Ubuntu makeover paying off

Clearly nothing happens overnight. More than two years ago, Ubuntu chief Mark Shuttleworth went out on a limb and said that his ambition was to make the Ubuntu desktop better than Apple’s famously good-looking desktop.

Over the next couple of releases small changes were made to the interface of Ubuntu, some popular and some not so popular. And then in Ubuntu 10.04, released in April this year, a new theme was introduced and slowly the changes started to flow.

Ubuntu may not yet have a better interface than Mac OS X (depending on your perspective) but it looks like the many changes that have been made, and many others still being added in time for the next Ubuntu release, are showing signs that the interface changes are paying off.

Ahead of the Ubuntu 10.04 release a number of major changes were made to the Ubuntu desktop including the new theme and the much-debated switching of the window control buttons to the left of open windows. But also the Ayatana Project was launched, along with Canonical Design, both of which focused in on the user experience of Ubuntu.

The forthcoming Ubuntu 10.10 release will incorporate many of these new interface changes.

Installer

One of the areas in which Ubuntu 10.10 has significant improvements is in the Installer. For version 10.10 the installer has had a makeover, which makes it more attractive and less intimidating for first-time users. The installer now also adds options to include non-free software (such as audio and video codecs) during the installation instead of waiting until the user tries to play a video and then telling them they have to install additional software.

The hard drive partitioning portion of the installer has also been made easier on the eye. Most first-time users will want to install Ubuntu alongside Windows rather than over it. The much-needed partition overhaul recognises this and makes it more understandable for inexperienced users to do this.

Audio

Audio has been a perennial problem in Ubuntu and Linux in general. But with the release of 10.04, many of the annoying audio glitches were ironed out.

Now the focus from the Ubuntu developers is on improving the way sound events are controlled on the desktop.

The audio menubar item now has additional features, including the ability to view currently playing songs, start, stop and skip tracks through the menubar item and, even, include cover art in the drop-down menu.

The audio menubar item also gives access to settings to control audio for each application currently running.

The Me Menu

The Me Menu, housed in the top-right notification area, was introduced in Ubuntu 10.04 and the idea was to integrate all popular social networks into one application. By adding social networks to the Me Menu users can post status updates, receive messages and be notified of incoming IM messages.

The Me Menu is still not perfect but it is starting to take shape. It integrates with social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Status.Net as well as Instant Messaging and chat services such as Jabber and Google Chat.

In the most part this works well, although setting up accounts is not as straight forward as it should be.

Multi-touch

Ubuntu has also added multi-touch capabilities to the forthcoming release of Ubuntu. Not everyone will be able to use this feature yet but for the growing tablet PC market it is an important addition.

Called uTouch, the multi-touch features are meant to go beyond simply being a way of adding touch input. Shuttleworth says that uTouch is the start of a “touch language” in which gestures can be linked together to create more complex actions. It’s clearly still early days for uTouch but it is one of the features that holds significant promise for Ubuntu’s future.

Ubuntu 10.10 is currently available in beta form and a final release is expected to be released on October 10.

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Ubuntu makeover paying off