Short version: it stinks.
Ubuntu is a version of Linux, an open-source and free operating system. I’ve been using various flavors of Unix for the past twenty years, and prefer them over anything that Windows or Apple offers. Ubuntu is not necessarily the best of all the Linux “distros”, but it is easy to install and operate and has, I think, a plurality of Linux users.
New versions of Ubuntu come out about every six months. These are usually improvements over the previous implementations, but not this time. Everything fundamental was changed, and abruptly.
There is a new default interface called Unity, coded by engineers evidently infatuated by both tablets and Apple. For example, for no good reason and after many years, the “Maximize, Minimize, and Close” buttons were moved from the right to the left of all windows (although this was attempted in the release prior to 11.04). I can only guess this is because Apple has theirs this way. Fortunately, these can be moved by fiddling with some code.
The big change is that the Unity graphical interface thinks everybody is a tablet, which only a small minority of users are. It’s slick enough, but not of much use to those who use their computers (not tablets) for work. I.e., those who have multiple open windows, desktops, command lines, etc.
Unity also removed apps from the top bar, which were very handy. Example: I have a dictionary app that I use frequently. In classic Ubuntu, the dictionary app rested on the top bar, and when used would open a window attached to the top bar with a definition and thesaurus. You could then use other programs (such as Firefox, etc.) and have the dictionary app window left open and viewable. No more.
To replace the apps, Unity has the idea of “notifications”, buttons which allow an anemic semi-interaction but which really just announce which software is running. Finding out how to add or remove these notifications is like reading some obscure occult treatise.
The old folder system is also gone, replaced by a bizarre file finding sequence, which does have pretty images, but requires clicking too many things and often lands you in places you don’t want to be. Worse, this system finds files you don’t have on your system, but might like to download. All this might be nice on a tablet, but it is of no use whatsoever to legacy users—who are the majority—and who have all their files in a hierarchy of folders. (And let’s not forget that to Linux, everything is a file.)
11.04 does allow you to log on with Ubuntu Classic, which I now do routinely, and so life continues as it used to. Except for the constant freeze ups, which require hard reboots. This is because of the switch from Open Office to Libre Office and the latter’s inability to talk to the new kernel.
I never use “office” software unless somebody sends me, say, a Word of Excel file. Open Office worked fine with these, although it couldn’t handle some of the more intricate document formatting. This never bothered me since I never use its equivalent of Word to write (I use Latex).
Incidentally, my experience of trying to roll back to Open Office was like trying to conduct open heart surgery on myself. Everything went wrong and I eventually gave up and re-installed Libre Office. I just try not to use it. (Gnumeric can be used to open spreadsheets, but it is a very limited.)
The working version of Firefox is 5.0, which is mostly nice, but it broke with Yahoo’s new version of webmail that came out last week. Since I use Yahoo as a server, this affected me. I had to roll back to version 4, but in doing so I lost some mail in my Inbox (partly my own fault; long story). So if you have emailed me recently but have not received a response, it’s probably because I lost your recent email.
I’m writing this review this morning instead of my usual post, since I suffered both the freeze ups and email lose all this morning, which left me in a mood that is none too nice.
I am now pondering whether a return to straight Debian or Fedora (which I use on servers) would be wise.