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Ubuntu ported to the Nexus 7 (phoronix.com)
121 points by onosendai on Oct 20, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 66 comments

This is my problem with Ubuntu and Unity, and why I much prefer Linux Mint as a "Windows replacement" OS. They say they made that side bar to "work well with touchscreen devices, too", but as we can see Unity on a touchscreen devices offers a pretty poor experience, and the sidebar is just about the only thing that is meant for touchscreens in Ubuntu. The global menu and everything else is clearly meant for a PC and a mouse.

So why annoy the PC users with the sidebar, when it's not even that good of a UI for tablets? They're much better off designing a tablet-first UI for tablets, if they want to get into that, and stick with designing a well optimized PC UI for PC's.

I've never been a believer of one UI for all form factors and sizes, because you usually end up with the UI being optimized just for one form factor and size, and mediocre or downright terrible for others. You need to optimize the UI for its own form factor and size. It's the only way to make it work well.

Unity is a long way from perfect on tablet or PC. Having said that the sidebar has grown on me. Since almost every monitor out there is 16:9; vertical space is precious and another 50 pixels gives me another 2-3 lines of code on the screen.

The best way to use the sidebar is to put your most commonly used program at the top and then launch them with Logo+<Number>.

If you spend some time setting up your shortcut keys you can actually use much of your system mouse free.

So I'm not really sure that it is targeted towards tablets. It could however be adapted to be tablet friendly a lot more easily than the MS Windows interface or older Window managers could be.

So rather than having this jarring difference between Metro and Desktop like you do in Windows 8 they could have a much more subtle transition of the same interface depending on whether a mouse/keyboard was plugged in or not.

Unity randomly loses focus of the active window for me, making it pretty annoying to use with the keyboard.

Additionally, it is hard to remember which number activates which program in the side-bar, and unfortunately it waits a long time before showing the numbers when pressing Winkey.

The old shortcuts to maximize/minimize windows (Alt-F10, Alt-F9) were replaced with more clunky shortcuts (Ctrl+Alt+5, Ctrl+Alt+0).

All in all, Unity was a pretty big regression over Gnome 2, when it comes to keyboard operability.

I just wish that Logo+<Number> didn't require you to hold the Logo key for a second or so before you press the number. I want quicker switching between apps than that.

You need to wait if you want the numbers to pop up on the icons, if you just want to switch programs you can do it instantly.

While it is very true that Unity is slow to launch applications I regularly launch a browser with Logo+1 hitting both immediately and releasing. The browser is launched and the side bar never even makes an appearance. You don't need to wait for the side bar to slide out. :)

I just install Synapse, which is very similar to the Quicksilver app on the Mac. Control+Space and you can type the name of the application that you wish to launch.

Does Synapse do anything that the regular unity searchbar+lenses doesn't?

Better auto-completion (I can type ref and it'll find Firefox and anything else that matches). Better file finding (I can take a screenshot and type 'scr' to find my screenshot instantly). Imgur uploading (I can find my screenshot, tab, down, enter to upload to imgur, copies url into my clipboard). Hooks into media players. Hooks into OS (can logout, suspend, shutdown). Better UX, left/right/up/down/tab are all binded to something useful. Faster. Can run on stuff besides Unity.

Not all PC users are annoyed by the side-bar -- I really like it, despite thinking I'd hate it when I first upgraded. I actually have my Windows 7 PC at work set up in a very similar way -- task bar at the side. In both, Win-[1-9] will switch to the respective application. Most applications I use are pinned, so I don't have to interact with either start panel very often.

My Unity task bar auto-hides, and with maximised windows losing their title bars and menus (until I disabled that feature as I like focus-follows-mouse) living in the panel, full-screen applications take up pretty much the whole screen.

What's so new with this side bar? It seems to me that I've been using my PC this way thanks to Windowmaker for the past 15 years already.

I was an Ubuntu user for years. When tablets became famous, I was thinking: Wow, if I only could have Ubuntu on these devices. Then they lost me because of Unity. I tried several days, but it was simply not geared toward my workflow. Thank God I discovered Mint. Mint is awesome.

Then they introduced this new find-something-thing that sends everything you type to their servers. A privacy nightmare. And a usability nightmare. Thats just the wrong philosophy. So I also dont want them on my tablets.

Its surprising, how quick things can change. I was a huge Ubuntu supporter from 2005 to 2012. And now I warn people to not use it.

> I was a huge Ubuntu supporter from 2005 to 2012. And now I warn people to not use it.

Wow, this is sad. Especially since it is so easy to install a different window manager on ubuntu.

    sudo aptitude install xubuntu-desktop
will install xfce for example.

I tried it. But I like Gnome 2 a lot more then xfce. For example in xfce you cannot reorder the entries in the task bar.

Then install Gnome 2 with

  sudo aptitude install gnome-session-fallback
The best part is that you can install a multitude of window managers and decide at login time which one to use.

This is one of the big advantages of Linux.

I'm going to argue that the real tablet UI elements developed by the guys at Canonical are the lenses (aka the dash), not the side menu. They are full screen, display large icons, allow you to implement a lot of features (e.g., see Music/video, Documents and Shopping lenses) while using the same UI.

The top bar is only important for its notification icons - the global menu is slowly going to fade out, replaced by in-app icons (see for example google chrome).

I agree with you that one UI for all form factors and sizes is probably a bad idea, but I think I see where they are going for tablets. I pretty much hate Unity for the desktop, but I think for tablets it will make sense.

Yup, I saw the original article and thought 'good look with LibreOffice on that'

Then I checked the specifications of the tablet: headphone socket, built in microphone, and so I could get puredata running on it with (perhaps) jack audio.

That would open up the prospect of sound generation by touch. Puredata allows you to make your own interfaces so large buttons to hit.

Also http://dinisnoise.org/

I could almost justify a ton and a half in UK money for that alone.

What I'm saying here is that a cheap touch tablet is not for me a general purpose device, but could fulfill a specific purpose.

That would be cool, but keep in mind that the headphone output is (unfortunately) not so great.

The sidebar is meant to work with keyboard shortcuts.

Super + position of sidebar icon: launch application

Super + W: layout all applications in workspace

Super + S: layout all workspaces

Unity is still quirky but the productivity I gain from the shortcuts is worth it.

Can you expand on how Mint is superior on tablets?

I agree it Ubuntu isn't very good on tablets. But the sidebar works OK on PC, like it does on Macs.

I meant I like Mint more on PC's, not tablets.

I like the sidebar, just reduce the icon size to something normal and you have something similar to Windows 7's panel.

Global menubar is not exclusive to mice: it saves considerable screen space. This is a major feature on mobile.

>They say they made that side bar to "work well with touchscreen devices, too"

did they say that? People said that when ubuntu released unity, mostly critics, but i don't remember any official statement saying that unity was designed as a touch-friendly interface. Bigger targets are better for mouse users as well.

The people making comments about Unity on this device have some valid points, but are missing the forest for the trees. One of the major themes of 13.04 and the entire point of this demo is to fix the core of Ubuntu, as was referenced in Mark's blog:

"I think it’s time to look at the core of Ubuntu and review it through a mobile lens: let’s measure our core platform by mobile metrics, things like battery life, number of running processes, memory footprint, and polish the rough edges that we find when we do that."

Don't expect the Unity UI experience to be optimized for this device in the 13.04 time frame. That's not the goal.

Not speaking officially here, just trying to help people connect the dots of what Canonical have publicly revealed thus far.

If the core includes sound drivers and a sensible structure to sound then bring it on...

...I know this is a niche area but the application of cheap touch tablets to sound synthesis software could open up a huge realm of activity.

Then there is the use of a stylus for accurate work...

I wouldn't expect any huge departure from the existing sound architecture (PulseAudio, ALSA).


Unfortunately (and, conversely, fortunately for Ubuntu) Android audio on tablets sucks. Especially when we talk low latency audio. It is bad, in the 100s of milliseconds of latency, which is laughable really for anyone who tries to do audio synthesis or any realtime audio features. So frankly, just bringing ALSA or PulseAudio to the table will hugely improve the situation.

Google is aware of the issue (http://code.google.com/p/android/issues/detail?id=3434) it was starred about 2000 times with 400+ comments. Again, this is a niche area for some and most don't care, but those who do would love have an alternative to iPad for example, when it comes to audio latency performance.

So Ubuntu could deliver a useful gain in audio performance over Android on a tablet such as the Nexus?

As input appears to be limited to on board microphone in the particular tablet we are discussing, it is unlikely that real time processing will be a major use unless the micro-usb socket can be used with an audio interface.

I certainly would drop £160 or so to try synthesis if pd/jack/effects-loops are available. Just a single cable out, not too restrictive, perhaps even streamed audio over wifi.

puredata allows you to set up your own controls for a sound synthesis program - and you can have chunky buttons and big sliders for touch I'm hoping.

> So Ubuntu could deliver a useful gain in audio performance over Android on a tablet such as the Nexus?

It could if using USB audio input and output. The DAC in the Nexus 7 is not very good. Also, as you pointed out, Nexus 7 doesn't have headset jack, just a headphone jack. So that's lacking. However, there are some compiled kernels that added USB audio out support (but then simultaneously charging the device doesn't work, sigh...).

> puredata allows you to set up your own controls for a sound synthesis program - and you can have chunky buttons and big sliders for touch I'm hoping.

Have you heard of http://libpd.cc/ ?

"Have you heard of http://libpd.cc/ ?"

I was aware of android and iPad builds of pd, but this looks more comprehensive although it would mean rather more 'proper' coding than I'm used to. I'd rather see how Ubuntu on tablets goes over the next cycle or so.

Fair enough, exciting project!

Hopefully this means Ubuntu for Android[0] is getting ready for primetime. I'm stoked about the future with this. A phone which boots into Ubuntu when docked, and allows me to get rid of all other devices is the stuff of dreams for me.


Ubuntu for Android is a separate, but related effort.

Again, quoting Mark: "We have two short cycles before we’re into the LTS, and by then we want to have the phone, tablet and TV all lined up."

[speaking individually, not representing Canonical]

So there will be Ubuntu for Android and a separate Ubuntu Mobile? You probably can't answer that, but doesn't hurt to try :).

Are you able to say anything about Ubuntu for Android? It's been pretty quiet ever since it got announced, though there was a video in August showing it off.

I will simply say that we've got a broad portfolio of current and future products, spanning the entire range from the data center down to your personal devices, and we are working hard at commercializing all of them.

Sorry for the platitudes; I'm not authorized to speak on behalf of anyone other than myself.

Completely understandable. Good luck in bringing those products to market, hopefully it's not too long before you'll be able to discuss them openly.

Yes, I could use that approach as well, especially if rdp was supported when docked.

freerdp runs well in Ubuntu today. Additionally, we've baked thin client support into Ubuntu Desktop starting with the most recent release (12.10).

Ubuntu for Android is positioned as a fully functional desktop on your phone. I'll leave it up to you to connect the rest of the dots.

For some more details, my blog:


[speaking individually, not for Canonical]

For what it is, I personally think the Nexus 7's OS is perfect for the device. It's been years since I've played with Ubuntu, and this potential announcement probably isn't going to change that.

And is Ubuntu now going into touch devices? Honest question: How is this different than throwing Windows onto something like this?

I love how you say "the Nexus 7's OS" when clearly, Android is used on a wide variety of devices (who calls the software on their phone the Droid Razr's OS or the Galaxy SII's OS? just saying...).

Oh, and honest answer: It's a full-suited desktop OS, so you're right - it's not different than throwing Windows on it (aside from the obvious differences in the Windows/Linux software architecture and distribution models). You still get all the benefits of a full desktop OS :)

I bet he meant the "Nexus 7's OS" as opposed to TouchWiz or Sense or whatever UI has been bolted on top of the Android innards.

> You still get all the benefits of a full desktop OS

like hunt-and-pecking in the smallish menus on a 7" screen? this is just ridiculous, and (given their UI plans) way too early to be useful.

Even if it's a nexus device it's pretty different from what we were used to with stock android : it's a blend of both the phone and tablet UI. Some apps are using the tablet UI, while others use the phone UI, and the launcher itself is based on the phone UI, rather than the tablet UI. What runs on the Nexus 7 is a form of Android that has never been seen before, and there isn't any other Android tablet that behaves in such a way, even those from Asus that are as close to stock android as an OEM can be.

Even with TouchWiz, the Tab 7.0 feels more like what we were used to than the N7.

I'm just stating facts though because I actually like the changes made for the N7 better, I think it fits a 7" screen more than the old tablet UI and I hope those changes will be copied by the others.

"... as opposed to TouchWiz or Sense or whatever UI has been bolted on top of the Android innards."

Uh, what? This is a Google/ASUS device, you won't find any of that stuff here. I'm pretty sure the Nexus 7 is as close to AOSP as you can get...

That's exactly what he said... I think you misunderstood and thought he said the exact opposite.


"who calls the software on their phone the Droid Razr's OS or the Galaxy SII's OS?"

I do. "operating system" is a very ambiguous term. Depending on who you ask, Linux, GNU, Gnome and Ubuntu are all called an "operating systems".

Android is not a operating system in the sense the term is used for Windows 7 or iOS. The comparable OS to those systems is what Samsung, HTC, Google etc. ship with their devices. Different operating systems based on a common platform.

"Normal" Windows won't run on ARM afaik. So you'd be looking at running WinRT which is stripped down version of Windows that doesn't allow things like sideloading or desktop apps.

Ubuntu will be a better bet for people who want to run desktop type applications on their tablet. Quite how popular a use case that really is remains to be seen.

If someone "broke" WinRT enough to get it running on the N7, I'd be very surprised if it wouldn't also be possible to get a compiler going and build normal desktop apps. It's still capable of running at least a significant subset of "classic" Windows (at minimum, however much it takes for Office to run); so once it's been convinced to disregard security, it should theoretically be possible to get many other Windows apps compiled for and running on ARM as well.

That said, if you want to run desktop-style applications, you're far better off just buying one.

Assuming that you can get the source to these desktop applications and re-compile them for ARM. I also doubt that older Win32 libraries will be compatible with WinRT.

You would basically be getting WinRT "homebrew" like you do with some consoles, a cool hack but probably miserable for getting work done.

OTOH an ARM based ubuntu might be a usable dev system.

AFAIK; an eventual move into touchscreens has been one of the justifications for Unity. And since you mentioned it, I wouldn't be surprised if we saw WinRT get hacked up on the N7 at some point, given that it and the Surface are packing the same chipset.

Thanks. Like I said, I haven't kept track of Ubuntu, so I wasn't aware of the change of focus.

Given the possible pricing of Surface devices, it would be interesting to see WinRT on the Nexus 7. But I doubt Microsoft would let it last.

Of course they'd make token gestures to block it, to appease their shareholders. But like their loose grip on Office piracy, a WinRT pirate is far better for Microsoft than a legitimate Android or iOS user.

If MS Surface hardware isn't complete garbage, I'd be much more excited to see Android running on it. In the same vein, wouldn't it be nice if we could run Android on a iPad 3?

I've got no interest in Ubuntu on a Nexus 7 but this gives me some hope they might do a semi-official port to those new $250 Chromebooks (assuming they are as open to hacking as the old chromebooks).

ARM based Linux ultrabook-alike on a high powered chip for $250? Now that would get me using Ubuntu again.

They probably won't officially support it because it is a consumer device. If you want Ubuntu on it, it will be community supported, or ask Samsung to do the work/pay them to port and support it.

OK...but why ? It's not like Unity is a good fit for a 7" tablet.

Very simple use case: connect keyboard and mouse and you'll get portable linux workstation. It's a pity that there is no hdmi out but you shouldn't expect a lot from $200 tablet. As a bonus you'll have lots of open source packages (including various development tools) that will run just fine on this relatively powerful hardware. Most of the user-friendly ubuntu apps won't be usable without a mouse. There are also lots of keyboard-oriented applications that might be fine with just a keyboard.

Yeah, this is about the only reason I'd be interested in such an OS (the switch to a linux workstation with just a mouse/keyboard). I don't think Canonical has the manpower to produce a polished OS like Android Jellybean. Oh well, it'll be interesting to follow.

As is, the N7 works just fine for me as a SSH terminal to a proper Linux machine in a pinch. Had to hack (or more precisely, hack the hacks in) ConnectBot[0] a bit to make it recognize modifier keys normally on BT keyboards, but not too bad overall.

[0] https://github.com/ConstantineXVI/connectbot

You mention HDMI out. $100 chinese tablets have it [1]. Arguably they don't have the same screen and quality battery as the Nexus 7.

1. http://www.ainolstore.com/ainol-novo-7-mars-cortex-a9-androi...

That's single core (not quad) and 1GHz (not 1.3GHz). But $87.99 is a great price if that's fast enough.

Any idea if this can be dual booted with Android/Ubuntu?

I've been wanting a lightweight notebook and a tablet computer for a while now and I'm on a limited budget. This could do that perfectly.

when I access that page I can't help but being distracted by animated ads to cut down my belly.


using the readability bookmarklet or simply add noscript to your Firefox instance.

PS: I know what you mean.

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