Ubuntu Unity Experience

I started out rather skeptical of Unity, since it clashes with my habits. But it wouldn’t be the first time I modified them …

I’ve come to enjoy launching and switching between applications via the Launcher. Making the distinction between running and not running applications less important and having stable targets for the most common applications is nice. But only as long as it’s about single window applications, as having to juggle windows after using the launcher just feels like a hassle. The single top bar switching between title and menu is great with maximized windows. This is barely enough to tolerate the shortcomings.

Alt-Tab window switching works for me only as long as no application has several windows. Switching on 2 levels, first application, then between windows of that application is too much work, costs too much thinking and thus breaks the flow. At least the Super-W shortcut for exposing all windows helps here, sometimes.

I sometimes run Ardour, which relies on the JACK audio server. This involves soft realtime requirements, which normally is not a problem. However, any use of Alt-Tab beyond a quick tap that does not even bring up the menu, causes Ardour to lag, making JACK kick it out. On Unity 3D, with nvidia driver. Isn’t this supposed to be GPU accelerated, leaving the CPU alone as far as possible? In principle this machine could record and playback several tracks while compiling the Linux kernel in the background, but I can’t use the window switcher without dropout. This made me try different nvidia driver versions, so I found out Jockey is confusing and sometimes claims there’s no driver enabled, while lsmod does list nvidia. Trying to switch between nvidia versions one can easily end up with an X in minimum resolution and a Unity 2D that likes to render artifacts more than rendering windows. It’s not obvious how to switch between nvidia and nouveau.

I’m used to 6 workspaces. I had to use CompizConfig to change that number. Initially, it looked like that didn’t work, because the change did not come into effect before logging out and in again. The workspace switcher icon remains static and always pretends you have 4 workspaces with 1 window on the first, making me miss GNOME 2’s panel indicator.

Since many years I have switching to specific workspaces bound to Alt-F1 to Alt-F6. I had to mess with both CompizConfig and Keyboard settings to make that work.

After a short break, I now went to pick up development with Emacs again. I have a number of window (what elsewhere might be called a pane or panel) related commands bound to the Super, aka Windows key. So I changed Unity’s trigger button, only to find that the setting has no effect; the Super key still triggers Unity, while the new shortcut has no effect at all. I found a matching bug, with a suggested workaround involving going into unity config by hitting Alt+F2, to enter about:config. Since my Alt+F2 is bound to something else, I tried to assign a new shortcut to Show the run command prompt. Whatever I try, it is ignored. Now I can either drop Unity, or edit my .emacs and retrain against my muscle memory.

UPDATE: I now had success in changing the trigger key for Unity, but I don’t know what exactly made the difference.

I haven’t done any real work with GIMP on Unity, yet, but guess I won’t enjoy the global menu behavior there.


About thorwil
I'm a designer from Germany. My main interests are visual and interaction design, free/open-source software and (electronic) music.

8 Responses to Ubuntu Unity Experience

  1. htorque says:

    Unity/Compiz/Appmenu definitely need to see improvement when dealing with mutli-window applications (currently, with an active toolbox-like window, you cannot use the main window’s menus, not always are all windows minimized/restored, etc. – using GIMP can be frustrating at times).

    But let’s be fair: Unity is a young project and it’s no small one. As long as the developers of Unity & Co. stay that active (reporting bugs is such a joy: report → quick response → fix released), I have no doubt that Unity will turn out to be a great desktop shell and a worthy two-panel setup successor. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Ubuntu Unity Experience « Thorwil's | Linux Supersaniya

  3. DrKay says:

    I was having the same difficulty with multi-windowed applications until I read about the Super-W shortcut in you post. That’s very helpful.

    I would add that the Unity experience with switching windows is better than window switching on my wife’s Mac.

  4. Paulo J. S. Silva says:

    A small hint. If you use Alt-“Above tab” (that is the key above tab, it is the ‘ in my keyboard) you should open the windows switcher with all the windows of the current application selected. See and explanation in


    I think Unity has the same behavior as the Gnome shell.

    • thorwil says:

      Yes, it does. I’m aware of it, but I was happier with GNOME 2’s Alt-Tab behavior than I am with the new combo.

  5. DrKay says:

    @Paulo: Thanks so much for that tip. It will help me a lot!

  6. Gez says:

    I tried hard to get used to Unity but I failed.
    The global menu / overlay scrollbars combination is a no-no for me, it’s a paint to use GIMP 2.6 with that, and there’s a much, much worse problem: the same problem you have with Unity3D and Ardour also affects working with a tablet: Compiz gets in the middle and you get lags in strokes, sometimes it fails to detect tip pressure in quick hatching, and for the first time MyPaint feels slow.
    Switching to Unity2D minimizes those problems but the global menu and the overlay scrollbars are still there.
    I switched to Gnome 3 (and later I switched to a different distro) and I’m much more comfortable. Despite how unstable and odd Gnome 3 looked in the first days, Gnome 3.2 makes much more sense and I got used to it quickly.

  7. Gez says:

    *it’s a pain, not a paint. It’s a pain to paint :p