I’ve been playing around with the beta version of the upcoming Ubuntu Linux. 11.04 (Natty Narwhal).  What’s of interest to me is the much talked about (and quite controversial) change to the default Gnome desktop introduced in this release.  Canonical have decided to include the Unity desktop as default – Unity is, as I understand it, a shell operating on top of Gnome, and it was originally developed for use on netbooks, intended to make best use of the limited screen size on such devices.  Having played with it for about a fortnight, I’ve decided to return to my old Gnome desktop setup.

What I used to use:
I have for some time used a tweaked Gnome desktop in which a single Gnome panel at the top of the screen hold some frequently used applets (importantly, a workspace switcher is there).  Also there are three menus Applications, Places and System.  This provides really quick access to all the installed applications and system settings.  I use Docky to provide a set of icons for the most frequently used applications: this sits at the bottom edge of the screen and autohides.  I have four workspaces, accessed quickly from the workspace switcher on the Gnome panel(which also indicates which workspaces applications are on.

My experience with Unity:
Unity provides a Mac-like task bar at the top of the screen, though I believe rather better used than the Mac version in some respects.  There are no menu links there (other than app menus when apps are maximised), nor is there a workspace switcher.  The most obvious object on the screen is a vertical taskbar on the left of the screen.  Obviously on a small screen (such as the notebook I’m running this on has), there is a limit to how many icons can be displayed: Unity copes with this with a neat stacking effect.  Unfortunately, on my notebook, this doesn’t work too effectively, so for ease of use, you can only quickly access the top eight or so icons.  And to start up other less frequently used icons, is really annoyingly involved (as is adding applications to the taskbar).

So, for the time being, I’ve decided to revert to what seems to be known as ‘Ubuntu Classic’ – in other words, the Gnome desktop.  I’ll keep an eye on Unity and periodically try it out.  But based on my current experience, I’ll wait for further development before switching more permanently.  (I also periodically try out KDE, but generally don’t like it, either).