I have been excited about the release of Ubuntu 12.04 LTS for a while now, and it looks like Unity is growing well. The latest round of design improvements bridge many of the gaps left in earlier Unity desktop versions.
12.04 LTS Details
This release comes highly anticipated by many Ubuntu lovers, and Ubuntu 12.04 might be the release to stick with for a while.
The Ubuntu 11.04 LTS release was the first major introduction of Unity for desktop users, but many improvements were still needed. I'm happy to announce that Ubuntu 12.04 is far more stable, its faster, and the user experience is definitely getting better.
Ubuntu 12.04 Installation
Ubuntu 12.04 provides several convenient installation solutions, as usual. After experiencing some problems with upgrading, and VirtualBox installations, I then opted to install from a DVD which I recommend.
After booting the live CD or DVD you can choose to try the Ubuntu desktop without making changes to your system, or you can begin installing Ubuntu 12.04.
If you choose to begin installation you are then provided with a checklist of requirements. Users can also choose to install third-party software or perform updates. Next you are able to choose your partition options, which Ubuntu 12.04 makes very easy for new users. You can then confirm everything and move on to choose your current location. Next you will need to select your keyboard layout from the list. Last you can input your username and password, watch the slide show, and finally restart your system.
LightDM Display Manager
After restarting your system you should arrive at the LightDM display manager which replaced GDM for the Ubuntu 11.10 release. From the login window you can select your user and the desktop session or window manager you would like to use. Then after adding your password you are finally ready to use your desktop. I am beginning to love LightDM more and more, unfortunately I think they could do away with the funky speckles.
Ubuntu 12.04 Desktop
Before going to far lets dig into the Unity desktop and take a look at some of the primary components that users will encounter.
Compiz Window Manager
Be sure to take advantage of the many awesome effects offered by the Compiz window manager. Compiz is configured to work well with the Unity desktop but things can be configured to your liking. Some effects may break the desktop unfortunately, I did get the desktop cube working however.
Other primary components of the Ubuntu 12.04 Unity desktop include the launcher and the dash which have only received a few minor adjustments for this release. And of course the new and exciting HUD which I will get to soon after making everyone sweat with anticipation.
Multiple workspaces are also available for users to sort related tasks. Unfortunately I have nothing good to say about the new workspace switching method, it seems tedious in my opinion. Messing around with this can leave your desktop rather flaky, but that would never stop me. Personally I find almost any alternative to the native workspace switcher as a vast improvement.
Ubuntu 12.04 Menus
The Ubuntu 12.04 Unity desktop menus remain similar to the last few releases. I can tolerate the dash myself, but I am finding the application menus inside the top panel annoying and nothing more.
The window menus for open applications will still appear inside the top panel, just above the home button. The name of the highlighted application will always be visible on the left hand side of the panel, the menus will only be displayed when hovering the mouse over this area.
The Unity dash can be displayed by clicking on the home button at the top of the Unity launcher. The dash will work closely with the Zeitgeist event logger to display the most relevant data inside the Unity dash. Using the dash you can search for files and applications on your system. Search results can be filtered for more accuracy, users can also take advantage of the Unity dash lenses and scopes feature to display only desired file types in search results. Or try other more powerful lenses that will let you search from online sources like Gwibber, and Google Doc's.
And now for some fun, the HUD seems to be what everyone is talking about. The Ubuntu 12.04 Unity desktop has added a new heads-up-display menu or HUD. This menu will function as an alternative to the applications menu, use this menu to search for actions and options relating to the currently highlighted application. Using the HUD you can also search for actions available inside your panel indicator menus. Use the Alt key to open the HUD, then start typing to search for your desired action or option.
Ubuntu 12.04 Panels
The Ubuntu 12.04 Unity desktop holds a single panel which contains application indicators, and application menus. The Unity launcher is also available and still improving quickly, so lets look closer.
Application indicators are located on the right side of the top panel, you can right-click on your indicators to see important actions and options. Be sure to install more application indicators to get quick access to your most frequently used applications.
The Unity desktop now offers better support for users with multiple monitors. You can now reach the Unity dash and launcher from each connected monitor, or the one you specify. The launcher will even detect the color of your desktop background and match its own color accordingly. I also wanted to make a note of another irrelevant change, when adding items to the launcher the previous text would display "Keep item in launcher", it now displays "Lock to launcher". This is simply maddening for documentation writers like me.
The launcher will finally provide a minor selection of settings that users may find helpful. These can be found inside the appearance preferences window. Users are now able to resize icons inside the Unity launcher, or toggle the auto-hide feature. The color of the launcher will also change automatically to match the color of your desktop background which is extremely convenient, and very aesthetically pleasing.
Ubuntu 12.04 File Manager
Nothing appears to have changed with everyone's favorite file manager, Nautilus. I should mention however that the default Adwaita theme does make Nautilus look extremely sleek and stylish.
Several users have expressed their concerns about the Nautilus quicklist not having all of the locations that were previously found inside the places menu. This feature has now been added.
Nautilus Launcher Menu
So what does the Nautilus quicklists feature offer? When right-clicking on the Nautilus icon inside the Unity launcher you will now find your bookmarked locations. Other useful options have also been added to this menu for your convenience.
I should mention that undo support has been added for people using Nautilus. Because not much else has changed I will simply point out some of the many excellent features. Many users enjoy the fact that the Nautilus file manager offers an interface that is highly customizable, and can easily adapt to the many needs of the user.
More About Nautilus
Users can can choose to display multiple directories inside tabs, or using the optional second view panel. Additionally you can always open extra windows if you prefer. As always Samba shares are detected automatically, and connected devices are easily accessible from the bookmarks panel. All said, Nautilus is the perfect choice for Linux newcomers. Nautilus offers a perfect middle ground for users that enjoy the speed of faster file managers, and the many features offered by heavier file managers such as Dolphin. Thankfully Nautilus does offer almost all of the features that the majority of users could want in a file manager.
Ubuntu 12.04 Software
As usual Ubuntu 12.04 comes simply loaded with software for everyday tasks. Everything that users are likely to use frequently has been included, and there are only minor changes to report.
Software Center Updates
The software center has again received some tweaks users should be aware of. You can now choose to display recommended software when browsing for new applications.
No More Synaptic
I shed a single tear for the loss of the Synaptic package manager which will no longer be installed by default, sadly this is a tool that I have come to know and love. But either way, Synaptic can still be installed using the software center for those that prefer details over flash. Any moderately experienced Linux users should stick with Synaptic as the primary front end for Apt-get. The software center does however provide a very simple and convenient interface that even your grandparents could understand.
Ubuntu 12.04 System Settings
I have previously expressed my concerns about the lack of customization options for the Unity desktop but things are still evolving well. Many tools have been developed to aid customization, personally I still don't think new users would find this satisfying.
The majority of your desktop settings can be found inside the system settings dialog box, there is an icon in the launcher for quick access. This is where you can find many of the desktop, user, and hardware settings.
The system settings manager will also contain a module for privacy settings. You can use the privacy settings dialog to set a time based delay to delete your system activity, or you can use this to manually delete your activity. This tool will even allow you to change which file types or applications will be monitored by the Zeitgeist event logger. This can be useful if you wish private items to remain hidden inside the Unity dash.
If you would like to focus on customizing the Ubuntu 12.04 Unity desktop you should turn to the Compiz config settings manager. This tool provides a vast number of options for windows, workspaces, and cool effects for your desktop.
Of course other tools are also available to help you customize the desktop, here are a few. Try the Walch wallpaper changer to switch the wallpaper randomly at selected intervals. You can also try the GConf-Editor, Confity, or the MyUnity desktop customization tool. Surely one the many choices will get your desktop customized the way that you want it.
Ubuntu 12.04 Themes
The available selection of themes is really nothing to be thrilled about. Again it is the same themes that we have all seen before.
The Ambiance theme is still the default desktop theme, it is accompanied by the Radiance desktop theme. Both themes provide a tolerable look, but you can surely avoid the high contrast alternatives.
Ubuntu 12.04 Wallpapers
The Ubuntu 12.04 desktop also offers a brilliant selection of wallpapers that should leave users with warm and fuzzy feelings. The majority of the available selection consists of high quality photography, more wallpapers can easily be added from the user interface.
The default Ubuntu wallpaper has only received a small color and lighting adjustment which is only noticeable under close inspection. There is a new Precise Pangolin wallpaper, and my favorite, the wall filled with graffiti.
Artists Or Photographers?
It seems many distributions are picking up on the trend of using photography in place of wallpaper artwork. It is nice to have a bit of a change, but I find that having a selection of weeds and flowers to choose from rather displeasing. Please tell me that I am not the only one.
Ubuntu 12.04 Networking
Big changes to DNS resolving in Ubuntu 12.04. No more manual changes to resolve.conf, DHCP hooks will now be used along with a network manager plugin and /etc/network/interfaces. Together these tools will automatically generate a domain and a list of name servers which will then be stored in /etc/resolve.conf.
Dnsmasq As Local Server
Your default DNS server address will now be 127.0.0.1, this will be directed to a dnsmasq server which is handled by the network manager. What does all of this mean? Faster VPN connections for users like me who take advantage of the increased privacy.
Ubuntu 12.04 Synopsis
Now let's get down to it and see some more fun details about Ubuntu 12.04. This has been a far more satisfying run than the previous Unity releases, for that I am grateful. This version is certainly closer to the usual Ubuntu standards, but still lacking a few fine points in the way of customization in my opinion. The settings manager is still quite barren for example. And I see no need to resort to 3-6 different tools just to customize my desktop.
Who Should Use Ubuntu 12.04?
Almost anyone can handle the Ubuntu 12.04 user experience, the interface is simple and convenient, perfect for newer users. For all Ubuntu lovers out there, 12.04 is definitely worth the download. More advanced users may prefer something that leaves them feeling more at home. Unity seems to simply get in my way, offering nothing that I want. With most desktops even newer Linux users can easily switch unwanted components for others that they may prefer. Everything being integrated does not leave users with very many convenient options. Unity is the Nazi of the Linux world in my opinion. I still have much love for Ubuntu but I wouldn't touch Unity from across the room with a wireless mouse!
What About Performance?
It seems that everyone is currently buzzing about the performance increases offered in this release, which I have certainly noticed myself. Still a few bugs to kill in coming updates, but this is certainly the LTS release that you will want to stick with for the time being. Installing from scratch is highly recommended, upgrading has left many of my systems with minor bugs. Software installation and package upgrades should also be pushing higher speeds, though I have not exactly noticed the experience myself.