Reasons Why I Love My Desktop

I remember when I first got involved in Linux and Free Software, the Linux desktop was a pretty ugly place. Much of the reason for this was that getting a graphical display running was in itself a bit of a luxury, and one earned with lots of config file hacking and poking. When you did manage to get it up and running it looked a little like this:

Today things are really quite different. I was thinking about this sheer change in desktop quality, and felt an incredible urge to share the reasons why I love my desktop and love the integration. All of this is based on a default Ubuntu 10.04 Maverick Meerkat installation with Unity enabled as the desktop. You can switch on Unity with:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install unity

…and then at the login screen select Ubuntu Netbook from the list of available sessions. Rock and roll!

Unity

I am really digging Unity. While still quite new and still maturing, I find it’s current form really sleek and easy to use. I like the design and the structure of how I get at my apps, my data, and control what is going on on my desktop:

One element of Unity that I really enjoy is the theme and the new Ubuntu font. It really gives the desktop a subtle sheen, and the dark theme makes it look slick and sexy.

One key feature of Unity that is going to become an increasingly big deal is the Places API:

Unity provides a consistent user interface for displaying different types of content (such as files and applications), but this extendable. Neil Patel who is one of the lead Unity hackers has already created an example of this work which plugs YouTube in, and it is great to see this kind of content embedded into the experience. I can’t wait to see how application authors will use this technology to provide better access to content, all using this consistent user interface.

As many of you know, Unity will be switched on by default in Ubuntu 11.04, and the performance and accessibility issues are currently being tended to. For more details see this blog post.

Microblogging

Microblogging has become all the craze over the last few years, and Twitter, Facebook, identi.ca, and others have all made the micro-blogging experience simple and useful. I love the micro-blogging support built right into my desktop, firstly with Gwibber:

Gwibber is an awesome micro-blogging tool. It provides simple and quick access to see all of my accounts together, helps me see a standard set of searches that I care about, and lets me tweet once and have the message go to all of my accounts.

In addition to this I love how I can tweet right from my desktop with the Me Menu:

This is how it should be: when the thought or inspiration takes me, I always have a quick interface for tweeting, irrespective of what I am doing, because it is built into the shell of the desktop. Rock and roll!

Indicators

Speaking of indicators, I use the indicators all the time. In particular, I find the Messaging Menu really useful:

It is incredibly handy having all the things that need my attention to appear in the same place, all neatly packed into that menu, and when it lights up I know I need to check it.

In addition to this, the recent addition of the Sound Menu enhancements are awesome:

Like many, I put music on during the day when I work, and typically the only things I need to with it are use the transport controls (e.g. to fast forward, replay, or pause a song), or more often than not, see which artist/album is currently playing if I have it on shuffle. No longer do I need to keep showing the Rhythmbox window to do this; it is right there in my sound menu. Really handy. :-)

Rhythmbox

Speaking of Rhythmbox, I love it to bits:

Rhythmbox lets me manage my music collection easily, and has lots of nice features to really enjoy the music I listen to.

Sure, we are moving to Banshee in 11.04, but I love that too – I think we have such great choice in the media player world. One thing I really love about Rhythmbox is that I can enable the DAAP plugin and I can control and listen to my songs via my Playstation 3 and hear my tunes on our home theater system. Much better than laptop speakers, and a doddle to do this. :-)

Evolution

Like many of you, email is at the center of my life, and I find Evolution serves me really well:

A lot of people talk a lot of smack about Evolution, but I think the Evo team have done a great job. I get a lot of mail, and Evolution helps me set up filters to prioritize how I see, respond to, and manage my mail. What’s more, it integrates nicely into my desktop, and integrates perfectly in the Messaging Menu.

Empathy

Instant messaging is a common thing I use my desktop for, and again this is all perfectly handled with Empathy:

I love how Empathy brings all my messaging accounts together and provides the same interface for interacting with my friends. It looks beautiful, works smoothly, and is a pleasurable experience.

Getting More Software

I have also been delighted to see how the experience of getting more software has been refined with the Ubuntu Software Center:

We have always had this incredible catalog of software available for Ubuntu, but now it is finally becoming more accessible for new users. This will also becomes infinitely more useful when ratings and reviews land in the Ubuntu 10.10 release – this will help all the really great software bubble to the surface!

In Conclusion

In addition to my Ubuntu machines, I have a Windows 7 machine that powers my home studio. When I compare and contrast my Ubuntu installation with Windows 7, it feels like Ubuntu is much better attuned to what most users want – awesome web browsing, email, communications, media playback and production, and a consistent, attractive experience.

I think we should all be hugely proud of how far we have come with the Linux desktop, and I am intensely proud of how slick and integrated Ubuntu is, and the impact the design team has had on the experience. I would love to hear why others love their desktops too, do share!

  • http://odysseusjak.blogspot.com Jack

    I agree Jono. I HAVE to use Windows 7 at my office but my home system is Ubuntu.

    I think the biggest thing for me, besides the great user experience (I can’t think of a thing I can’t do on it), is the philosophy. I am really into the Ubuntu philosophy. It speaks to me about what I want to see in the world. I love fact that we ARE a community; that none of us live in a vacuum and what makes me who I am is the people in my life. It seems like a justice issue, too. Almost subversive. Of doing things that we have been told that we can’t do. It’s a great feeling helping people becoming more human. All through Ubuntu.

    So, thanks to you and all of the rest of the Ubuntu community.

    ~~~ Peace,

    Jack+, LC

  • DrKenobi

    Nice post!

  • http://blog.devonlinux.net neuromancer

    I love my desktop because it look beautiful and comfortable and the new Ubuntu Font Family is amazing! Good job :)

  • Yann

    Halt! “Ubuntu 10.04 Maverick Meerkat” You’re getting confused here ;)

  • http://quarterlifekuttikali.wordpress.com George Tom

    Looks like this is that final push I needed to give Unity a shot. My maverick desktop which is great with gnome-shell is about to get even more awesome!

    btw, there is this typo in ‘10.04 Maverick Meerkat’ :)

  • http://www.happyassassin.net/2010/11/10/web-0-1-or-how-to-stop-worrying-and-keep-all-your-data/ AdamW on Linux and more » Blog Archive » Web 0.1 (or, How to Stop Worrying and Keep All Your Data)

    [...] I was just reading Jono’s Unity commercial^H^H^H^H^Hpost about his desktop , and it reminded me of a post I wanted to [...]

  • http://wp.me/50WQ Mariano Pavone

    You must be really old! What is that desktop? Red Hat 6? I started with RedHat 9 which used Gnome with the bluecurve theme. That must be IceWM or Blackbox window manager.

  • Paradiesstaub

    I love Ubuntu and the way it has gone. The desktop feels now mature and elegant.

    But when not using microblogging and Evolution there are some confusing empty spaces (for a lot of users) in the menu bar.

    Something that people don’t understand or something that is to complicated doesn’t exist in the user point of view.

    I like the new menus and I use them, but I think that unused items should be hidden (like the status buttons or unused MessagingMenu items). Also it would be really nice if I could choose – in a kind of search box from the SoundMenu – a new artist when Rhythmbox is active.

  • Lovey

    Great totally unbiased review. I imagine one in our position has top of the line hardware and the latest patches.

    My experience with Unity in Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Edition was much less pleasant. Attractive enough, but unusable.

  • jono

    As I mentioned, the performance related problems are being dealt with, I do agree they affect some hardware, but not my particular hardware.

    For details of the plans for 11.04, see http://www.jonobacon.org/2010/10/31/unity-some-further-clarification-points/

  • Chris

    Unless i am having a dejavu, since your RSS feed clearly isnt broken and the date of yyour post is todays date, didnt you write a similar article just a while ago? Of course its been a while and unity werent there. But i clearly remember the first screenshot, of which i am sure the Red Hat guys are gonna be pissed comparing it to 2011’s Ubuntu desktop! (j/k) :) The Places API looks cool.

  • stapel

    Jono,

    While I love my Ubuntu desktop, and I really like the idea of the social network integration into the MeMenu, I am not confused as to how it is actually suppose to work.

    If I type in the edit box and hit enter, where does it actually post to? I don’t how to check where it is logged into (Facebook, twitter). It also does not give any feedback as to whether the post was successful. I have to log into each account separately and check whether it did post. Am I doing something wrong? Should I file a bug?

  • stapel

    “I am not confused as to how”….that should be “I am confused…”

  • http://www.happyassassin.net Adam Williamson

    it’s fvwm (you can just make it out from the screenshot command in the terminal window).

  • Germán Póo-Caamaño

    fvwm95 to be more precise :-)

    And the Control Center (top-left) was written in Tcl/Tk.

  • http://pcsamurai.com The PC Samurai

    Yeah! typo??

  • http://all-tech-thoughts.blogspot.com CMD

    Gwibber is still too much of a resource hog, I’d like Hotot in the MeMenu please! Unity won’t work with Nvidia drivers atm, am i right? Rhythmbox is OK but still has quite a few annoyances: http://all-tech-thoughts.blogspot.com/2010/10/rhythmbox-annoyances.html

    However I do agree that Evolution and Software Centre are awesome!

  • onox

    Dude, you love almost everything! It love it!

    I would love to see a new hackergotchi on planet gnome though… :(

  • jono

    Yeah, I need a better hackergotchi. :-)

  • honda

    Would be better still if the social desktop would actually work though. I had to tell my wife to just ignore the “broadcast” stuff in the menu and use firefox for facebook, because gwibber really doesn’t work with facebook. And it doesn’t work in the most irritating way of “sometimes working”. So in practise one has to keep a firefox window open anyway to check if an update went through or not, or if there are new messages or replies that gwibber decided to not show.

  • Jim

    Thanks Jono, a great summary of everything I enjoy about the Ubuntu of today. I noticed the other day that the Rhythmbox last.fm plugin seems to have had some serious and excellent work done in this release too.

    RadioTray is a fantastic little app that I’m using a lot at the moment. My coding skills are lapsed at best, but does anyone know if there’s a way I can help out to get that integrated into the sound indicator structure?

  • Steve

    I love my desktop because it’s a traditional gnome desktop, with most of the new bells and whistles as supplied with Ubuntu turned off, except for the Indicator Applet, which I’ve not managed to work-around yet.

    I like the hierarchical menus; I can easily find what I want, when I want it. I like that I can add shortcuts to the pannels for my favourite applications. Note – my favourite – not what the computer decides are my favourites because I use them most often.

    Looking at Jono’s unity desktop, I don’t like the apps down the left side, I’d be scrolling all day trying to find things, also taking up space all the time.

    Control for Rhythmbox in the sound menu – well basically I’d rather it didn’t – I control Rhythmbox from Rhythmbox. I don’t want it to appear on the sound menu too.

    Places API. Wow! How is that easier than finding an application in a menu???

    Microblogging. Frankly, I don’t think that Gwibber and Empathy are as good as Pidgin. Pidgin fits my needs exactly. In the new tools, the Facebook display didn’t show me all the replies to a topic, so was useless. Also, Gwibber or emplathy (I forget which) logs all conversations by default, with no apparent way to turn it off. I don’t like that!

    Me Menu Screenshot illustrates a problem wonderfully. It says “Talking about the coolest…” 29 characters. Not wide enough to see or be useful.

    Messaging Menu. Well I tried to use it. It doesn’t work well with Thunderbird. To be honest, it didn’t give me anything I needed. Once I worked out how to uninstall it, I did. It needs to be EASILY CONFIGURABLE, as do all the new things – put a config menu on them all!!!

    Sound menu. So how do I stop Rhythmbox showing up then? Just showing a pair of musical notes when a track has no artwork just wastes space. I don’t like rounded control buttons. I don’t like buttons with different sizes.

    Rhythmbox – cool, I like it. Why on earth are you swapping to Banshee?

    Getting more software: Software Center. The older application, called Add/Remove software on the menu, and gnome-app-install (I think) was much much better. It said which style of app it was – e.g. Gnome, KDE etc. This meant I could avoid installing KDE apps and all the libraries that go with them (nothing against KDE, just short on disk space). It had a ratings system so I could see what people thought of apps – I generally would only install a 3 star app, or above. Best of all, it installed a batch of apps at a time. Software center does none of those important things. Worse than that, I set up an edubuntu machine, and I tried, I really tried to use software centre, I picked a load of apps I wanted to install, they started installing, the user interface for Sortware Centre slowed down to a crawl whilst it was installing, and it crashed several times, getting stuck on installing different applications, forcing me to kill it, and restart it. Turns out the apps had installed, but Software Centre didn’t know that they had. In the end I gave up and used synaptic instead. I find it incredibly hard to find what I want in software center; many more mouse clicks are required to navigate it, and I don’t see why you replaced the previous app.

    Sorry to be so negative. I love ubuntu. I love the way the desktop used to be before you started adding “Enhancements”. I think you will scare away potential new users with Unity.

  • dexi

    Ubuntu is an ancient african word, meaning “I can’t configure Debian”

  • Matt

    You do need a better hackergotchi. The first few times I saw you on planet-gnome I was scared about you! :-)

  • http://www.sourceguru.net Mez

    I nearly choked laughing @ “THERE’S BUTTER ALL OVER MY FACE!!!”

    Comedy Gold.

  • jack

    Installing: sudo apt-get install unity logout and login into Netbook edition produces error: “No required driver detected for unity. You will need to choose the Ubuntu Desktop session once you select your user name.”

    I am running Ubuntu 10.10 under latest VirtualBox under Windows.

  • http://etienneg.wordpress.com EtienneG

    LOL @ FVWM95! Man, these where the days …

    darkstar login: _

  • http://jmtd.net/ Jon

    Alas, Unity does not work (and probably will never work) on my current laptop (Toshiba R100) because nobody has (or probably, will) port the hardware accel X driver to KMS, and even if they did, it probably won’t support the required level of 3D acceleration to, essentially, display a particular variety of rectangles on the screen. Which is a shame.

    I found this laptop at work and installed Ubuntu on it so I had something to use whilst I wait for my new laptop to arrive. Reading bug reports on LP is depressing, though. Anecdotal evidence suggests that support for this laptop gets worse with every Ubuntu release, not better, and I bet this maps to other old laptops too.

    This is all fine and well, really, because I Don’t think it was ever a stated goal of Ubuntu to work on ancient hardware, or to perpetually work to the same or better standard on any given piece of hardware. Merely an assumption some have made.

  • lorne greene

    Great totally unbiased review

    Where is the sarcasm tag?

  • Phil

    I just think that old RedHat desktop is funny. I remember those days… AND I do not miss them. Cool post!

  • http://www.celsius1414.com/ Celsius1414

    Now don’t get me wrong, I love both my 10.04 and 10.10 installs. With some tweaking here and there, the UI gets out of the way and lets me work.

    But I have to say, I do miss the minimalism of the first screenshot, if you were to take away the floating “dock” thing and the “Start” menubar. Bliss. :)

  • http://www.cpp-software.net Ioannis Vranos

    Windows as it is right now, is far behind Ubuntu regarding technical features.

    Regarding desktop effects, Windows is again behind Ubuntu when all its desktop effects are enabled.

  • http://omgubuntu.co.uk/author/akshat Akshat Jain

    Stop stealing jokes from Uncylcopedia

  • http://omgubuntu.co.uk/author/akshat Akshat Jain

    You should be using Debian then ;)

  • http://wp.me/50WQ Mariano Pavone

    @jack, inside virtualbox you will not have a good 3d experience for unity. Try a live CD session if you don’t want to install.

  • Lovey

    I installed Fedora Core 1 on some Dell pIIIs back in 2004. I got the cd from the Red Hat Linux bible–I believe it was called. I had to set up a computer lab in 2 weeks with donated computers and no budget. I also had Ubuntu Warty to try. Warty would install, but video was horrible. (Could not change refresh rate for one). Also would not recognize the onboard network adapter. Fedora “just worked” . The kids had Openoffice, Internet, sound, flash, and network printing. Compared to Fedora Core 1 or two, Ubuntu Warty was lacking. They have come a long way.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/mattpaddock Matt P

    I tried Unity after reading this post, and it really is a smart use of screen real estate. I use two monitors at work, where the Desktop setup is fine, but Unity will be great for those times when I’m at home with only one screen.

    This aspect of flexibility is one of the main reasons I really enjoy Ubuntu, and find it more productive.

  • yman

    Unity works fine for me (but a little slow) with the proprietary NVidia driver. It is Plymouth that looks as ugly as sin with it.

  • John P.

    I just don’t see why people are gushing so over Unity. I got rid of my bottom bar to make more precious space on my netbook screen, and you are going to take it away again with that icon bar? No Thanks. If I wanted stuff covering my screen I would put it there. It looks like my kid’s toy computer to me. I just hope I see the logic of it all eventually.

    As for Evolution, if I could figure out how to get the whole window on the screen at once it would tick me off less. I can’t find a way to make it any smaller, and it still doesn’t fit on the screen. Annoying!

  • Jimbo

    If you ignore the graphical polish, that “old Red Hat desktop” actually looks an awful lot like the Unity screenshot below it. Maybe we haven’t really come as far as we thought.

  • http://www.linuxine.com Edward

    <a href=”www.linuxine.com”Ubuntu always looks beautifull ,this is why I love Ubuntu than other linux distros.