley14 , June 10, 2011 10:42 AM
    This should be the desktop background on a loop:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykwqXuMPsoc
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