Ubuntu's Unity is not so bad ...

... as many people say.

This is at least my experience. Around two weeks ago Canonical released their latest Ubuntu 12.10 "Quantal Quetzal", another of Canonical's half-year scheduled Ubuntu upgrades. Since 11.04 Unity represents Ubuntu's main desktop UI.

When Unity was released I somehow didn't like it first. It was, after all, a big step away from the Gnome 2 interface, which I was used to. One of the main features suddenly missing was customizable panel's. Also the Dash was something to get used to, since the well structured main menu was gone as well. Easy to adapt for me was the left-sided launcher though.

Since I didn't want to abandon Ubuntu to this time there there were only two choices to go with: Using the classic Gnome 2 for a while or adapt Unity. I decided to do the later, simply because I thought (and that is what happened) Unity will be a long-time support by Canonical. There were also things I liked right away out of the box:

  • the global menu and integrated window controls with the "top panel"
  • the launcher
  • the dash, after I got used to it

Something I didn't like at the very beginning (11.04 & 11.10):

  • Unity was extremely unstable, especially in Ubuntu 11.04 it crashed frequently for me
  • the Dash was quite buggy, sometimes apps disappeared from it and only a restart "fixed" it (throughout 11.10)
  • the lack of decent multi-screen support
  • Unity was slow, sometimes doing something in the OS took more time than I was used to

This got all fixed in Ubuntu 12.04 LTS! Since then I am a very happy Unity user. I didn't had any issues anymore and I feel I am way faster working with it than I was with Gnome 2. Sure, I still can not customize my panels, but the simplicity of Unity is worth it.

Recently I was trying Xubuntu for a while as well. I have seen some screenshots which reminded me of Gnome 2 and I wanted to give it a try, so I installed it beside the ubuntu-desktop. I switched back to Unity relatively fast. There were just too many things I had to configure in Xubuntu first to match my requirements, for example that Ctrl+Alt+T is opening a terminal, the dock (adding a launcher there is quite some hassle) or other shortcuts I was used to from Unity or even Gnome 2. Even after configuring everything I still felt way slower to work with. Sure, Xubuntu's main advantage is that it can run on slower machines and it has more configuration options, but for that I don't need it. For me Unity is ready to work with right after installation even it needs some tiny tweaks here and there.

So for everyone who didn't like Unity because it was too unstable before, now is the time to give it a try.

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Fixing sluggish Ubuntu

There are probably a bunch of articles about this out there, but I just realized it today. 

I am using Ubuntu now for over a year as my main OS for work. I am generally very satisfied with it, since it offers a lot of tools for development and also got a great UI. Another plus is that knowing Ubuntu helps me a lot dealing with servers and setting them up for serving web apps. 

On Ubuntu Desktop (currently 11.04) I got an annoying problem though. Usually Ubuntu reacts relatively fast, though after operiting with it for some hours and slows down a lot, even sometimes stops reacting for some seconds. This mainly happens when I am opening a new program or sometimes if I just open a new tab in Chrome. 
I was wondering what the problem was for some time. First I thought it had to do with Unity, since I can't remember that I had this problem a lot in the older GNOME environment. So my first attempts to google the problem were Unity related and didn't really result in better performance (1).
Today I simply guessed it had to with the Swap space and how Ubuntu swap out memory into it. Surprisingly I was right in the end and changing some default values in some config for Ubuntu did the trick (2). For some reason there is value called swappiness set which determine how often Ubuntu swaps out memory into swap space. The default in Ubuntu is somewhat ridiculous for most desktop PC's (it is set to 60, the range would be from 0-100). So here are the steps how to change the default:

Open the configuration file to edit the swappiness:

gksudo gedit /etc/sysctl.conf

Change the value or add this line (a value of 10 is recommended by the Ubuntu Community):



That's all there is to it. Now my computer is snorring like a cat and many programs nearly open immediately.
I am somehow surprised that the default value for Ubuntu's Desktop Edition is set so high. 


1 http://mygeekopinions.blogspot.com/2011/07/how-to-make-ubuntu-unity-desktop-run.html
2 https://help.ubuntu.com/community/SwapFaq#What is swappiness and how do I change it?

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