Gnome vs. Unity

Until now I was using to the old, stable Lucid and Gnome 2 on all my computers. But I recently installed Precise on my new Dell Latitude E6530 laptop. What a shock! How could so much things change in just two years?

My first impressions with Unity are quite mixed. It is unsettling: no task bar, this dock à la Mac, these ugly dark colors…

Clearly it is a good move, I'm already getting used to it. I like the optimization of the vertical space (that gets so scarce and precious with wide screens) with the dock to the side (I had already done so several years ago with Gnome 2's tasks bar on my laptop, only on the right). I love the dash, even though some programs are still missing and it is not obvious how to add a command there. It is wonderful to launch applications without the mouse.

On the dark side, I don't like the lack of customization (well, in fact it is possible but you have to do a lot of research over the Internet and edit a lot of text files), and I still really miss the task bar (it is tedious to switch between a lot of windows with the launcher). More virtual desktops won't solve the problem, and in addition they are less accessible than they used to be (you need two clicks rather than one, and I couldn't find how to drag and drop windows easily to another desktop, you need to right-click on the title bar and select an action… awfully tedious). The merge of the panel with menu and title bars makes is a bit clumsy and the reaction is quite unpredictable, at least in the beginning. But I think Unity's way is globally more efficient, once you are used to it (and it doesn't get that long).

Out of pure curiosity, I installed and tested Gnome 3. Maybe it could be even better? Its development went quite the same way than Unity: the dash, the launcher (hidden by default), the panel. The activities is a wonderful thing, I wish it would be the same in Unity. But I won't stay with it, next login will be with Unity. Here is why.

  1. Maybe the most striking difference is the use of vertical space. In Unity the title and menu bars are merged with the panel. In Gnome 3 all this stuff takes 55 more pixels, that is 5% of my screen!It could be OK with a large desktop screen, but on a laptop it is definitely an unacceptable waste.
  2. Shell extensions sound good, but the website is so slow! Why do we need a remote control over the desktop? I'm suspecting that there are potential security issues too.
  3. I don't like the lack of a task bar. I already said that. But the hidden dock makes it even worse. To switch between windows you either need to open the activities and select your window, or to use Alt + Tab. It is terminally impossible to quickly switch from one window to another when you have more than two windows open on your desktop.

It's a pity, because the activities window is absolutely amazing!

Xavier Robin
Published Tuesday, July 31, 2012 20:59 CEST
Permalink: /blog/2012/07/31/gnome-vs.-unity
Tags: Ubuntu
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