A KDE user’s view of Unity – Day One

As most of my colleagues know, I am a KDE fan.  I love using Kubuntu, despite its lack of “official” attention from Canonical.

I’ve heard all this fuss about Unity and I’ve no real idea what it’s all about, so I thought I’d give it a try.  Today will be my first full day of using it (and the last for 2 weeks since I am heading out on vacation) and I will attempt to write up my experiences.  It’s a bit of a brain dump, but here follows day one!

First impressions

My initial impression is that it looks pretty slick, but not as pretty as KDE4.  I’m clicking around a bit to see what’s what and I’ve immediately noticed a few things that I will miss from KDE:

  • There doesn’t seem to be a way to put widgets on the panel – I want my CPU/MEM/SWAP meter! (Some time later I found “indicators” in the Software Centre, there’s a system load indicator, but after installing there’s no obvious way of using it)
  • I am used to ctrl-F<N> to switch virtual desktops, I can’t see a way of emulating that.  (Ok I found the setting an hour later, great)
I’m also not sure about the global menu thing, I’m finding it a lot more effort to mouse around to get to menus.
Right, so let’s try and configure things as I like them.  First, I am a focus-follows-mouse junkie (I first used X Windows in the early 1990s with twm!) so let’s poke around in the settings.  Hmmm, doesn’t seem like I can change that… Ok some quick Googling reveals I have to install a so-called compiz settings manager and run ccsm. Right, I can set it in there.  That’s bizarre that I have to install something to edit more settings!
Now, focus-follows-mouse  has also made the global menu even less desirable as it changes to whatever app I mouse through to get to it. Eugh.  (I realise this is a concious design decision by the Unity team, rather than a shortcoming though – doesn’t mean I have to like it!)

Visual differences

Ok so I’ve had some more time to get used to the layout now.  More thoughts:
  • The icons on the left have some weird triangles on them, some solid some not.  I’ve no idea what they mean, but I am sure I will find out at some point.
  • It seems like I have to run an application before I can add it to the left panel as a quick launcher (by setting “Keep in Launcher”)
  • The KDE file browser Dolphin is massively better than Nautilus (I’ll write more about that some other time)
  • The mail indicator is a nice idea at the top right, but it wants to use Evolution.  I don’t! How can I make it use kmail?
  • Having a music player integrated into the volume indicator is a nice touch. I’d like to use Amarok though; it lists it but there’s no controls for it.
  • Clicking on the time indicator shows a calendar, like KDE.  I suspect I can’t use an arbitrary calendar app though, it seems tied to evolution.
  • The logout button shows a load of seemingly arbitrary menu items. Odd.

Interaction

As a KDE user I love krunner (a bit like Gnome-Do). So one my reactions is to hit alt-f2 when I want to run something.  I see that it starts up a smiliar dialog as hitting the button at the top left.  I started typing the name of the program I wanted to run, “kmail”, and it found it quickly.  I hit “enter” to run it but nothing happened.  I noticed that the kmail icon was not on the list of icons found any more!  I then noticed that if I backspace my input one character, so it says “kmai”, then the kmail icon appears again.  This must be a bug I guess.
I decided to have a play with the menu system a bit.  It seems a bit more work to find stuff than simply mousing around the K menu but I’ll keep trying it out and see how I get on.  My initial impression is that it needs some work though as it feels as though it’s trying to hide results for no reason until you click on “See N more results →”.  I don’t understand why it doesn’t put a scroll bar up and show everything right away, I’m sure this would be quicker to navigate.
Dealing with windows:
  • The window controls have moved to the opposite corner.  Not a problem, but hard to get used to.
  • alt-tab selects windows that are not on the current virtual desktop.  This is *really* annoying :(
The final point to note today is that there appears to be no way to save my session and have it restored at login.  This is a feature I rely on extremely heavily in KDE and I am really sad to see it not available in Unity.
I hope to write ongoing reports over the next week or so.  I am actually away on holiday so it will be sporadic, but I’m sure I will find some moments.
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4 thoughts on “A KDE user’s view of Unity – Day One

  1. How brave of you to step out and try something new! Unfortunately I can see your endeavour failing in the sense that you will not come to terms with Unity. And you are not alone with that. The reason is that you are trying to customize it to work the way you are used to instead of letting yourself in on the Unity way. Ever tried to change the look-and feel of a Windows desktop? There is not much to change without using “power tools”, just like you had to do with Unity. But that (Windows desktop) is what Unity (and in fact Ubuntu) is set to compete with,it is not competing with KDE. So Unity will always loose when being compared to KDE, Gnome Shell and LXDE in terms of configurability and software selection but wins when compared to Windows and OSX in terms of openness and simplicity. That is the way Ubuntu has been going ever since bug #1 was filed.

    See Mark’s comments here: http://pad.lv/882274

    Cheers,
    Henning

  2. The previous comments make some false assumptions. Re #1, you are assuming all Unity users are coming from Windows. You know that is not true for all the existing users prior to Natty. Existing *buntu users (and other distros) will compare Unity to their old DE.

    Re #2, You are assuming that different in Unity is equal. That is not true. Many changes decreased usability and for some power users, especially people who have multiple monitors and virtual desktops, may find Unity to be unusable. Do not compare usable but different with unusable and then say that people are not open to change.

  3. I agree on both counts. I am not arguing that bigjools or anybody else is not open to change. I am saying that if Unity is hindering your work style it may simply not be for you. I was simply making the point why Ubuntu is being steered that way – to compete with Windows and OS-X. Obviously, most current users will come from pre-Unity Ubuntu and I am sure Ubuntu will loose many of those – hopefully to Kubuntu, Lubuntu or Xubuntu, not to .

    BTW, the issues with multiple monitors and virtual desktops are annoying me, too, but I consider them bugs that will eventually be fixed. May I am wrong, though … ;-)

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