There’s always the debate as to whether the latest version of some open source distribution like Ubuntu is an adequate replacement for Windows. And really, it has been for many years. Pretty much any application you need to use on Windows you will find an equivalent on Ubuntu (or other Linux “distributions” as well). With the introduction of Ubuntu version 11.04, Canonical was pushing Ubuntu more and more user friendly with the new Unity user interface. Now the Long-Term Support release 12.04, to be released in April this year, will incorporate further improvements to Unity, the default applications included and other behind-the-scenes improvements too. The Unity user interface has definitely been improved, as well as the Unity Launcher. There’s more customisability in that respect, too. Don’t worry if you don’t know what “Unity” or the “Unity Launcher” is; it’ll be explained below.
Unity user interface
The Unity user interface comprises primarily of the Unity launcher (the “dock” on the left-hand side). The Unity launcher lists any open applications, and any applications you have locked to the Launcher, which means the application’s icon will still be listed on the Launcher even if it isn’t open.
The Unity Launcher was first seen on the Ubuntu Netbook Remix version of Ubuntu starting in version 10.10, however in version 11.04 of the standard Ubuntu edition, the Ubuntu Netbook Remix was stopped since the Unity Launcher was on the main edition too. But why? The reason says it in the name – “Unity”. The reason the
- Consistent user interface across the operating system.
- Works on a variety of different form factors – laptops, netbooks, desktops, tablets, etc.
This is the reason Canonical decided to transition to the Unity user interface with Ubuntu entirely. However, in Ubuntu 11.04, users could still go back to the old standard user interface (as shown on the left), where the Applications were shown in the top menu, and at the bottom, a taskbar with any open applications which were listed on it, identical to how Windows works today with Windows 7.
Many people do not like the change – the Unity interface
However, the change hasn’t been without criticsm from Ubuntu users – especially long-term Ubuntu useres many of which have used Ubuntu for years. Many people that do not like the new Unity user interface often complain(ed) about the lack of customisability of the user interface and the menu bar at the top, as well as with the Unity launcher. However, in Ubuntu 12.04 further improvements are being made to the customisability of the Unity launcher, and some other Unity user interface elements, including the Unity scroll bars, which are different to how scroll bars work in Windows, although they’re more closely resembling scroll bars recently introduced in Apple’s operating system, OS X Lion.
That said, many people are starting to get used to the Unity user interface and are liking it. For me, I love the Unity user interface and the Launcher. It’s a unique identity for Ubuntu, as before Ubuntu simply packaged existing free software together to make Ubuntu.
Unity scroll bars
The Unity scroll bars, shown on the right, are the default scroll bars for Ubuntu for Ubuntu applications. For other applications like Firefox that are developed for multiple platforms, they won’t be present, but for many
applications they will be, including the default file management application, called Nautilus, which is the Ubuntu equivalent of Windows Explorer (the application you use when you access your USB pen drives, ‘My Documents’ section, etc.). When you hover over the scroll bars (as you can see on the right of the image), the scrollbar overlay is displayed, allowing you to scroll like an ordinary scroll bar on Windows or OS X.
Default applications in Ubuntu
including the Firefox Web Browser, Empathy Instant Messaging,
Thunderbird Mail Client, Gwibber Social Networking Client (like the Twitter client on OS X and on smartphones), etc.
There’s also the integrated Ubuntu Software Centre for finding more applications, and many of them are free unsurprisingly – which is a good thing!
Other applications available for download either manually or via the Ubuntu Software Center include:
- FileZilla FTP Client
- GIMP Graphics Editor
- Blogilo Blog Editor (compatible with WordPress blogs)
Ubuntu is a very compatible operating system
People often say “you’re saying it wrong” when you call Ubuntu an operating system. And unfortunately, yes this is technically true, because Ubuntu on its own isn’t technically the operating system, but in its entirety it is, so hence I do (as millions of others) refer it as an operating system. Ubuntu is made up of many different software components – including the Linux kernel (which essentially is the core of the operating system – the basic underlying stuff of an operating system), for example. So to prevent unneeded confusion – Ubuntu is technically an operating system. And it is a very compatible one.
The great thing about an open source and free operating system is that everyone has to share, and wants to share too. It means that if someone is able to make certain wireless hardware compatible with Linux, and it is released as open source software, every “operating system” based on Linux can take advantage of this compatibility free of charge, which means every “flavour”of Linux wins as a result.
Ubuntu is very compatible with many hardware – wireless adapters, graphics cards, and so forth. And if the free drivers don’t do the job properly (which is often very rare), may also be drivers available from the various manufacturers of certain components – for example, AMD provides proprietary drivers (proprietary meaning not open source, essentially) if the open source drivers don’t do the job properly. For example, if the free drivers don’t provide hardware acceleration for your graphics card and you need that, you may wish to install the propreitary drivers instead. If proprietary drivers are available, they will be listed in Additional Drivers, which is an included application to make it easier to install proprietary drivers.
There are some disavantages to Ubuntu still
Ubuntu is still not as user friendly as Windows is. Primarily because if you have a problem with Ubuntu, sometimes it requires using the Terminal which isn’t a good start for someone who may not understand what the Terminal is nor what to do. So if they are asked to execute commands via the Terminal, they won’t understand what the heck is going on, and it’s not a very good start for someone trying out Ubuntu.
If there are problems with someone’s installation of Ubuntu, perhaps of some application they have installed that, say, stopped their speakers working because of some other dependency that was installed, it can create confusion and annoyance for even experienced computer users, because you are often having to rely on community members on areas such as the Ubuntu forums in order to help you; and it isn’t always the case someone can help you fix a problem – especially if it is complex. That said, it isn’t often the case something goes wrong, especially something that cannot be fixed, and even saying that, Canonical does offer technical support solutions for people (for a yearly fee) – Canonical being the company behind the Ubuntu project.
Ubuntu is still not 100% compatible with a lot of hardware, which is often the reason many people will abandon trying Ubuntu because something doesn’t work like it does on Windows.
But Ubuntu is constantly improving and I would definitely recommend people to try it out! It’s very robust and works very well as a nice Windows alternative.