Ubuntu Natty Narwhal Beta 1

Ubuntu 11.04 Beta 1 (Natty Narwhal) came out last Friday. I have only used it for two days, yet it has been a fun and refreshing experience so far, and I do not think of Maverick or the other previous releases with a hint of nostalgia.

Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal Beta 1

A new user experience for Linux is on the way

Major highlight of this new release, Unity has become the default desktop environment, replacing the full GNOME. If you have tried Unity earlier in one of the previous Ubuntu Netbook Remix editions, you should consider giving it another try as it has gained much maturity and ease of use.

Not being a big fan of either GNOME 2 or KDE 4, Unity feels like a healthy, creative departure from the user experience they both offer. And Unity doesn't only depart from the two classic Linux desktop environments, but is also well on its way to expire many old ideas and expectations of what a window-based graphical environment should do.

As it was already the case in Ubuntu Netbook Remix, Unity's launcher is on the left side, and really is more of a dock than a panel (not too sure of the terminology here). It is nice as most of the screens I have at home (laptop) and work (desktop) have so much horizontal real estate but do not have much height. Much more attention has been given to small details here, such as the visibility of the launcher depending on the position of the mouse, or whether a window is fully expanded or not. (A video from omgubuntu is available on YouTube.)

Another neat feature is the ability to place a window on the left or on the right of the screen and have it fit only half of the desktop area:

Place window on one side of the screen

Place window on one side of the screen

Two windows next to each other

When maximizing one window only, the close/minimize/maximize controls and the rest of the top menu appear directly in the top panel:

Fully maximized terminal

I am particularly excited about this, because I have had trouble keeping my attention on the task at hand with a plethora of running apps and diverse widgets. This has been true for me on Windows, Mac OS X, or any Linux environment. Once a window is maximized in Unity, you really have nothing left to distract you. The launcher icons are gone, there's no tray to show the other apps running, although the Ubuntu menu icon turns blue when something is happening in a minimized application. I have good hopes this set up will help me with my work and keep me from getting distracted when I should really be writing code! The fact is, the human brain isn't really made for doing multiple things at once, and more than ever this is the direction Canonical and Ubuntu is taking with Unity. Canonical's team is even taking one step further with new scrollbars. A feature which hopefully will make it into the final release of Natty Narwhal.

For the rest, Natty introduces several new default apps. The media player is now Banshee instead of Rhythmbox. LibreOffice has made it in for this release as well as Firefox 4.