I have seen so much hate on Ubuntu’s Unity over the past year or so. With this new release, I figured I should write down my thoughts on why I choose to use Unity. Perhaps if you are one of those “Unity haters,” this might give you a slightly different perspective.
For those who don’t know my Linux background, let me quickly bring you up to speed. I started using Linux when I started getting interested in servers in 2000. The first distro I had exposure to was RedHat (Before the Fedora conversion). In 2003, I was getting annoyed with some of the “RedHat -isms,” so wanting to try something a little different I transitioned over to SUSE. I had never tried KDE before this point and I was curious what the hype was about. This was a very short lived change. While SUSE seemed more refined, it also seemed to exacerbate the primary issue I had with RedHat which was the packaging system. After a year, I had enough. I knew that there were alternatives so I started trying everything I could get my hands on. I finally ended up trying up Debian and man… it was a breath of fresh air. Fast-forward to 2005, I hear about a new release (Hoary Hedgehog) from a pretty new Debian-based distro called Ubuntu. I installed it and the most shocking thing happened… everything seemed to work. For those relatively new to the Linux world, in the early 2000s things generally didn’t just “work.” Once you got them to work they did, but this was something completely amazing to me. From then on, I was hooked!
As I started with RedHat, I came from a traditional Gnome world. I have used and loved pure Gnome for the majority of my history with Linux; minus a small flirtation with Fluxbox. However, when Ubuntu switched to this new thing called “Unity” in 11.04 I was really upset. After only trying it for an hour or so It seemed buggy, slow, and like a huge step back from everything I had come to love with Ubuntu. I’ll be honest, up until April of this year, I thought I was going to be sticking with a different window manager. However, when I read on Mark Shuttleworth’s blog about the concept behind the “HUD” I was really fascinated. I started wondering if this new thing could speed up my workflow and maybe relieve some stress on my hands from working a mouse. This is what motivated me to give 12.04’s Unity a try.
To make sure I gave it the good “old college try” I made a pact with myself that I would use it for at least one whole work week (40 hours) before I would make any judgements. By the end of that week, something clicked and I finally got it. I finally understood why Unity is so important. To me it is about performance. Let me explain. A lot of people think that performance is only about making the same thing work really fast. While this is partially true, that isn't everything. Performance is really a user perception on the total experience. This is often why people believe reactive interfaces are faster. They see a constant stream of activity which leads them to perceive that it is performing very well. The dirty little secret is that when certain things perform faster, it changes how people use it. This is what really changed my opinion on Unity.
I realize now that I was stubbornly holding on to the old Windows UI paradigms and I was rejecting something new that could make me more efficient. In the case of Unity, I can launch applications, search for files, and navigate complex application menus extremely fast. Just to put this into perspective, most applications I use on a daily basis I can launch with the following key sequence: super/win key + (the first one or two letters of the application name) + enter. For an action that I repeat all day long, this saves a ton of time and wrist stress. The same applies to the HUD for application menus.
If you are like I was, I would encourage you to try Unity in Ubuntu 12.10 for a week before you hate on it. You might just discover, like I did, that it can be quite an enjoyable experience.