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Unity in Natty: update

2 months ago, I wrote about my experience with Unity in Natty. At that point, it was far from suiting my use-case, but yet, I somehow felt positive about its future and I kept using it. What was troubling me then was the release schedule. With all the remaining crashers and feature gaps 8 weeks before the long fixed release date, I had serious doubts about the final state of Unity in Natty. Now that it (Natty) has been released, and that developers spent a week at UDS and are now either taking some days off or writing blueprints, it’s a quiet period with almost nothing moving, a good time to see what has been achieved.

I must say that I’ve been impressed by the rate at which the unity and compiz crashers have been fixed, especially in the last 8 to 10 weeks before release time. Kudos to the developers and packagers. I was very concerned about those earlier in the Natty cycle, where crashers and major usability bugs have been ignored and kept pilling up, while the developers focused on adding new features. It made Unity totally unusable for more than half of the (dev) cycle, at least for me (but from what I remember from other fellow devs, I was not alone). The problem is that besides the frustration, it prevented us from seeing and reporting other bugs early enough in the cycle to have them fixed. A direct result of that is that many good mockups appeared in the last few weeks, post release, showing interesting ideas that should have been considered by the DX team much earlier in the Natty cycle. I sincerely hope that from Oneiric onwards, the developers consider spending enough time at all milestones of the dev cycle to nail those showstoppers, so more people could provide feedbacks early enough.

Where are we now?

For weeks, I didn’t experience a single compiz/unity crash (I really had my share before). Some of the issues I mentioned in my previous post have been fixed, so I can now work with Unity. There are still many oddities but nothing showstopper for me.

Here are a few things I’d still like to see fixed or improved:

  • Compiz re-organizing the workspaces (this one is really annoying).
  • Unity/bamf not raising some apps when it should (liferea, slightly off-screen chromium..)
  • Indicators for stuff that used to be gnome applets and that have no equivalent in Unity (cpu/load, netspeed, a stable weather indicator – indicator-weather is really not ready…)
  • (dynamic) quicklists for some apps (nautilus for the bookmarks, evolution/xchat/…)
  • more badge counts and progress bars like we now have for Chromium (any app that download stuff could benefit from this, like nautilus and transmission)
I often have many instances of some apps (like terminals) and the unity mosaic doesn’t do any good to find the window I’m looking for, even on a 23″ full hd screen, those thumbnails are just too small. I’d like to somehow have the list of windows (running apps) back. Maybe not in the top panel like in gnome2, probably something hashed by apps in the unity side bar, similar to a quicklist.
Another annoying thing is the mail notification system. I use evolution, with 3 imap accounts and many folders. When I get a new mail, I see at the same time the messaging menu turning blue (the envelope), the evolution badge incrementing and a desktop notification popping up (and sitting there far too long without any useful information, just “1 New Message”). First, this is way too distracting. Second, none of those 3 clues give me the information I’m really looking for: who and what. Most of the time, I interrupt what I was doing, click on the evo badge, just to see that none of my 3 inboxes and important folders have been touched. Most probably a spam or some obscure auto-archived mailing lists post. Precious time wasted, again.
Natty as a whole has other issues but for Unity, those are my remaining concerns.
As I usually don’t stick very long with released distributions on my own desktops, I’ve already upgraded to Oneiric. Unity didn’t change yet but let’s hope it doesn’t get as painful as the first half of the natty cycle was. I didn’t attend UDS this year (I decided to stop attending 3 cycles ago) and after looking at the various related blog posts and videos, I still have no clear view of where Unity is going. I’m not sure it’s a good sign.
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  1. aap
    May 19, 2011 at 21:31

    Have you considered Thunderbird? Sounds like Ubuntu will make it the default eventually… but it already includes a notification popup with the name of the sender and an excerpt from the subject line.

    Also I don’t remember if the thumbnails were more useful this way, but if you have two FireFox windows open there should be two little arrows to the left of the Firefox launcher icon, and clicking on those shows previews of the two windows. Might still not be good enough for terminals though.

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