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Ubuntu's Mark Shuttleworth on shaking up system software (bbc.com)
70 points by btian 2089 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 36 comments

What I find interesting is that I don’t see other distros or projects picking up Ubuntu’s and Canonical’s novelties.

Upstart was adopted by a few distros, but then those distros left it for systemd.

Bazaar — Who uses Bazaar?

Ubuntu One — Last time I checked it supported Windows but, if you believe it, not Debian.

Ubuntu Software Centre — Debian Squeeze installs it as part of the default desktop setup. I opened it a couple of times when I first installed Squeeze and did not see anything that would make me use it, but I don’t know if it is properly integrated into Debian.

Unity — Has any distro shown interest in shipping Unity as a Gnome shell?

So, what I am wondering is: If all these extras add value to Ubuntu, why aren’t the other distros picking them up? They could add value to other distros too. And if they don’t add value to Ubuntu, why do Ubuntu and Canonical spend resources on them?

This week I tried Ubuntu 11.10 on VMWare and absolutely hated it. Nothing makes sense in Unity! If you're going to make something different at least make it more efficient or more intuitive - it's neither. I ended up going with XFCE not from performance issues but because I was sick of having to use Google to figure out basic things.

I couldn't believe how I angry and frustrated I became. I'm usually not that invested in things like this, and tbh I really wanted to like it. If I'm representative of at least a fraction of the userbase then they should have a look at why people like me are reacting this way.

EDIT - I'm getting hammered with the downvotes so I'd genuinely like to hear why. I'm not trying to troll and I bring these things up because I want Ubuntu to succeed but I think they're missing something incredibly important right now in their approach.

I use and I like it, it does make sense to me. It is just really subjective I suppose. My mother (who is in her 60s) uses it, so do other members of my family.

Maybe instead of just saying you got unbelievably angry at the software you could file bug report or find a list of things you didn't like or would like to be improved.

On the other hand it is great that XFCE (or KDE or Gnome) are there to choose from and it is great that you found something you like. At some point is subjective, everyone has different tastes and preferences, so it is good to have choices.

They weren't bugs really. They seemed to be fundamental decisions they've made about how the thing works. Maybe I'm being stupid and that's why I'm being downvoted but am I to infer from this that this UI is for the super-intelligent elite only?

One thing that might have been a bug is that in the software centre, there was no search box for a free text search like in synaptic. I spent ages clicking around trying to find it but it wasn't there.

> Maybe I'm being stupid and that's why I'm being downvoted

No you are not stupid, the user interface experience is highly subjective I think and most of all it is colored by our previous experiences. It used to be ex-Windows users trying to use Linux UIs.

And I guess you got downvoted because people felt you just vented your anger without really providing anything else to add to the discussion ( a particular bug that you found or a particular bad design). It is kind of like jumping in the middle of a discussion and saying "this thing is stupid I hate it" and leaving it at that.

> there was no search box for a free text search like in synaptic. I spent ages clicking around trying to find it but it wasn't there.

I remember that too when the switch happened. I think I either looked it up or started typing and found out that just typing often is used a way to filter items (at least that's how it works when you click on the Ubuntu button in the top left of the desktop, you can type and it will find applications that match that string).

I had the same reaction as you when I first tried Unity a while ago. But now I've come around to like it. It's actually really forward thinking.

Our perception of user interfaces is very much tied to habit - what we're used to. New interfaces take some time to adjust to.

I know some people who hated Hipmunk and the iPad because they couldn't figure out how to use them.

You should give Unity another try. You may still not like it, but if you're a programmer who likes to use the keyboard more than the mouse, you will at least like the HUD.

I totally agree with what you say about subjectivity. I actually liked the HUD but my overall feeling is that it all needs to be refined and I certainly wouldn't give it to my parents like I would an iPad.

Fwiw I set my mom up on 11.10 a few months ago. She was coming from OSX and immediately took to and came to love Ubuntu.

I think part of it is that with Unity, there are never overwhelming amounts of options on the screen. Once you understand that Super Key = Search for Application, that's pretty much all you need to know.

In the past, I think the "Start Menu" style application-chooser would have been overwhelming for her - I know it was sometimes for me. I'd click then start reading through the menus "Uhh, wait, what did I want? Where is that again?"

Even with the occasional Unity glitch (which doesn't seem to be an issue at all in 12.04) her system is still much more reliable than ever.

I was really impressed and excited to see that Linux was at the point where she could use it with very little coaching - so, worth considering that much at least.

Yes - super key is like the predecessor of saying "computer:" in Star Trek. That is nice. It is part of why tools like Gnome-Do, Launchy, Kupfer, Synapse (not to mention Vim plugins like Fuzzyfinder, Command-T and CtrlP) have taken off. It's like shell auto-completion except you kicked off the search before typing anything, and it is easy to set different contexts to guide the search.

And even if Unity is doing some things wrong, it is well worth refining this launcher concept. Flying up to a 'File' menu to (say) exit an application, or Edit to search a file, is about as stupid as dragging a floppy disk onto a garbage can. Harder to decide exactly what to do instead.

I'm also quite happy that FINALLY some GUI designers are putting elements like quick keys and fuzzy searching at the foundation rather than kludging them on to an interface which is fundamentally hostile to people who have specific actions in mind and/or know what they are doing.

For now, though, the devil is in the details...

I complete agree with you, as I had the same experience with my family. My parents feel much more confortable having the icons of the couple of apps they use everyday right in front of their eyes; and everything else hidden, but still available.

Took me about a week of normal use before Unity 'disappeared' into the background. Keyboard shortcuts are pretty well supported even without using HUD, just press and hold Super key for an overlay with the main ones (won't work on netbook 600px high screens).


I think to get a good experience with Unity you have to try it on dedicated hardware. I initially tried it on VirtualBox (I don't know how well 3D is supported in VMWare, but GPU support isn't great on VirtualBox for me) and it was a terrible experience. But installing it on a separate partition, the experience was much more fluid, and enjoyable. There are some frustrating aspects, but overall, I think it's an innovative project. They have definitely done some things that Windows or OS X could imitate (and are imitating).

I haven't tried Unity yet (yeah, I'm bit slow sometimes in such matters).

But I wouldn't be so quick to judge any piece of software. Only after learning how to use the system and the ideas behind it, you can properly make intelligent criticism of it. When I tried emacs, nothing seemed to make sense to me. I had to reference the manual and google all the time. And still I didn't become angry (frustrated sometimes though), nor did I begin to hate it.

That's because the distro developers think they stink. Have a search around mailing lists on marc.info and you will see.

Ubuntu represents a very politicised and marketed view of what Linux should look like. You should expect nothing more from Shuttleworth. Everyone else is much more conservative and wants to find a consensus rather than forcing a viewpoint on the world.

Forcing a viewpoint worked for Apple with OSX and iOS and will work for Microsoft with Metro but it won't cut it in a highly divided market with no foot in the door.

Would they add value?

For technical users, when we have an advanced web browser and a terminal at hand, there is no need for the rest of the stuff. It gets in the way.

For business users, they care about consistency. Canonical never delivered that and shows no sign of it.

For end users, the market is owned by Apple, Microsoft and Google.

There is pretty much no place for Unity.

I'm also not clear as to what Canonical's main target audience is, but I think it's great that finally someone has the balls to stand up and take lead.

PG once said that design is the limiting edge of open source, which seems true empirically. It looks like Mark Shuttleworth recognises this and has led more progress in Linux land recently than anyone else. He's had to pay the price of upsetting some purists, but I'd rather have that than keep acting nice and have Linux play catch up to other operating systems forever.

In fact, I think Canonical has still ended up too conservative by choosing the services business.

Only a proper product business can give Linux a fighting chance in the consumer market. I'm trying to create one.

Progress? There is no paradigm shift or enhancement. It's exactly the same but with a different look.

Emperor's new clothes...

"There is pretty much no place for Unity."

Canonical have some plans in the consumer direction, I believe. Devices that would not normally be thought of as computers.

"Everyone else is much more conservative."

I disagree. Look at what the GNOME developers did with Gnome-Shell. That was more of a radical change than Unity imho and was equally divisive by "forcing a viewpoint on the world". There are also lots of others doing new and interesting things like KDE with Plasma Active for tablets (on real devices soon via Vivaldi) and Mozilla with the already commercially backed Boot2Gecko project in the mobile space.

Unity gives me more vertical space than pretty much any other DE (no menu bar, no title bar for maximised apps). That is very valuable for me.

There are other features I like enough that I would dislike using anything that didn't have them.

One reason this happens is that Ubuntu developers don't really care about other distros. It took a really long time until somebody was able to build Unity in Arch Linux, for instance.

I really like Shuttleworth's / Ubuntu's courage - it's much like Apple's courage, except it is done in the open.

(Personally, I can't switch to 12.04; it borks on my touchscreen device, see https://bugs.launchpad.net/bugs/801988 - but I will as soon as the bug is resolved. The lenses/hud is excellent)

i also suggest not upgrading to 12.04 if you are a vim and konversation user. ain't working.

I don't understand how Vim can be broken on 12.04, some type of packaging error?

i don't either. on a clean ubuntu 12.04, this is what i get: http://pastebin.com/W1X9pcew

vim user on 12.04 here, no problems.

Perhaps you mean a gvim user on a 12.04 multi-monitor setup? I do everything on my single-screen laptop these days, so maybe you're talking about a different config?

Vim is working everywhere just fine.

Have been with Debian for quite a while, but installed this new Ubuntu LTS the other day on a development box and have to say, I'm pretty impressed. Seemingly quite stable w/ plenty of nice UI eye-candy. Only criticism is that it hides a bit of the default customisation settings stuff from the last time I used Ubuntu (last LTS), however, it's definitely a nice push forward for the linux community (in so far as perhaps drumming up new open source users). Would have been nice to see a shout to Debian in the article, but hey, just glad open source is gaining broader appeal and hopefully, at the very least, it's a foot in door for greater linux adoption.

I think Debian/Ubuntu with Gnome 3 is a winner. I love the interface.

I might be in the minority (or a really silent majority..) of people who absolutely love Unity. [1]

Just install ClassicMenu Indicator[2] to have a regular app menu around, and Ubuntu Tweak for a little more customisability, and you're good to go.

[1] (link to my blog) http://shrik.theswamp.in/2012/05/switching-over-to-ubuntu-12...

[2] http://www.florian-diesch.de/software/classicmenu-indicator/

The HUD is one the most significant UI changes to hit the Linux Desktop in recent years, and I see how a lot of people will find it useful. But it's probably also going to be one of the most controversial changes, perhaps even more than the introduction of Unity (which has many more precedents).

In particular, it will be difficult to get even the most adventurous users to use complicated apps like GIMP (which the screenshot shows) exclusively with the HUD. When there are hundreds of functionalities you could choose from and you don't remember the exact name, the traditional menu is much more discoverable. At the moment, HUD only complements the menu without replacing it altogether. But if the HUD is some day going to replace the menu, it will probably need to incorporate some of the features of the traditional menu on the way. I hope Canonical remains responsive to feedback during the transition period. Shuttleworth has an unfortunate tendency to go all Steve Jobs and insist that it's either his way or highway when it comes to UI decisions.

It's also going to be interesting to see how HUD works in touchscreen devices where using the keyboard can be a significant amount of hassle. You could rely on gestures to some extent, but not all actions you perform on a computer can be easily represented with intuitive gestures. So Ubuntu's UI may need to split up again into desktop and tablet editions, after all.

As for myself, I feel rather frustrated with these changes because I love my little plastic rodent. I really don't like taking my hand off the mouse to type something.

In his initial announcement of the HUD (http://www.markshuttleworth.com/archives/939) Shuttleworth clearly had the discoverability issue in mind; the vision he put forward was that, with the HUD in place, the menu's main function is now to discover functionality; therefore, design effort should now go into a good replacement for that particular aspect.

The money quote from that article:

"The patents system is being used to slow down a lot of healthy competition and that's a real problem. I think that the countries that have essentially figured that out and put hard limits on what you can patent will in fact do better."

Whatever you think of HUD, Unity, Ubuntu TV, Ubuntu on Android you have to admire someone pursuing a vision.

Ubuntu for Android handsets is what I am waiting for my next handsets. Still have no clue, which quad core android will support it.

The only reason I'm giving Ubuntu a last chance is the version number. Pangolin may become usable... eventually.

I've tried running Eclipse in Unity, Gnome 2 & Gnome 3 on my heavier laptop. Things crash hard and often. I've given up for the next month and installed KDE.

Since 11.10, I've been switching my computers to Debian Squeeze. I do not regret it.

I like Unity's design just fine but it's VERY VERY power hungry. On my laptop it maxes out heat, takes a really excessively time to boot and takes a couple seconds for the UI to come up when I hit super. Tweaks like changing the graphics driver aren't helping. LXDE and XFCE desktops don't have the same problem at all.

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