Mutant World

Friday, April 29, 2011

Natty Narwhal's Unity is not for me yet

I have upgraded to Natty and I am trying out Unity, but I am afraid I am not the right user for it.

Unity does not seem to be designed for power users like me (which is fine), but unfortunately it is not yet flexible enough to support both casual users and power users like me.

The new user interface is clean and polished, but did not impress me much, visually (not after wobbly windows and the desktop cubes). It's a couple of panels of which one autohides.
And a big step back on the user interface of available applets (see below).

What I miss most is the lack of applets support, as I often glance at the CPU, network and disk I/O indicators; and the lack of the windows list, as I often glance there to see what I am running.

For example, how do I know if I am running XChat so that colleagues can contact me ?
Previously, a glance to the windows list was enough; now I have to alt+tab or, if I have a maximized window (which is often the case), make the launcher visible (move mouse there, wait). Both are way slower than a glance. You need to operate instead of just glancing.

As another example, I often run a "server" terminal and a "client" terminal, and I know that the server comes before the client in the windows list. A glance at the windows list is again enough to tell which terminal is what. Not possible with Unity.

Compiz Config Settings Manager allows to fine tune the configuration of various effects, but sometimes it's just too sparse.
For example, alt+tab has a popup delay of 200 ms (it's a lot for a me... I started thinking my computer had become slower with the upgrade to Natty). Where is that settings ? In "Effects" ? In "Static Application Switcher" ? Somewhere else ?
You need to navigate CCSM and find it, and decrypt the various configuration options (for example, can anyone tell me what is the "timestep" option of the switcher ?)

Firefox allows you to create "application tabs" that have a small icon to represent a page. If you want to go to one of those tabs, you need to be precise in clicking it (because it's small).
If you have Firefox maximized, the first application tab (GMail in my case) is dangerously close to both Unity's home button and Unity's launcher; if you are few pixel off and hover on the home button, the launcher starts to reveal, but by doing so it will partially cover Firefox first application tab; few pixels off on the left border, and the launcher appears, covering again Firefox first application tab.

Multi instance applications like Gnome's Terminal cannot be easily instantiated from Unity's launcher: you can do that easily for the first instance, but trying to open a second Terminal in the same way brings you to the first Terminal. I think the principle of least surprise is violated here (or to say it less politely, WTF ?!).
Double clicking on the icon reveals all instances, and right clicking shows a menu that does not have an entry that allows to create a new instance.

And yes, I do know that I can configure Unity and Compiz, I also know that Terminal has a special Unity keyboard accelerator, but the accelerator does not work if you have a maximized application focused (it will be interpreted by the application, not by Unity).
It's just that Unity is more complicated than the classic mode, and less customizable.

Most of the applets for the Unity panel are a step back, especially the Time/Location applet (no icons, no solar light projection on Earth), and the Configure Display applet. The latter does not ask you anymore if you want to use the proprietary driver tool instead... now how do I find the proprietary tool ?
Exploring Unity's launcher is no help (in which category could they have put it ?) until you type "nvidia" in Unity's dash (and you start thinking "thank god it had 'nvidia' in the name, otherwise I'd be seriously screwed in finding it").
And I am the guy that knows its video card is an NVidia one, otherwise, well...

The visual cue for notifications is a (really) small triangle in the top left corner.
You can't tell if it was a Skype notification, XChat notification or something else, it's one cue for all, and you need to click on it to figure out which notifications.
Before, the windows list gave different cues for different application, and a glance was enough to figure out which notifications.

All in all, I am disappointed even if I set my expectations really low.
I will give Unity a bit more time, but I am resisting the urge to switch back to the classic mode.

I really hope that the classic mode will not be removed, or at least I hope that Unity will improve so much that will be more friendly and configurable for power users as well (or for me at least - but I am guessing I am not the only one).

I personally care about number of eye glances, number of mouse clicks and number of switches between keyboard and mouse of my hand. I would like all of them to be reduced at minimum and right now Unity forces me to a lot more effort to get the same things done, so it's a (big) step back.