Ubuntu 11.04 Natty First Thoughts

This weekend, I finally installed an Ubuntu release close to its release date.  This is probably the closest I have ever gotten it done!  So, here are my first thoughts after using it two work days.

The Install

The install went very well for me.  I have a Broadcom wireless card, which has given me problems in the past.  I was expecting to need to plug it into the wired network to get it to work.  I chose to install rather than use the try Ubuntu mode.  At first, the network indicator said that hardware drivers were not enabled and I could not connect.  I went ahead and told it to download updates as it installed knowing it would not be able to.  Then, I checked part way through copying the files and found that I could connect.  Once booted, I only had a couple of updates available in Update Manager so I am wondering if it actually did download them as it installed.  Also, the wireless was just working without me having to do anything after the install!

What I liked

First, it was new.  I like new features and new software — this definitely had the new feeling.  Unity is definitely different (in a good way).

I like the dash and the way the features comparable to gnome-do are built right into the interface.  The desktop interface is pretty light, yet I can quickly open the apps I want.

I like the way the launcher is on the left.  I have a wide screen laptop, and it probably makes more sense to use up the width rather than the height for the launcher.  Also, I like that it auto-hides when I have windows that use up the entire width of the screen, but otherwise, it always displays.

Notification Area

One issue I had was with a couple of applications that normally show icons in the notification area: Shutter and Gnome-RDP.  Shutter mentioned that it was waiting on a Perl interface to do the notifications, but I think I read about a fix that I will have to follow up with.

What surprised me is that I had a couple of other applications that were able to use the notification area.  Skype worked just fine.  Also, I have an application I wrote myself that worked with no problems: Project Sarah.


I usually use RDesktop not in full screen mode, but in a window that fills up the screen.  This makes it easy to switch between the remote desktop and the local.  I can also drag the window around if I need to see part of the remote and my desktop at the same time.

Unfortunately, Unity takes all the decorations off RDesktop now, and I can’t reposition the window.  That was a little frustrating.

Dual Screen Issues

I liked the fact that Ubuntu seemed to autodetect when I unplugged my external monitor.  It automatically switched back to single screen mode.

The problem is that I couldn’t see anything on the external screen.  The clock displayed with everything on the top, but below that was black.  I could drag windows across to the screen, and they would just disappear.  When I set it to mirror, both screens looked fine and everything worked as planned.

I also had trouble with my Java application crashing with a bizarre error.  When I didn’t have the external monitor connected, it worked fine.  I have typically been able to solve that problem by installing the Sun JDK as opposed to the OpenJDK.  I need to work through installing the Sun JDK, and that might do the trick.

Various Usability Issues

For the most part, I liked the launcher and the new interface, but there were a few things I have to get used to.  For example, in the old Gnome interface, I could minimize a window from the task bar by clicking on it after it is already active.  That doesn’t seem to work in Unity.

Also, I had trouble installing new custom menus.  I wanted to create a menu item for my Java programs that I wrote.  I also usually create a menu item for the different Eclipse profiles.  Before, I would right click on the Applications Menu and choose Edit Menu.  Now, it took me a bit to learn that I had to open the “Main Menu” application from the Dash.

Then, once I added the menus, they didn’t show up when I searched from the Dash until after I rebooted.  There’s got to be an easier way to add applications to the list or at least a way to reindex without rebooting.  I’ll follow up when I find it.

One more thing I noticed.  Most of the time I use the keyboard to launch applications (before Unity with Gnome-Do).  But, every once in a while my hand is already on the mouse, and I would rather use that.  Or, maybe I can’t quite remember the name of the program I want to open (hey, I am getting older).  Maybe I just need to get used to the new interface, but the Applications menu seemed a little easier for the mouse.


Previously, I could go to the Applications Menu to find all the different programs to change settings.  At first, I had trouble figuring out where I could go.  I wanted to see if there where any new settings.

Well, I found the Gnome-Control-Center in the power menu.  Instead of rebooting, you can go to “System Settings”.


All in all, I am really excited about my new Ubuntu and Unity.  I will have to blog some more as I get past the issues in case you are going through them too.


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