Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal), Reviewed In Depth

Critique And Analysis

We did encounter several inconsistencies with the Unity GUI.

New Scrollbars

Like the right-side window controls in Ubuntu 10.04 LTS, Ubuntu 11.04 managed to incorporate another user-infuriating design change. If you actually use scrollbars instead of the mouse scroll wheel, keyboard keys, or touch scrolling, you're not going to be happy with Ubuntu 11.04's new three-pixel-wide scrollbars. Although this implementation is usable, keeping the cursor on that tiny bar isn't easy, and it becomes more difficult at higher resolutions and when using less precise input devices. The new hidden scrollbar doesn't work in every application, either. Apps like LibreOffice, Chrome, and Firefox still use the traditional on-screen scrollbars.

Global Menu

The very design of a global menu is questionable to us. Developers have had many, many years to copy the Mac OS global menu, and there is probably a good reason why no one has. The screenshot below illustrates how a global menu can add unnecessary confusion when it's used in conjunction with window snapping.

Which window am I manipulating?Which window am I manipulating?

Design concerns aside, the global menu does not work properly in all applications. For instance, LibreOffice still places a menu bar below the title bar, whether the window is maximized or restored.

That the global menu's behavior changes when a window is maximized or restored also adds unnecessary confusion; it's just messy. Maximized, the close button is in close proximity to Dash. To us, the screen element that launches things and the screen element that closes things probably shouldn't be neighbors.

Considering that the global menu only saves about 24 pixels of screen real estate, we'd much rather have a traditional menu bar, and maybe we could get our GNOME applets back.


When navigating through Dash, you'd better get it right the first time, since there is no way to retrace your steps in Dash. Conversely, the Windows Start menu and KDE's Kicker have ways of navigating backwards through the menus. Here, if you accidentally choose the wrong shortcut, closing and reopening Dash is often the best (or only) way to rectify that mistake.

While Zeitgeist works very well for semantic search, we're not thrilled with the new emphasis on your computer trying to figure out what you want to do, rather than doing what you tell it to. We have to seriously question the removal of user-defined favorites from the Dash home screen. When Unity launched last year in Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Edition, there was a way to pin favorites to Dash. Please bring this back!

Overall, we're not ready to call Dash a mistake. It definitely has potential, and the underlying concept of an overlay as opposed to a pop-out/pop-up/drop-down menu does appeal to us.


There is no way to mention problems with the Launcher without bringing up auto-hide. Now, making auto-hide the default is not in and of itself a bad choice. Some people actually like auto-hide, and it certainly helps on sub-12-inch screens. However, the fact that there is no easy, simple, or obvious way to disable auto-hide is one big, fat, ugly problem. People using notebooks and desktops really don't need to save screen space that badly. Considering most new PCs are paired with widescreen displays, this choice becomes even more puzzling. Forcing desktop/notebook users to hover in order to do something as simple as switch between applications is almost unforgivable.

During our experience with Ubuntu 11.04, the Launcher's auto-hide behavior became even more annoying when not trying to access the Launcher. All Web browsers (the most-used of all applications) put the back button (the most-used on-screen element) in or near the top-left corner. I think you all know where we are going with this: trying to use the back button on a Web browser quite often inadvertently brings up the Launcher. This obscures the back button, rendering it useless until the Launcher goes away. If you're on a laptop with a horrible trackpad, be prepared to get mad.

The Launcher is also missing one feature that Windows, OS X, and KDE all share. When an application is in the foreground, clicking the Superbar/dock/panel entry minimizes the application. In Unity, clicking the Launcher entry of an active application does nothing.

The actual Launcher entries often do not always behave properly either. For example, when opening a LibreOffice document from the file manager, a new unpinned LibreOffice icon is added to the Launcher. Pinning a specific document to the Launcher for quick access does not work either. The next time you try to open that document from the pinned Launcher entry, nothing happens.

In effect, the Launcher entries for LibreOffice and its component applications function solely as quick launchers, and not as dual-purpose quick launchers/taskbar entries. The only way we were able to make LibreOffice work properly with the Launcher was to pin LibreOffice (not Writer, Calc, Impress, etc.) to the Launcher and open documents through the LibreOffice welcome screen or menu bar.

Workspace Switcher

While the new Workspace Switcher is graphically and organizationally superior to the old desktop switcher, the desktop switcher did have two major advantages that Unity's Workspace Switcher does not include.

First, the desktop switcher was customizable; it allowed for a user-defined number of virtual desktops. The desktop switcher applet could also be modified to show the desktops in a user-defined number of columns and rows. The new Workspace Switcher seems to be stuck at four desktops, and its layout cannot be modified.

Second, the desktop switcher applet provided instant on-screen access to your other desktops. In contrast, the new Workspace Switcher is a Launcher item. As such, it must first be selected to bring up the screen where the actual desktop access occurs. Factor in that the Unity launcher auto-hides by default, and that means you'll need to move the mouse to the top-left side of the screen, click on the Workspace Switcher in the launcher, then click on the desktop you want to select. That's a hover and two clicks, as opposed to a single click.

The upside is that the new Workspace Switcher has a much more intuitive method for moving windows between workspaces.


Unity dropped the Show Desktop icon entirely. There is no way to minimize all windows and bring the desktop to the foreground using a mouse. As far as we can tell, the only way to accomplish this is via keyboard shortcut.

As stated earlier, there is no longer a weather option in the time/date/calendar indicator. This was a very useful tool for anyone who lives in a place with constantly changing weather.

Touchscreen Issues

While Canonical claims that the touchscreen tablet is not a target market for this release, the writing is on the wall. There is just too much degradation in efficiency when using the mouse as a sole input. All to seemingly make way for multi-touch. However, there is one huge deal-breaking problem with using Ubuntu on a touchscreen-only device: the Panel relies on hover to reveal the global menu. uTouch currently has no way of addressing this issue. As a result, we have to seriously doubt the viability of Ubuntu 11.04 on touchscreen-only devices, despite the top-notch effort that is uTouch.

Luckily, we have a few tips that can make the Unity experience better, along with a way for users with older hardware to use the new GUI.

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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: