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!
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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!