I’ve been a Linux user since about 1999. Good old Red Hat Linux eh? KDE 1, Gnome 1, WindowMaker, compiling my own kernels, Linux From Scratch, despairing because there used to be no drivers for sound cards, or video cards etc, (not so anymore).
Eventually I stopped fiddling with Linux as a toy and I just wanted a computer system that I could install easily and where everything just worked. No I didn’t buy a Mac, I tried a few Linux distros and finally settled on Ubuntu 4:10 Warty Warthog.
It was great. All my hardware just worked out of the box, no configuration necessary. I had all of the free apps I needed to do the stuff I do with a computer. With some tweaking I could even get rid of the ugly browns of Ubuntu and make it look real pretty too.
And Ubuntu uses Gnome, or at least it used to, until Natty Narwhal Ubuntu 11.04, where Gnome was replaced by the default Ubuntu Unity interface.
My first impression was: “Yuck! They’ve ruined Ubuntu. Those doomsayers were right when they said Linux would fracture and destroy itself just like Unix did.”
I love Gnome. I’ve tried KDE, but every single time I’ve tried it, I would have at least one application crash, sometimes even the whole desktop would hang irretrievably. Guys at my work use Kubuntu and they said it was now really stable, so I tried the latest Kubuntu (11:10). It must be my hardware, but nope, KDE still had an app crash within my first half hour of using it. I still don’t like KDE.
So I Tried the new Gnome 3 Shell in Ubuntu 11:10. Again, My first impression was: “Yuck. What have they done? They’ve dumbed it down so much that only pensioners can appreciate it!”
Then I read a little about why they had made the changes and one thing struck me. On the Gnome 3 website it has this to say:
“Every part has been carefully crafted to give it a harmonious, beautiful, look and to make it simple and easy-to-use.”
The philosophy for the changes to Gnome are, in part to give it a consistent look and feel across the board, like users experience when they use Windows or OS X. This made me stop and think. I guess that’s a good idea. So I gave it another try. Nope, still horrible to use. Where are the menus? I hate the way you have to find apps by clicking multiple buttons or typing the name of the app into a search box. What if I don’t know its name?
I guess I would have to use the fallback mode in Gnome with its classic menus, but Gnome has changed so much that even classic mode is now annoying to use.
Then I discovered Gnome Shell Extensions. Damn these are a good idea! They include an old style Applications Menu too!
Wow! Actually Gnome 3 might be OK after all. All I really wanted back was my old style menu system so I can quickly access apps with 2 mouse clicks instead of 4, or 5 or having to type in text. Once I had my menu back, I started to relax a little and look around at the changes.
Surprisingly, I liked what I saw. And I thought to myself. I think I’ll give Gnome Shell more of a chance.
So I logged off my Ubuntu 11.10 with Gnome Shell plus extensions for the night. Next Morning I logged in again and Gnome Shell would not work at all.
Blast! I’m sick of this. I just want a desktop that is easy to install and just works WITH A MENU!
So I installed Ubuntu 11:04 again and decided to try the Xubuntu Desktop. But before I did, I played around with Unity one more time. The first thing I did was look for a menu to add to the panel. I found one and then I played around with Unity.
And by golly, once I had my menu, it was as if my eyes had been opened for the first time to a wonderful new world.
After a little fiddling about and playing with configuration settings, such as making the Unity sidebar smaller (32 pixels wide instead of 48) and setting it so that it does not auto hide, I quickly started to feel at home.
Results. Unity is really nice!
Ubuntu have gone out on a limb with Unity and at first I hated it – but that was because my precious Applications Menu had been removed. Give me that back and I am as happy as a pig in mud. And trust me, I’ve lived on a small hobby pig farm and pigs do like mud.
I’m even of a mind to try Gnome Shell again. I think these new interfaces have a lot to offer and I’m now a convert.
So if you’re an Ubuntu user and you don’t like Unity or Gnome Shell, my advice to you is this: ask yourself why you don’t like it, and try to find a solution to your dislikes in Unity or Gnome Shell. There are a lot of new features to be found now that these desktops are a bit more mature. If you find a suitable solution, your initial prejudices may be swept away like mine were.