Ubuntu Studio 11.04 First Look Review


[nat-ee]  -adjective  neatly or trimly smart in dress  or appearance. 


Unity Desktop with expanded dock
The newest release of Ubuntu pushed out recently, and following Ubuntu's alliterative naming conventions, it is called Natty Narwhal.  And natty it certainly is.  11.04 installs by default with the  new Unity desktop.  Cleaner and trimmer, and with it's own dock, Unity is many of the things Gnome is not.  On the other hand, Gnome is far more intuitive to use, and has lower system overhead.  Yessir, this is a classic XP/Vista thing.  But, unlike Windows, the user can easily choose which desktop environment to boot to.   This review will focus on Unity; however I think that Gnome interface is better for workflow, and is probably better suited for most Studio users. In fact, the Ubuntu Studio distro will install with Gnome by default (now charmingly called "Ubuntu Classic.")

The Unity dock is clever, though.  It installs by default to the left side of the desktop.  I've been using Docky for years.  The Unity dock populated itself with the same programs I have on Docky.  When the dock is not being used, it collapses to a 3-D stack, which instantly expands upon mouseover, and hides when there is an open window.   And I like the new grab handles that take the place of window scroll bars.   Resizing windows is a snap as well, just grab the lower right corner and drag.  It's interesting that the configuration tool for Unity is not installed by default, however it is easily gotten from the Software Center or Synaptic, and well worth the download.

Unity Lens
I'm not sure about the new search box for launching programs, called lenses.  Gone are Gnome's drop-down menus, replaced with a search box that organizes programs by type.  I suppose it's a matter of  getting used to it, but I prefer the menus.  What is cool about the lens is that with shortcuts expanded, it offers you packages you don't have under the ones you do, under the heading "Available for download," tailored to   the category you're in.  It's kind of like Amazon's suggestions for your package list.  There are also other lenses available in various PPAs that have other functions.  For example, the "Ask Ubuntu" lens allows you to type a question, the "Google Books" lens allows you to search the Google Books catalog, the YouTube lens allows you to search for videos on the web, etc...  Many of these lenses are still in Alpha or Beta, so play at your own risk, but the concept is very cool.

Major package changes in the distro include (thankfully) replacing Rhythmbox with Banshee as the default media player, and replacing OpenOffice with LibreOffice.  As far as the Ubuntu Studio- specific packages, many of them have been updated to newer versions, which is nice, and a couple have been added, which I have yet to play with.   Studio installs with the generic kernel, as the low-latency kernel is still in development.  (I've been using the Natty low-latency kernel for several weeks under Maverick with no issues.  It's available via PPA)

All in all, Natty represents some substantial changes to the Ubuntu experience, for the better. If you're prioritizing workflow for your media tasks, keep the Gnome desktop for it's intuitiveness and lower overhead.  If you want the eye-candy, try Unity.  (non-Studio distros will install Unity by default)

(BTW, that desktop background in the screen caps does not ship with Ubuntu, I'm sorry to say.  I took that pic myself. )


  1. Wow.... I wandered over to see what you were up to and discovered you are a Ubuntu user. I have even more respect for you now. ;)

  2. Ha, thanks! I love Ubuntu Studio for music and video production. Do you use it?

  3. Hey, great article! However, by looking at your pics I can tell that you have wireless network running there. Is the wireless console installed by default in Ubuntu Studio 11.04? As far as I remember you had to manually install it in the previous version :)

  4. "however I think that Gnome interface is better for workflow, and is probably better suited for most Studio users."

    This is what I find with Apple-style/dock interfaces: if the applications don't manage workflow themselves (and many do not) then workflow suffers.

    Thanks for the overview. I've not installed a new distro for months now (Sabayon is still fave and still running well) but if I had a spare HDD then I'd be tempted.

    BTW have you looked at Gnome 3 yet? I tried a beta (under openSUSE IIRC) and it looked really good, but was only partially working. Not at all sure I'm ready to change though - KDE 4.6 seems most intuitive to me, probably because it combined windows XP ease of use with eye candy.

  5. As I recall, I had to enable the broadcom drivers when I installed 9.10. Since then, it has just worked when I upgraded. on a clean unstall, you would probably have to install the fw-cutter and bc43 driver (if you have a Broadcom card)

  6. I've not looked at Gnome 3, but I'll give it a peek. Truth be told, I'm still using Unity and getting to like it.


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