Upgrading to Ubuntu 11.04, and learning to use Unity

I was in shock when I first tried Ubuntu 11.04 in a Beta version, because it was so different, and because it seemed to have so many rough edges. The final version was improved enough, and I began to warm up enough to the new changes, that I have now upgraded two desktop and four laptop computer to 11.04. Everything seems to be working fine except for an older IBM X31 laptop that I decided was better off with an older (10.04) version of Ubuntu, mostly due to the increased demands on graphics by Unity in 11.04.

I found two blogs that helped understand better some of the advantages of Unity, and provided some insight into how to tweak it.

I also recommend this review of Ubuntu 11.04:

After using Unity for a while, and remembering some of useful keyboard shortcuts, such as super+w, to find the window I need, and remembering the first couple of letters of applications I want to start from the launcher, I began to see why Ubuntu is making the switch. It was a risky and gutsy move to make so many changes in 11.04, and while not all of them work that well just yet, I can see where things are going. I’m guessing Mark Shuttleworth thinks he can find a way to make Ubuntu a much more widely used operating system, and he’s willing to shake things up to move it in that direction. That said, at times I felt like I was looking at Microsoft’s Vista, something that was not ready for prime time.

One thing I don’t recommend is making too many changes in the default settings for Unity. I managed to make one user’s settings pretty much unusable by doing that, and now I’m more careful.

Like many people, I have reduced the size of the icons in the side panel. At some point, I recommend installing the Compiz setting manager:

sudo apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager

A year ago or so Ubuntu was saying it wanted to speed up the boot time. This seems to have slipped a bit. For a Dell Netbook with an Intel Celeron processor running at 1.3 Ghz, and a standard hard drive, the boot time, including the dual boot and login menus, was about 1 minute 10 seconds.

Update June 28, 2011. Keeping in mind that I use Ubuntu on 4 different computers, the more I have used 11.04, the more crashes, freezes and problems I have had, really unlike other Ubuntu upgrades, which were pretty solid. This may be a consequences of Ubuntu’s aggressive changes for this release, or suggest that Ubuntu needs to re-think its six month release schedule.

Update August 7, 2011. I recently switched a number of our older machines to Lubuntu, a very fast light weight version of Linux that uses the Ubuntu repositories. I wrote about this here. Lubuntu is designed for older machines, and works even with .5 gigs of RAM and older video cards, but it has an attractive and pretty appealing UI too, and makes every computer run quite a bit faster than a standard Windows or Ubuntu installation.