Monday, February 28, 2011

Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal and the Unity Desktop, for real this time!

If you're interested in "what has gone before", my previous article is for you. This entry will pick up where that one left off, with the actual successful loading and launching of Canonical's Unity Desktop.

The Ubuntu development community is racing ahead with Unity, including creating a 2-D Unity variant which will work under VirtualBox, which I must use since I don't have a spare system upon which to install Ubuntu Natty Narwhal for testing.

For installation and a run-down of default Ubuntu, you can see my prior article on Natty Narwhal, which begins "at the beginning."

I want to thank TomH from the Debian-User mailing list for forwarding me the Unity 2-D site, which he says he read about at Phoronix, a remarkable web site in its own right. I find Phoronix's speed and function testing of new Linux kernels as they come out very interesting. But back to Unity:

So here's what to do. Get a terminal window open, under Accessories > Root Terminal, and type the following:

$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:unity-2d-team/unity-2d-daily
$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get install unity-2d

Then logout and when you get the login screen you will see the option for Unity 2D.

Select it, log in....

And Behold! Unity!

(insert angelic choral wha-aaaah here)

With a basic selection of installed applications down the left side, I think this something that is going to work best for people who have a limited selection of applications that they use regularly. I like the way the tab vanishes when an application window would otherwise overlap it, and springs back when the cursor hits the left side of the display, allowing those big buttons not to be too abusive of screen realestate.

As someone else pointed out, computing is being done on wide screens now, so while vertical space is at a premium, horizontal space can be spent on things like those big, friendly buttons and not actually be in the way.

I did have trouble with two things, that I'm sure will be ironed out as this alpha release of Unity becomes more robust.

First, I could find no way to change workspaces back to "upper left" where the Unity buttons were. I could use the "search" function, but no quantity of clicking left or right worked. Now I don't have a mouse wheel on this recycled optical mouse of mine, due mostly to the fact that I ripped it out with great satisfaction when I found it was repeatedly scrolling my applications without my permission. I also don't use workspaces myself, preferring to minimize windows rather than change context.

That's another of those personal choices that Linux caters to. I'm sure some people love workspaces. I used them when I had reasons to back in 1992. Imagine that, a "new" desktop feature that so many people are just discovering. And golly, look at that! Olvwm is available in Debian, for that retro-feeling. It is, however, NOT an available desktop on DVD#1, due to the fact that the Debian Popularity Contest application reports 55 people have it installed, and only 15 have used it "recently". World Wide.

That same report says that 6 people in the world still have Linux kernel 2.6.14 installed, although no one seems to be using it. Isn't that amazing?

At some point, but not today, I fully expect that "Unity" will join the ranks of Window Managers and Desktop Environments in Debian. I think it has a great deal to offer, and I agree with some other folks who have suggested that the design lends itself well to tablets and touch-screens. We shall certainly see.

The other minor problem, I could not find a log-out button in Unity. Not a menu entry, no right-click-on-the-desktop, nothing. I am certain that this is because something wasn't quite working right, I had several pop-ups saying "Software crash, do you want to send a report?" So Unity, at least Unity 2D, is showing it's age, that is, it's lack of age.

So I used Alt-F1 to jump to a console, and issued the "Shut her down, Scotty, she's sucking mud again" command, # sudo init 0

Thank you for joining me on this journey of discovery.



  1. Anonymous1/3/11 11:14

    I am using 2D Unity on Ubuntu 10.10 under VirtualBox for some months and I have NO problems at all. It is very likely that this problems are due to Ubuntu Natty and not problem of Unity by itself.

  2. Curt - thanks for this entry. I like the format with the commentary and the screenshots.

    You're saving me having to do this myself. I'm going to wait a while before I load up Natty again.

    I'm not wiping my Debian Squeeze install at this point. It all works too well.

  3. I'm glad it's working well, I do see how it could make some people's computing much easier.

    Steven, Join the Dark Side of Debian Sid! It's so much fun, not knowing what exactly will be there next time apt-get upgrade is run.

    Stable is just so... stable!

  4. I'm running a 2.6.37 kernel from Liquorix, and I plan to run kernels from Backports when they get there. I might use newer builds of Iceweasel and Chromium from either Backports or Wheezy or Sid, but otherwise I really don't need anything new. I'd rather keep the base that's working so well.

    If I found a video editor that worked well, I might be interested in tracking it, but since I haven't, there's no latest for me to want ...

  5. Anonymous2/3/11 16:58

    The logout/shutdown options are supposed to show on the me menu, I think the icon probably changes depending on the icon theme, on my system it is an icon that looks like a light switch and is the icon furthest to the right on the top panel.

    The name of the package this should be supplied by is 'indicator-me'.

    Later, Seeker

  6. I have Unity 3D running on VirtualBox 4.0.
    You just have to install Oracle's extension and the guest additions on the installed system.
    Then reboot the guest system and... Unity 3D runs.
    For some reason, GTK's style and icons are wrong for now (not Ambiance), but this is surely a temporary thing...

  7. After years away from Ubuntu, I will install this release as soon as it comes available in stable version.
    I really want to see Unity at its full!

  8. Anonymous26/3/11 04:07

    I was in the same boat as you. I launch natty through VBox, and am left wondering where Unity is. Thank you for this post to clear things up.

  9. Anonymous28/4/11 23:19

    Sadly, this didn't work for me, but no options on the login screen are visible.

  10. Oops. Spoke too soon. There are no options on the login screen, but unity worked when I logged in. Thanks! :)