I’ve been using Linux for about 10 years. I’ve used over 50 different distros and derivatives. I’ve been the masochist who wanted to learn the inner workings all the way from Gentoo builds, custom kernels and maintaining my own package repository. Around a year or two ago, the threshold of doing all of this extra customized work became less rewarding as Ubuntu had finally emerged as a consistent and stable, yet evolving distribution. The latest instalment of Ubuntu, brings all of that into question.
Ubuntu 11.04 is getting very mixed reviews and primarily because of Canonical’s decision to go with Unity which has been used on their netbook version but is now making its way to the desktop. My laptop has been my testing ground for the newer Ubuntu versions of the past few years. Much like any other time, I upgraded to the development version (this time I held off till Alpha 3). Unlike the previous early preview experiences, Unity was a major difference. I can tolerate instability including kernel panics as a by product of being an early adopter, but Unity was a whole different story. I used it for 3 weeks and tried to get used to it, but it just didn’t suit me.
After deciding that I would probably never be able to use Unity on a day to day basis and considering, I was already on a beta version of Natty at this point, I decided I would give Gnome 3 a try. Despite being a bit reluctant after my Unity experience, I dove into Gnome 3 anyway. What I found was a robust, logical, aesthetically pleasing and flashy desktop experience. Granted, Gnome 3 is not perfected and I am using the PPA which is getting updated often. I truly believe that Gnome 3 will be the desktop environment of the future. It would probably have been a better idea to stick with Gnome 2 for 11.04 and then try for Gnome 3 for 11.10.
Natty seems to be the most lacklustre Ubuntu release in many years. So who is to blame? There are claims that performance is between 10 and 26% slower on Natty. The particular kernel version was blamed for this. Unity has received some blame as well for the tepid enthusiasm for Ubuntu 11.04. Ultimately, while Canonical doesn’t manufacture the software packages itself, it is still their decision as a company how to put together the finished product. While I don’t think Ubuntu 11.04 is a disaster, it definitely seems like it will quiet Ubuntu evangelists like myself from recommending it to new users. I would still recommend Ubuntu, but I would have to go with 10.10. The trouble with recommending a previous version is that the Ubuntu website not only links to Natty but also has screenshots and information showing Unity which could be a detraction.