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Canonical Ubuntu 11.04 review

Our Rating :

Faster and easier to use than its predecessors, this is the best version of Ubuntu yet

Ubuntu 11.04, codenamed Natty Narwhal, is one of the biggest changes that the OS has seen in good couple of years. For this version, Canonical has completely overhauled the user interface to use what the company calls the Unity UI.

If you’ve played with Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Edition, you’ll have already seen a large part of Unity in action. This time around, Unity is the default UI of a single consumer edition of the OS, with no dedicated Netbook Edition. If you find that you don’t like Unity, it’s possible to switch back to Ubuntu Classic if you miss the old interface.

The biggest change that Unity brings is to ditch the old Taskbar. It’s a good move, as having this and the title bar at the top of the screen cut down desktop space, which was particularly noticeable on low-resolution screens, such as those used by netbooks.

Instead, Ubuntu now has the Launcher, which is a dock appears at the side of the screen. It’s always visible unless you maximise an application, in which case the Launcher disappears out of view until you move the mouse cursor to the left of the screen. It’s possible to configure the Launcher to only reappear if you move the mouse to the top-left of the screen, but that’s the limit of customisation, sadly. We’d have liked to have been able to move the Launcher to the bottom or right-hand side.

Canonical Ubuntu 11.04 desktop

The Launcher is a kind of combination short-cut and task bar. By default there’s a set of applications pinned to it, including the Software Centre, Ubuntu One and Libre Office applications. When you click one the application is launched, and a white arrow appears next to it. The number of arrows to the left of an icon denotes how many windows that application has open; click these arrows and all of the open Windows are displayed on screen in a Mac OS X Expose-style, so you can jump to the one that you want.

New applications appear in the Launcher when they’re started. If you want to keep one on view for quick-access, you can simply right-click it and select Keep in Launcher. Once the Launcher starts getting too crowded, icons fold over so that you can fit all of your open apps on to a single screen without having to scroll through a massive list. It works really well and is certainly neater than the old taskbar, which was starting to look a bit dated.

Some program icons also have additional features when you right-click them. Firefox, for example, lets you Open a new Window. The range of options available depends entirely on the application, so it’s worth experimenting.

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