A few days ago Canonical Ltd. released the newest version of the company’s popular Linux distribution, Ubuntu 11.04. featuring a completely new user interface called “Unity.” The Unity interface is aimed at mainstream computer users, not just Linux geeks. Mark Shuttleworth, Canonical founder, says that the Unity interface’s beautiful graphic design elements represent a new direction for Ubuntu and, hopefully, one other free software developers will follow. This Linux has long been one of the more aesthetically-pleasing distros, but Unity takes it up a notch. Is tempting mainstream users the only motivation, though?
The Unity interface comes to us via Ubuntu Netbook Edition (which no longer exists as a separate UI for the operating system). Originally designed to take best advantage of smaller screens, the aesthetic and usage sensibilities fit in well with the touch-centric world of tablets and convertible notebooks. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise us if Unity is meant to work on both tablets and normal desktop/laptop environments without any special tweaks. We saw the first steps in this direction with the last release, and we’re eager to try the new touch features in 11.04.
Aside from the touch possibilities, what makes Unity different?
To start, previous versions of Ubuntu have mimicked the basic navigation and organizational structure of Windows and OS X. There was the equivalent of the Start or Apple button, a taskbar or dash, applications arranged in folders by theme, etc. But Unity brings in some graphical and organizational changes that have a dash of Windows 7, a pinch of OS X Lion, and a hefty dose of Honeycomb Android. Yep. The launcher remains docked on the left by default, but the Android/iOS-looking icons are persistent. Users can add, remove, and rearrange them as they wish.
The launcher includes a helpful Workspaces button, which shows all of the active spaces and the windows on them. For Linux newbies, Workspaces are just like the Home screens on Android, except instead of housing just icons, they house application windows. Mac owners will find this familiar, as it’s similar to Spaces.
The Dash is a universal search that will find apps, shortcuts, links, files and more in Ubuntu quickly.
Users can also access music and communication apps from the notification area on the upper right. This in particular reminded me of Honeycomb, though the implementation isn’t exactly the same.
There are many more slick features on offer, which you can check out at Ubuntu’s website. If you’d like to give Ubuntu a test run but you’re not comfortable installing it or dual-booting, Canonical makes it easy to try it out. You can either run the OS from a CD or USB stick or run it inside windows just like you would an app. Download your own copy of Ubuntu 11.04 to give the new OS a try.