As you can probably tell, I’ve been a fairly ardent supporter of Ubuntu Linux for several years now. I run it on all my machines here at home, and on several machines at work, including my primary workstation, a Lenovo X201 laptop.
It’s served me really well; every six months a new release has brought me a better, more reliable alternative to Microsoft’s Windows, with better support for my hardware, better pre-installed applications, and better usability.
It’s been so good that I’ve been able to eschew the IBM standard Windows software stack, and avoid the rather slow-to-evolve Redhat-based desktop that IBM has been promoting amongst it’s more technical community. Living on the bleeding edge with Ubuntu has been surprisingly easy.
Sadly, with the last couple of releases, that has been changing. Ubuntu seems to be going it’s own way, with a new graphical user interface (GUI) called Unity. Adopting it seems to have involved a lot of changes for changes sake. We’ve suddenly had the window controls moved from the right to the left. Now the window controls aren’t on the window at all – they’re on the top panel. And it’s design looks like something designed by a 6-year old with a set of crayons.
It might work well for people on a touchscreen netbook or smartphone who want to do nothing more challenging than check their email, but on my laptop, which is often docked to multiple high-resolution monitors, where I want to have a couple of dozen windows open at once, well, frankly it’s an unproductive mess.
I’ve tried to change my way of working. To adapt. But it just isn’t possible to do what I need productively. It just doesn’t work. I’ve also tried Gnome Shell, which is the other readily available GUI in Ubuntu 11.10. And it’s just as bad, probably because it’s very similar to Unity.
So with a heavy heart I’m getting ready to move on. The trouble is, what to? Gnome and KDE are both mired in the same “innovative new desktop metaphor” game as Unity. Which only leaves me with some of the niche desktop environments like LXDE, XFCE, CDE or maybe even Enlightenment. LXDE or XFCE are my most likely choices – they’re both similar to the old Gnome 2 desktop in ethos, but nowhere near as polished in their implementation.
Or my other option is switch back to Microsoft Windows 7, or to move on to Apple.
It’s not my preferred option, but I need my computer to work. It’s a tool, not a philosophical or religious debate; I need to be productive, to satisfy my customers, to earn money to pay the bills.