Ubuntu Natty Beta 1 Review + Screenshots Tour

If you have followed me in Make Tech Easier, you will know that I always like to test out and review the beta version of Ubuntu. First of all, all the functionalities are more or less finalized in the beta version, and it is stable enough to install in production machine. Most important of all, you don’t have to join the rush to download the LiveCD when it is officially released.

The beta version of Ubuntu – 110.04 Natty Narwhal is already out. I took the plunge and wipe my computer clean to install the Natty beta. (I do it because I wanted to experience the change from head to toe. You don’t have to follow me.) After using it for one full day, I am both happy and disappointed. Let’s see what’s the good and bad in Ubuntu Natty.

Unity

The most noticeable differences, and the most talked topic in town, is the Unity interface. While we have done plenty of reviews about it, it is still worth a mention here.

Most people will put their attention only on the sidebar launcher, but the whole unity interface is more than just the launcher. It also includes the polished appindicators and the Dash screen.

Unity Launcher

As compared to the Unity launcher in Ubuntu Maverick netbook version, this is definitely much better. It is also more responsive and intuitive. It can now intellihide when an app window overlaps it. If you have Compiz Settings Manager installed, you can even configure it to hide itself when not in use. It can also be resized to support up to 64px of icons size. You can also move the icons around and arrange it in the order you preferred. The Files and Applications icons also show the various categories when you right click on them.

ubuntu-natty-launcher-context

ubuntu-natty-launcher-reorder-icon

One thing though, the Unity launcher is not fully customizable. You can’t change the background or the position of the launcher and you can’t remove some of the icons (for example, the trash, files, application etc). If you set the launcher to autohide, it will only appear when you point your mouse to the top left hand corner, which can be counter-productive. Any of the dock application can do much better than it.

Dash

The Dash is where you can search and access your applications. You can open up the Dash either by clicking the Ubuntu logo at the top-left corner or by clicking the Application icon in the launcher. There are four main rows in the Dash, namely the search bar, frequently used apps, installed apps, and recommended apps. Once again, there are little room for customization and you can’t configure what to show/hide in the Dash.

ubuntu-natty-dash-small
(click to enlarge)

Removal of Application menu

If you have been a Gnome user all the while, you will certainly miss the Application Menu which is usually located at the top left corner of the screen. Replacing the Application Menu is an Ubuntu logo, which when clicked, will show the search bar and shortcuts. Personally, I prefer to have my Application Menu back.

ubuntu-natty-shortcuts-small
(click to enlarge)

Global Menu

The popular Global menu is now integrated into Ubuntu Natty, though it doesn’t work for every app. The rework of the Firefox menu has been a pleasant surprise. Previous versions of global menu don’t work with Firefox, so I am surprise they are able to make it work now.

ubuntu-natty-global-menu

However, the global menu is still buggy in this beta version. When you minimize and maximize the window, the global menu disappears.

Compiz Effects

Call it copycat if you want, but this is one good feature copied from Windows 7. Dragging a window to the side of the screen will instantly resize it to half the screen size. Dragging the window to the top of the screen will maximize it.

ubuntu-natty-half-screen-resize-small
(click to enlarge)

ubuntu-natty-resize-small
(click to enlarge)

The Unity Grab handlers (need to enable it in Compiz Settings Manager) allows you to easily drag and resize your window.

ubuntu-natty-unity-grab

Applications

There are only a few changes to the applications. Firefox has been upgraded to version 4.0. Rhythmbox has been replaced by Banshee and OpenOffice been replaced by LibreOffice.

Appindicator

The panel system tray now supports only appindicator. Panel-applets are no longer supported in Unity interface (you can still get it in Ubuntu Classic interface). The Calendar appindicator has received a speed boost and is more polished and prettier now.

ubuntu-natty-calendar-appindicator

Banshee music control is integrated into the sound appindicator and the shutdown icon added a new “System Settings” entry. A great addition indeed.

ubuntu-natty-app-indicator

Ubuntu Software Center

Ubuntu Software Center, while still taking a long time to load, has a new test drive feature that allows you to test the software before installing it. However, it is not activated by default. You need to install a package “qtnx” (search for it in the Ubuntu Software Center) in order to use it.

ubuntu-natty-usc-test-drive

Conclusion

The appindicators, global menu, the compiz effects and the Ubuntu Software Center have definitely make Ubuntu Natty a much better version than its predecessor. However, when it comes to the Unity interface, it is really a hate or love affair. Even though I appreciate the work put in by Canonical, but until it becomes more customizable and doesn’t break my productivity flow, I still prefer the Ubuntu Classic interface.

Ubuntu Natty beta 1 is available for download here.

Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal is scheduled to be released on 28th April 2011.