The highly anticipated release of Canonical's Ubuntu Linux distribution features a new user interface the company hopes will attract more users to make the jump to Linux.
Despite its popularity in the server space, desktop Linux
hasn't quite captured the hearts and minds of consumers the way Linux fans have
hoped. With the introduction of the new Unity desktop interface in its latest
version of Ubuntu, Canonical is trying once again to convince Windows and Mac
users to give Linux another look.
Canonical announced the public release of Ubuntu 11.04,
codenamed Natty Narwhal, on April 28. The latest version of the popular Linux
distribution featured a brand-new interface designed with many features modeled
after Windows 7 and Mac OS X as well as new features.
"We set out to bring the joys and freedoms and
innovation and performance and security that have always been part of the Linux
platform, to a consumer audience," Canonical founder Mark
wrote on a blog post on April 29.
Canonical made the controversial
on Oct. 26, 2010 to replace its traditional GNOME interface with
Unity, a new desktop environment the company originally developed for the
smaller screens on netbooks. Unity, with its 3D graphics support and
touch-screen support, made its debut that month in the netbook version of Ubuntu
Unity takes Canonical in a different direction by
consolidating the various flavors of the operating system behind one default
interface, instead of one for desktops and server and another for netbooks.
The new, highly simplified desktop interface "borrowed
consciously" from "other successful platforms," including Windows and Mac OS X,
Shuttleworth said. Lest anyone think Ubuntu 11.04 is merely a clone of other
platforms, Shuttleworth said developers innovated and "took a lot of bold leaps
Unity features an application launcher on the left side of
the screen, which works similarly to the taskbar in Windows 7. Users can drag
and drop icons to and from it, as well as to launch apps quickly. "Workspace" simplifies managing multiple
windows in the same as "Spaces" in Mac OS X, but in an arguably more powerful
way. Users can group different tasks for each workspace, such as keeping Web
applications in one screen and the office suite in another.
Designed for widescreen monitors, Unity adjusts to the extra
screen real estate. Key features and apps are placed within easy reach, and the
sidebar knows to get out of the way when the program is maximized.
Ubuntu's developers linked Dash, a menubar-like interface component
containing search, files, applications, music and video, into the Windows key,
so users can continue using the Windows key in the same way.
"We brought something new to the very core of the user
experience," Shuttleworth wrote. Natty Narwhal features such as category
indicators, Dash and overlay scroll bars will likely be emulated in both free
and proprietary software, Shuttleworth predicted.
"There are rough points which will affect some users more
than others, but we will terate (sic) and polish them up one by one,"
Shuttleworth wrote, adding, "We put users first." Users who don't like Unity
can still switch back to the classic interface, based on GNOME.
As expected, LibreOffice replaced OpenOffice.org as the
default office applications suite. For enterprises, Ubuntu 11.04 includes
preview support for the Cactus release of the OpenStack cloud computing and
Canonical offered both 32-bit and 64-bit versions for x86
PCs and servers for Ubuntu Desktop and Ubuntu Server. Version 11.04 is also
available for 32-bit versions for ARM netbooks. Canonical does not support
Itanium, Power, Sparc or mainframe processors with its server software.
However, the server version of the operating system is also available on
Amazon's EC2 cloud service.
"Our goal should be to continue to set the pace and push
free software to the forefront of usability and experience," Shuttleworth said.