Ubuntu Unity 22.04 is out, and it’s better than ever. This throwback to the glory days of Canonical’s internal desktop could easily take over your everyday driver as your Linux distribution of choice.
I have a confession to make. When Canonical created its own desktop called Unity, I felt it was hands down the best desktop environment on the market. Not only was it beautifully designed, but it was also one of the most efficient and productive user interfaces out there. The Head-Up Display, the powerful search function and the highly configurable dashboard allowed me to work with an efficiency that I had not experienced before.
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But then Canonical did the unthinkable and jettisoned that desktop (and all the work the developers put into it) and returned to GNOME. Since then I feel like Canonical made a big mistake by dropping Unity. Fortunately, since this is open-source, a fork of the Unity Desktop was born in the form of a full distribution (called Ubuntu unit) and is still under development. While it’s not quite the same Unity it was in its Canonical heyday (no HUD connected to application menus), it’s still a fantastic desktop.
Let’s see what Ubuntu Unity 22.04 has in store for you.
First, you can download the ISO for Ubuntu Unity from the official download page† I highly recommend deploying this as a virtual machine initially. If the distribution fits your needs, you can then install it on bare metal and enjoy the Unity desktop as your daily driver.
My first impressions of Ubuntu Unity 22.04
When installing and logging into Ubuntu Unity for the first time, my immediate impression is that of nostalgia. Aside from the color scheme and wallpaper, this looks exactly like the Ubuntu desktop of yesteryear that I loved so much (Image A†
This impression really comes through once you click on the menu button in the top left corner. Once the Dash is open (Figure B), you’ll see what looks almost exactly like Unity when it was enjoying its heyday.
One thing I appreciated about the Unity Dash is that it allowed me to get very granular with my searches. You can enable/disable different categories and sources for your searches. If you only want to search for applications, make sure Applications is the only option selected under Categories. If you just want to search for files and folders… ditto.
That’s not to say that everything works perfectly. As with the original Unity, sometimes the search just won’t find any files on your system. If I remember (back in the day) the problem with this issue had to do with the zeitgeist and whether you actually opened a file. Here’s an illustration:
- Open a terminal window and issue the command tap ~/Documents/TechRepublic†
- Close the terminal window.
- Open the Dash and search for the TechRepublic file.
The search results will return nothing. However, do the following:
- Open LibreOffice.
- Open the TechRepublic file.
- Add some text to the file.
- Save the file in ODT format.
- Close the file.
Now when you search for the TechRepublic file in the Dash, it will show up in the results (Figure C†
This was just one aspect of why Unity was such an efficient desktop. Of course, it’s not that other desktops don’t have such features, but Unity always did better (and looked better). Fortunately, Ubuntu Unity nailed this feature.
The Missing Piece
The only feature of Ubuntu Unity that I loved was the HUD (Head-Up Display). In effect, this integrated application menus into the Dash so that (while an app was open) you could press the Super key (aka the “Windows” key) and then search the app menus. For example, you opened LibreOffice and you want to center a line of text. Instead of selecting the text and then clicking Format | † clicking Align | Center, you can select the text, press the Super key, type Center and press Enter and the text will be centered. This makes it quite efficient, especially when an application had a large menu system making it challenging to find what you needed.
Unfortunately, not every application has taken advantage of this feature, and it seems that Ubuntu Unity has not integrated the HUD with application menus. That’s a shame, because it was definitely the best feature in the original Unity.
Still, Ubuntu Unity has added the global menu feature, meaning that application menus can be found in the top bar and not in the actual app window (much the same way macOS handles global menus).
One of the things the developers have done is disable some of the default GNOME apps for the ones that better suit the Unity UI. That list includes the following:
- Document viewer – linked with Atril
- Text editor – switched with Pluma
- Video Player – Switched with VLC
- Image Viewer-switched with EOM
- System monitor – switched with MATE system monitor
Other than that, the operating system (out of the box) includes the following:
- LibreOffice 18.104.22.168
- Firefox 99.0.1
- Eye of Mate
- Document scanner
- Disk Usage Analyzer
- Remmina Remote Desktop Client
- Unity Tweak Tool
And of course you can always install from thousands of applications using the included GNOME software.
Who is Ubuntu Unity for?
Anyone who enjoyed what Canonical did with the Ubuntu desktop before jumping back to GNOME will greatly appreciate what the developers behind this distribution are doing. If you like a desktop that creates an efficient and elegant workflow, this could become your favorite Linux distribution.
This may be an unpopular opinion, but I believe Ubuntu Unity is one of the most beautiful Linux desktops on the market. If the developers could only bring back the full HUD, I could see myself replacing Pop!_OS as my preferred distribution.
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