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uTouch

Ubuntu 11.10 Review: Benchmarked Against Windows 7
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uTouch is Unity's multi-touch gesture language. The gestures haven't changed since Ubuntu 11.04. So, for a complete explanation of uTouch gestures, see our Natty review. In that article we used an Apple Magic Trackpad to give uTouch a spin. For this review, we switch to an actual touchscreen.

The Fujitsu T580 convertible tablet PC packs an Ubuntu-friendly N-Trig DuoSense touchscreen, making it perfect for going hands-on with uTouch, though the setup was not without its quirks.

As a convertible tablet PC, the T580 has traditional keyboard/mouse inputs, but we went about this part of the review completely in tablet mode. In order to expose any touch-only shortcomings in Unity, we interacted with Ubuntu 11.10 as is if there was no mouse, keyboard, or even stylus.

LightDM Login

Our first concern was logging in. Luckily, LightDM holds accessibility options in the upper right-hand corner, including the all-important on-screen keyboard.

LightDM's Onscreen KeyboardLightDM's Onscreen Keyboard

Unfortunately, the lock screen does not.

Planning on using Ubuntu on a slate? Deactivate the screen lock (via Screen in System Settings) or plan on a hard reset every time the unit goes idle.

Unity Panel

Tapping the small Panel indicators and dropdown menu items requires an extra bit of concentration. You need to be ultra aware of what pixel your fingertip actually touches. This makes interacting with the Panel indicators a frustrating affair.

Using the global menu with only touch input isn't impossible like we initially thought in our review of Ubuntu 11.04. Since the Fujitsu T580 is a tablet PC, there is an on-screen cursor. Tapping an empty area of the Panel places the cursor on the Panel, thus executing a hover to expose the foreground application's global menu. However, as with the indicator menus, global menu dropdowns also require extra care to avoid mis-taps.

But the worst Panel element for touchscreens only appears on maximized applications. The tiny round window controls in the top-left corner of the Panel are nearly impossible to use properly. Because the new placement is in the corner where the Panel meets the Dash button in the Launcher, accidents are irritating and plentiful.

Unity Launcher

Moving the Dash button from the Panel to the Launcher was definitely a good move for touchscreens. The Launcher Dash button is significantly larger than the old Panel Dash button, which essentially eliminates tapping accidents. However, the uTouch gesture for right click is a two-finger tap, and Launcher entries are much too small for two fingers. This essentially makes all the Launcher menus unavailable on touch-only input devices.

Unity Dash

Although Lenses appear larger than the Panel indicators, they prove to be as difficult to select. Likewise, the collapsible menus to See more/fewer results can be difficult to tap. Simply placing these items inside buttons, instead of relying on tapping the actual icons/words, would make this issue go away.

When the number of app icons outgrow the amount of screen space, an extremely thin scrollbar appears for scrolling through apps. Unfortunately, actually grabbing the scrollbar is difficult (close to impossible when Dash is maximized). Worse, Dash does not seem to recognize the uTouch gesture for two-finger scrolling. This makes using Dash as a start menu nearly impossible with finger input alone.

Windows

As mentioned previously, the window controls don't do well with finger taps in the global menu, and they're no better in the window title bar. But instead of being too close to the global menu entires and Dash button, they are simply too close to each other. To further illustrate the issue, the screenshot to the right shows how large the actual active area around the close button is within a yellow square. That square is 18 pixels high by 20 pixels wide. We contrasted this versus Apple's iOS spec and Windows Phone 7's recommended range for button size.

These window controls are designed for the mouse, not touchscreens, plain and simple.

One nice change to uTouch since Natty is in Window Manipulation Mode (activated by a three-finger tap on a window). It now recognizes screen edges, which allows you to snap windows from Window Manipulation Mode.

Applications

Some applications, such as the redesigned Nautilus file manager, System Settings, Thunderbird email client, and Ubuntu Software Center all make using finger input slightly easier. However, most other applications have not been modified for Unity, and are no better (or worse) on a touchscreen than your random Windows application.

The hidden scrollbars are again a source of frustration. It's bad enough that they rely on hover to reveal the pill-shaped scrollbar, but since they occupy only a few pixels on the edge of a window, tapping them is a ridiculous challenge. It's essentially impossible when windows are maximized, with the scroll strip on the very edge of the screen. While traditional scrollbars are no picnic either, at least they are technically usable.

Overall, using your own hands as the primary input for Ubuntu 11.10 is not realistic. When using an actual touchscreen as the input instead of a multi-touch clickpad, we were able to expose a few serious issues in uTouch, and expanded upon some of the predicted issues with the Unity interface. Between Dash not recognizing the two-finger scroll gesture and the two-finger tap not working for the Launcher, the uTouch gesture language has a couple of rough edges that we could not have seen using the Apple Magic Trackpad. The small size of the Panel, including the global menu, makes that entire component of Unity a hassle for tap navigation. The window controls exemplify the sizing and spacing issues. While the hidden scrollbars and lack of a pervasive on-screen keyboard round out why Ubuntu is far from ready for use on slates.

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Top Comments
  • 27 Hide
    stm1185 , February 13, 2012 4:27 AM
    4870, gtx260, doom 3, did i time travel to 2008?
  • 24 Hide
    Gamer Dude , February 13, 2012 4:25 AM
    jasonpwnsThat's the problem, I've always considered Windows king for gaming, but after looking at Doom 3, and the performance boost over Windows 7. Are we sure we're developing for the right platform? I mean games on Linux theoretically would run a lot better.

    To bad Microsoft has a Monopoly on DX architecture.
  • 23 Hide
    Anonymous , February 13, 2012 4:12 AM
    Lol. I knew I was gonna see old games on the benchmarks, but all of them id Tech 4? Hahahah.
Other Comments
  • 21 Hide
    compton , February 13, 2012 3:24 AM
    The best part of 11.10 is the renewed appreciation it gave me for Windows 7.
  • 18 Hide
    Gamer Dude , February 13, 2012 3:57 AM
    comptonThe best part of 11.10 is the renewed appreciation it gave me for Windows 7.

    LOL that bad uh well at leased there is an alternative if the Sopa takes awake my ripped Window 8 copy LOL.
  • 21 Hide
    jasonpwns , February 13, 2012 4:01 AM
    That's the problem, I've always considered Windows king for gaming, but after looking at Doom 3, and the performance boost over Windows 7. Are we sure we're developing for the right platform? I mean games on Linux theoretically would run a lot better.
  • 15 Hide
    indian-art , February 13, 2012 4:05 AM
    Happy with the benchmarks. I feel Ubuntu 12.04 will be even better.

    Just around a couple of months for its launch!
  • 9 Hide
    malimbar , February 13, 2012 4:09 AM
    One major irrelevancy in beginning of the article: while Mint overtook Ubuntu in Distrowatch, it's nowhere near the actual userbase: http://www.omgubuntu.co.uk/2012/02/stats-show-ubuntu-not-losing-ground-to-linux-mint/

    Interesting article otherwise, and very well done. I particularly like how it highlights major areas that ubuntu developers need to work on, but still gives ubuntu as a OS credit where it deserves it. It's more worthwhile IMO to review LTS releases (and one is coming up soon), but in the meantime it's great to see where Ubuntu is right now.
  • 23 Hide
    Anonymous , February 13, 2012 4:12 AM
    Lol. I knew I was gonna see old games on the benchmarks, but all of them id Tech 4? Hahahah.
  • 24 Hide
    Gamer Dude , February 13, 2012 4:25 AM
    jasonpwnsThat's the problem, I've always considered Windows king for gaming, but after looking at Doom 3, and the performance boost over Windows 7. Are we sure we're developing for the right platform? I mean games on Linux theoretically would run a lot better.

    To bad Microsoft has a Monopoly on DX architecture.
  • 17 Hide
    nekromobo , February 13, 2012 4:26 AM
    Linux is only free if your time has no value.
  • 27 Hide
    stm1185 , February 13, 2012 4:27 AM
    4870, gtx260, doom 3, did i time travel to 2008?
  • -9 Hide
    Gamer Dude , February 13, 2012 4:31 AM
    rmpumperIf you did not notice, all of the 3 tested games are OpenGL which is barely supported in Win7. How about we see some DirectX9 10 and 11 games before making silly conclusions? And in any case, who gives a rat's ass about Doom3 - 7 year old awful game?

    You know what else Doom3 was a monumental achievement do be dissing John Carmack.
  • 22 Hide
    jimmysmitty , February 13, 2012 4:36 AM
    jasonpwnsThat's the problem, I've always considered Windows king for gaming, but after looking at Doom 3, and the performance boost over Windows 7. Are we sure we're developing for the right platform? I mean games on Linux theoretically would run a lot better.


    Sorry but those benchmarks for games are almost pointless. They are old games and the only reason they run on Linux is due to OpenGL. I do wonder though why RAGE was not tested, as its OpenGL. Maybe it didn't work since its a much newer engine using a much newer OGL standard. Or maybe it just didn't show Ubuntu doing very well.

    Windows is still the king of games since the majority of the games out there are DX based, not OGL.

    And from my experience with Ubuntu, 11.04, the 64Bit version is not stable enough and its finicky with ATI GPUs. Had to buld a system for a customer and with 64Bit, it would just flicker as well on 32bit with a HD6450. Had to swap to a nVidia GT210 on 32Bit to get it stable. And then to enable multi monitor support, that was another nightmare. You still have to do everything via a shell prompt with the X (X meaning the GUI) disabled to install the drivers. And thats just the start, If it goes well, you are in business, if not you may just reboot to a shell prompt and no GUI. Or at least thats what happened to me. Had to reinstall Ubuntu over it to get the GUI then reinstall nVidias drivers. Luckilly third time was the charm and it worked.

    Ubuntu has its place, but for the majority of consumers its not the best option as it takes more technical knowledge to operate it efficiently. Windows is for the majority who just need a system to do what they need. Or Android.

    For now I will stick with Windows 7 and enjoy my games.

    I would have liked to see this done on an SSD too.

    Gamer DudeDX11 sucks and its in few games and the ones it is even in mostly run like ass with terrible codding and patch jobs plus The Witcher 2 looks better than any DX11 game.


    I disagree. DX11 is actually faster than DX9, when coded properly. Its been shown. Add in the Tesselation, which DX9 cannot do, and its a great setup. Just wait till the games start doing it more in DX11. It will get better.
  • 7 Hide
    sseyler , February 13, 2012 4:41 AM
    nekromoboLinux is only free if your time has no value.


    Or if you can save a huge amount of money (compilers come to mind) by getting free Linux software, or if you know what you're doing and it doesn't really take that much time, or if what you can do with Linux outweighs the cost in time that it takes to set up and run Linux, or...
  • -3 Hide
    Gamer Dude , February 13, 2012 4:45 AM
    jimmysmittySorry but those benchmarks for games are almost pointless. They are old games and the only reason they run on Linux is due to OpenGL. I do wonder though why RAGE was not tested, as its OpenGL. Maybe it didn't work since its a much newer engine using a much newer OGL standard. Or maybe it just didn't show Ubuntu doing very well.Windows is still the king of games since the majority of the games out there are DX based, not OGL.And from my experience with Ubuntu, 11.04, the 64Bit version is not stable enough and its finicky with ATI GPUs. Had to buld a system for a customer and with 64Bit, it would just flicker as well on 32bit with a HD6450. Had to swap to a nVidia GT210 on 32Bit to get it stable. And then to enable multi monitor support, that was another nightmare. You still have to do everything via a shell prompt with the X (X meaning the GUI) disabled to install the drivers. And thats just the start, If it goes well, you are in business, if not you may just reboot to a shell prompt and no GUI. Or at least thats what happened to me. Had to reinstall Ubuntu over it to get the GUI then reinstall nVidias drivers. Luckilly third time was the charm and it worked.Ubuntu has its place, but for the majority of consumers its not the best option as it takes more technical knowledge to operate it efficiently. Windows is for the majority who just need a system to do what they need. Or Android.For now I will stick with Windows 7 and enjoy my games.I would have liked to see this done on an SSD too.I disagree. DX11 is actually faster than DX9, when coded properly. Its been shown. Add in the Tesselation, which DX9 cannot do, and its a great setup. Just wait till the games start doing it more in DX11. It will get better.

    When coded proper DX11 can be faster if it was implemented for performance enhancements and not graphical enhancements but mostly the devs have botched DX11 up in most circumstances DX9 performed better and can still look the dickens The Witcher 2 case in point. DX 11 will be allot better and come into its own only when the next gen of DX11 enabled console arrive in another 50years.
  • -9 Hide
    Gamer Dude , February 13, 2012 4:45 AM
    Gamer DudeYou know what else Doom3 was a monumental achievement dont be dissing John Carmack.

  • 12 Hide
    adamovera , February 13, 2012 4:53 AM
    hotsacomanLol. I knew I was gonna see old games on the benchmarks, but all of them id Tech 4? Hahahah.

    That's the best of what runs natively on Linux. OilRush is out, but has no benchmarking tools, so we have the three Ungine benchmarks. Hopefully, Postal 3 (Source engine) and Rage will be available later this year. Amnesia is also available for Linux, but it isn't really a benchmark-type of game.
  • 8 Hide
    adamovera , February 13, 2012 4:55 AM
    rmpumperIf you did not notice, all of the 3 tested games are OpenGL which is barely supported in Win7. How about we see some DirectX9 10 and 11 games before making silly conclusions? And in any case, who gives a rat's ass about Doom3 - 7 year old awful game?

    On Windows we ran the Unigine tests in OpenGL AND DirectX. Linux doesn't do DirectX.
  • 15 Hide
    wildkitten , February 13, 2012 4:56 AM
    jasonpwnsThat's the problem, I've always considered Windows king for gaming, but after looking at Doom 3, and the performance boost over Windows 7. Are we sure we're developing for the right platform? I mean games on Linux theoretically would run a lot better.

    Except which distro do game developers supports?

    A lot of game developers actually tried doing Linux versions a few years ago. The problem they ran into was there was enough variation between each distro, they almost each distro had to be supported, so they gave up shortly after they started supporting it because there simply was not enough customers to be able to do so much support.
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