Ubuntu usability is significantly decreased with Unity

Sean McNamara smcnam at gmail.com
Thu Dec 29 01:09:43 UTC 2011


On Wed, Dec 28, 2011 at 6:55 PM, Nenad <nenad_lecek at yahoo.com> wrote:
> On 12/28/2011 09:38 PM, Jo-Erlend Schinstad wrote:
>> Den 28. des. 2011 20:40, skrev Nenad Lecek:
>>> Dear all,
>>> as I don't know where to put my comments about Ubuntu 11.10 usability,
>>> I'm posting here. My apologies if this is not the right place, and I'd
>>> be grateful if you point me where to post my comment.
>> This list is ok to use for discussions about the desktop, but you should
>> back up your claims with facts. It is not a fact that Unity doesn't
>> serve users well. It serves me well, for instance. Claiming that Ubuntu
>> is no longer user friendly because you don't like one of the
>> applications it provides, is pure nonsense.
> well, I'm using Ubuntu 11.10 and found really annoying to use Unity.
> Open several windows (e.g. Netbeans, firefox, nautilus and gitk and try to
> work efficiently with menus of each application, minimize/maximize window,
> etc., Unity is just driving me crazy. It is simply unnatural. In case the
> Unity is just one application that is seldom used, and not the central one,
> you won't get my comments for sure.

Please remember that the definition of "natural" depends on what each
user is expecting, what they're used to in prior computing experience,

Unfortunately, Canonical and other organizations have done user
studies on the Gnome2 interface with people who aren't familiar with
computers _at all_, and found that Gnome2 is extremely
counter-intuitive for them, and takes a long time to learn. So as you
can see, every desktop you could possibly design will be unnatural for
_someone_. Not even the most intelligent User Interface researchers
have found a way to objectively define "natural" in a way that it's
true for all human beings. Your own words serve to prove the point:
although Canonical made their best effort to make Unity natural for a
lot of people, and at least tolerable for almost everyone else, there
are still going to be people who absolutely abhor it. (Self included.)

Although I just admitted that I hate Unity in terms of its actual
usability from *my* personal point of view, you might be surprised to
hear that I don't think it should be replaced as the default desktop
on Ubuntu! I think it should stay for the following reasons:

1. It makes Ubuntu unique. A distro that doesn't stand out is far less
likely to receive user loyalty and an above-average level of users,
because users will be able to have an equivalent experience elsewhere.
Sure, you run the risk of alienating users for being different; but
that's OK as long as the number of alienated users is very low.
2. I'm fairly confident that Canonical has done extensive usability
studies on new users (their main target market) and found that people
in the poor computer literacy category find it better than Gnome 2, if
not downright enjoyable. New users are the best opportunity for
Canonical, because they don't already have a ton of programs that only
run on Windows or Mac that a more experienced user would naturally
refuse to part with.
3. It's already there. Going back to Gnome would make Canonical the
laughing stock of the internet, for investing tons of money in a new
desktop, and then giving up on it and going back to the primarily Red
Hat and Novell-funded GNOME panel. Being "wishy-washy" is NOT a good
way to inspire confidence among the technically elite, who you
absolutely must have on your side to be successful (as some criminal
once said, "Developers, developers, developers...").
4. It makes the distro choice completely obvious for those accustomed
to Gnome2. I have to thank Unity for making me try other Linux distros
instead of being satisfied with Ubuntu. I am completely happy with
Fedora, and have no intention of looking back. If Ubuntu had made it
blindingly easy for me to click a "Gnome Panel" radio button at
install-time, I might have never consciously thought that Ubuntu's
ability to satisfy my needs has reached unacceptable levels, and I
might not have discovered the awesome that is Fedora 16. I consider
that as Unity being helpful in its own way. ;)
5. Everyone at Canonical uses it to do development every day, so
clearly it is very productive for developers and power users. ;)

OK, so some of those are expressing my own frustrations in a
satirical, tongue-in-cheek manner. Sorry if I stepped on any toes. I
really actually like Canonical as a company, and have pleasantly done
commercial business with them in the past. In fact, I think LaunchPad
is an amazing piece of software, and I use it regularly for my own
open source projects. I prefer Bazaar over almost any other version
control system (except Git, but there's no shame in losing out to
Linus Torvalds!). PPAs are a remarkable and easy to handle way for
distributing binaries. Canonical has had lots of great ideas and has
executed some of them extremely well! :)

But not Unity -- not for me. So because I didn't have the patience to
go back and fix Ubuntu to work like I expect a distro to
out-of-the-box, I simply installed a distro that _does_ work precisely
as I expect out of the box. And suddenly I felt at peace and didn't
need to complain to Canonical or anything.

BTW, there is an alternative gnome2 menu extension for GNOME Panel
(not sure if it's been ported to Gnome3 yet, though) which lets you
search for programs and files, similarly to Unity or KDE4. OpenSUSE
has it installed by default, and I think so does Mageia. Fedora
doesn't, but I didn't need it so it doesn't bother me. I'm sure you
can dig up how to obtain it if you google.

As far as actually constructive suggestions for Canonical / "the Unity
team" (let's face it, they are >= 85% one in the same), I think these
features would help users like Nenad who try Ubuntu in the future:
1. In the desktop Live CD installer, sneak in a checkbox hidden under
an "Advanced" arrow at the bottom of a window, or something like that,
to enable classic gnome-panel mode as the default shell, regardless of
whether the user has 3d acceleration or not. Then, at least, you could
silence comments of "Unity can't be removed!" by retorting, "You
missed the Advanced menu in the installer, silly!" -- users are simply
much more likely to react with an "Oh.... sorry" to that, rather than
the current method for replacing Unity with gnome-classic. Also, if
that classic checkbox in the installer IS checked, be sure to disable
global menus and restore classic scrollbars instead of the pop-up
hovering outside the window! The reason to perform all of these
actions in response to a single checkbox is that >99.99999% of the
users who will check that checkbox are the same ones who DON'T want
global menus, and DO want classic scrollbars.

Of course, I'm expecting the reason for being unable to do this would
be some subset of the following counter-arguments:
1(a). Live CD space limitations. Can't fit gnome-panel in 700MB, or
can't fit the code for the added functionality, or both.
1(b). UI "clutter". Also takes the form of the following: Asking
questions is bad; giving users a choice is bad; letting users know
that there is possibly some reason why not everyone would want to use
Unity is bad; every user wants to feel like THEY are "advanced" so
users who have no idea will click the checkbox; etc. Yeah, yeah. I
can't argue against these kinds of backwards design philosophy; I can
only express my disagreement.
1(c). Lack of developer manpower. Also takes the form of: more
complexity adds more bugs; too late to add features to this release;
and so on. I can kind of understand this one, but if this is the only
counter-argument, I'd fully expect the feature to be implemented in
the following release, or at least scheduled for implementation at
some point in the future.

2. Hmm... there is no 2! At least, I can't think of one right now.
Adding a front-and-center option at install-time for going back to the
classic UI (basically how it was in 10.04 LTS) would be most
excellent, and would address the larger portion of gray-beard
objections to Unity.

I don't think I really answered your question, and I kind of wavered
from the main topic, but hopefully you'll take away from this the
following TL;DR points:

1. Gnome2 (don't know about Gnome3) already has a third-party
extension for adding a search bar to the menu. Google it.
2. It's already easy to revert to classic gnome UI in Ubuntu, and you
can find the information posted prominently on ubuntu forums (among
other places). But it could be easier if they'd make an option at
3. They probably *won't* make an option for the reasons I cited. Yes,
I'm a bit cynical, especially when it comes to asking Canonical to add
complexity  to end-user screens ;)
4. Don't want the hassle of undoing Unity? I'm 99% sure that one of
OpenSUSE | Fedora | Ubuntu 10.04 | RHEL 6 | Debian Stable would suit
you extremely well.

And that's about it. So from one Unity-hater to another, I wish you
the best of luck, Nenad. And Canonical, I earnestly hope you guys are
successful at targeting the end-user segment, because Launchpad is too
useful to lose. I just hope you guys know what you're doing... ;)


P.S. -- I continue to support the software I develop on Ubuntu, even
though I don't use it personally. It installs well enough in a virtual
machine. So from my perspective, you haven't totally lost the
"developers, developers, developers" war, although having me use
another desktop day-to-day is certainly at least a lost _battle_...

>>> Some reasons are explained below. This is not a full list, just the
>>> key points.
>>> 1) Appearing/disappearing left side toolbar doesn't bring anything
>>> compared to Gnome Classic Ubuntu desktop and menu. Why? Simply put if
>>> you know that you have couple of menus where you programs are, this is
>>> much better/faster than unnecessary dynamic/uncertainty which Unity
>>> provides. BTW, Classic gnome desktop we had in previous Ubuntu
>>> versions was really well structured. Unity doesn't provide that.
>>> Personally, I do not see the point of promoting Unity as the only
>>> desktop on Ubuntu, because classic gnome desktop was well structured
>>> and good enough. Eventually, only search capability like in Unity
>>> could have been added, although this functionality in Unity is far
>>> from good, currently is just minor convenience.
>> Promoting Unity as the only desktop in Ubuntu would be a lie. Who is
>> doing that? The idea that "classic gnome desktop", which is called Gnome
>> Panel, by the way, is no longer available in Ubuntu, is a misconception.
>> It's still there.
> I do not see where to choose Gnome Panel. Again, I'm using Ubuntu 11.10. If
> I could remove Unity from my desktop and put Gnome panel instead fine with
> me. But, because is far from obvious where&how to do it, you have my
> comments.
>>> 2) The application menu is shown in main menu toolbar. This is
>>> annoying at best, and from usability point of view very it is a really
>>> poor choice. Why is considered good to force the user to search where
>>> the menu for her/his application is.
>> You're claiming that you now have to search for the menu because it's
>> always at the same place? That doesn't make sense to me. In any case,
>> you can disable the global menu if you prefer it that way.
> Try to work in parallel with few GUI applications mentioned above and you
> may get idea that global application menu could be really annoying. How to
> disable it is not clear to me. All I wanted is that application window which
> I'm working with has own menu. No need to look around which app has focus
> and which menu I have now in global menu.
>>> 3) Performance consideration: seems so that Unity eats performance and
>>> batteries on laptops. Again, no value in service it provides in return.
>> Of all the components in Ubuntu, you just assume that Unity somehow
>> reduces performance? Correlation does not imply causation. I see no
>> reason why Unity would impact performance in any way.
> You may open system monitor and see CPU usage for idle system. After upgrade
> to 11.10 my system user interface is significantly slower.
>>> 4) Search applications capability in Unity is really poorly designed
>>> and of limited usage. In some cases, you almost have to know exact
>>> name so that application you are searching for could be found. In
>>> others searching application itself has confusing, complex user
>>> interface. This could have been done much better.
>> If you can do better, then do so, or at least explain how. You don't
>> even provide an example so that others can understand your problem.
> Consider the following from my previous post:
>>> For example, in case main menu taskbar of classic gnome desktop
>>> contains the short, google like edit line for entering search
>>> expression for finding application, the Unity will be completely
>>> unnecessary. Simple as that.
>>> Finally, my proposal is to return to classic gnome desktop as default
>>> Ubuntu desktop.
>>> In addition, if new fancy user interface is for whatever reason
>>> needed, one can keep improving alternative user interface designs
>>> until one of them reach maturity needed for such broad user base. And
>>> make it optional, not mandatory.
>> Unity has never been mandatory in Ubuntu. It's extremely unlikely that
>> it will ever be. Gnome Panel is still around if you want to improve it.
> I have impression that the Unity is mandatory, simply because I cannot find
> a way to switch back to Gnome Panel. So, if Gnome Panel is available in
> Ubuntu 11.10 and Unity is not mandatory, fine. And again, Unity was selected
> as a default option - bad choice, the user should have easier way to switch
> between Unity and Gnome Panel.
>>> For example, in case main menu taskbar of classic gnome desktop
>>> contains the short, google like edit line for entering search
>>> expression for finding application, the Unity will be completely
>>> unnecessary. Simple as that.
>> Google searches public information. Unity scopes searches your personal
>> information and online information. Completely different things. I would
>> not want to give Google direct access to my personal computer in order
>> to search for things. Unity is not primarily a look. It is primarily an
>> infrastructure that enables applications to connect to the system. Parts
>> of Unity is implemented for both Windows, LXDE and Xfce, for instance.
>> The components will look different in KDE and Xfce, since they're
>> different desktops.
> Well, please try to understand that I mentioned Google only regarding
> simplicity of user interface (open browser, go to page www.google.com,
> normally use edit line to enter search criteria and based on that get pretty
> good results). Ubuntu searches for application locally, but still can use
> similar, simple interface of one edit field to search for available apps
> (ideally this edit line has fixed place in top menu of Gnome Panel, instead
> of show/hide me game in Unity).
>> You seem to have many questions, but you formulate them as accusations
>> and unsubstantiated claims instead. It is not an effective way of
>> attaining information. In fact, you're reducing the likelihood that
>> people will be willing to help you.
> At least I've tried to explain and provide comments to developers in Ubuntu
> community, so that Ubuntu could be improved. If this is not wanted, well,
> feel free to ignore my (user) input.
> The Unity is simply not intuitive and doesn't solve any of my problems, just
> drive me crazy. Gnome Panel is just fine! With one small (and optional)
> improvement of Gnome panel, as explained above, everything is fine again. No
> need to reinvent the wheel.
>> Jo-Erlend Schinstad
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