Ubuntu Linux 11.04 review

A new edition of Ubuntu arrives every six months, bearing a new zoological codename. The latest is version 11.04 (reflecting its April 2011 release), known to its friends as the Natty Narwhal.

You’ll notice one change before you even download the installer: the Netbook Edition has been retired, so there’s now only one ISO for all home computers. It’s a wise move; one standard installation makes life easier for beginners and developers alike.

Boot into Ubuntu 11.04 and you’ll see another change. The Gnome desktop has been replaced by the Unity interface that made its first appearance in the 10.10 Netbook Edition. You can still install Gnome, or download the Xfce-based Xubuntu distribution, but Unity is now the default.

The Unity interface is now the standard front-end for Ubuntu, across all types of hardware.

It’s a controversial change, but we reckon it’s an improvement. The Launcher at the side of the screen is far more inviting than Gnome’s niggly menus, and it makes better use of a widescreen display. The way the icons work – click to launch, right-click for options – will come naturally to anyone familiar with Windows 7 or OS X.

The Ubuntu button at the top-left of the screen opens a searchable index of files and applications, which will again be familiar to anyone who’s used Spotlight on the Mac or the Windows search box.

Unity itself has been jazzed up since its netbook-only days. Launcher icons are more colourful and detailed than before, although the background remains a miserable grey even if you select a brightly coloured desktop theme.

Finding applications and documents is easy with Unity's system-wide search.

And the Launcher now hides when you set an application to full-screen mode, which can be done by dragging it to the top of the display, just like in Windows 7. This works on netbooks as well as full-sized PCs, and netbook users can save files to the desktop too – an option frustratingly disabled in 10.10.

The main menu bar has been updated, so application menus can now appear here, Mac-style. It’s a small change, but it saves screen space and adds a welcome sense of coherence.

The last notable interface change is support for multitouch interfaces. Unity’s button-driven design is already better suited than Gnome to finger-driven devices; and a feature jovially named Love Handles adds touch-friendly controls for moving and resizing windows. We couldn’t get this to work, but hopefully an update will remedy that.

Details

Software subcategory Operating system

Requirements

Processor requirement Any x86 CPU

Operating system support

Operating system Linux supported? yes

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