As a developer, I start to really like Unity desktop – light review

By October 14, 2011 No Comments

Last week I wrote a post about installing and configuring Openbox on Ubuntu. As I said, I’ve been playing around with window managers for quite a while now, and Unity, wasn’t to my taste. But I recently installed Ubuntu 11.10, and here are my thoughts.

Forget what I was saying, Unity is really good

Ho boy, what a change since 10.04, where Unity was half baked, slow as hell and full of bugs. Today, even if there are some remaining glitches, it became more mature, focused on the user experience of the computer, and I have to admit I start to like it.

It’s packed with features that makes my development life a lot easier (I’ll detail the ones I really like just after). I’m not sure that my mum would notice them, but as a dev, I can tell you that they came with something really interesting.

So I admit I was wrong. Unity is good, and it’s now replacing my Openbox setup on my machine. Let me explain why.

The Mac user test

Note: this is not a full review, I’m only talking about the changes that I noticed and that I’m going to use everyday. If you’re looking for a full Ubuntu 11.10 review, I’m sure Google will help you.

Yesterday was Bristol Hack Night. A friend of mine, Theo, was there. He usually likes to wind me up on the Linux vs Mac os flame war. And I’m a good client.

But yesterday was a bit different, I boot up the computer, and the first thing he noticed was the login screen:

Ho, that’s a nice login screen!

[youtube src=””]

This is the new LighDM login screen, and it does look really nice.

So after this positive note I continued to show him the latest improvements made on Unity, that are going to make our developers life easier.

The first one is the new Alt-Tab feature, which include screenshots of applications, grouped by type from all the virtual desktops. With 3 terminals open for instance, it looks like that (ALT-TAB + down key)



Second improvement is on the Unity Dash itself. It is a lot quicker than before and typing the first letters of the app’s name + pressing enter starts the app immediately.

Workspace 1_015

Lenses on the dash are accessible with the ALT key, and give you access respectively to Applications, Files, Music and Supports filters (see on the right).

Workspace 1_018

Compiz grid system (look in compiz manager) gives you a pseudo tiling function. Not as good as Pytyles but good enough to be noticed.

The Ubuntu branded software centre got a revamp and now looks lush. It also has got a sync option, which lets you sync your apps between different computers.

Ubuntu Software Centre_019

The Ubuntu One integration is now slick and fast, and gives 5GB for free.


I use it to store my important files like configs, fonts and docs. So I know that if I reinstall the computer, they will all be in the same place.


There are some downsides on the customization side of Unity. From what I understood it’s because of the gnome-shell integration/GTK3, the amount of themes compatible is not big for the moment, but I’m sure this is something that will be corrected over time.


Those features, plus a massive performance improvement completely sold me on Unity. I’ve been using it for a week now, and it works really well on my 13” laptop screen or on my big widescreen monitor.

I found the new ALT-TAB and grouping search very useful, and helping me a lot on daily basis.

If you add things like multi arch system, online accounts setup, the easy setting menu, you have a very powerful setup.

What about you, do you like the new Unity?