Canonical has released details of the new version of its Linux-based Ubuntu operating system which has taken design inspirations from tablet and smartphone interfaces and brings the new Unity interface to all platforms.
Last October Canonical unveiled the new Unity interface for netbooks but today has announced that it will be bringing the new interface to all form factors. Canonical claims the Unity interface is now simpler, easier to use and “more beautiful” than previous versions of Ubuntu. Ubuntu has long claimed to make older PCs run faster and while the new graphical interface looks very nice, for owners of stone-age PCs, Ubuntu will automatically determine if their graphics card supports Unity and provide a ‘classic’ experience when Unity would not work.
Unity moves away from traditional interfaces and taking the web as inspiration, uses search as the main way of finding content on your computer. Searching is hosted in the dash, which brings files, applications, music and video together in a single location and all searchable though the same bar. The launcher on the left hand side of the screen allows you to configure which applications you want to want access to quickly. Another new addition is global menus, which, for most pre-installed apps, means the menus for all applications will be in the same place at the top of the screen.Canonical has apparently taken inspiration from the headsup displays as used in FPS games to allow for plenty of information to be shown on screen without interrupting your main task. It has to be said, the result does look rather similar to Apple's OSX, which of course many will consider a good thing.
Ubuntu 11.04 also fully supports touch-screen devices with gestures triggering actions like scrolling, workspace-switching and expanding and contracting screens. The Ubuntu Software Centre has also been integrated with the dash, allowing users to add applications to their system quickly as well now being able to see reviews and ratings for each app. Looking to the cloud, Ubuntu One offers free online syncing and sharing for contacts and files, combined with a music streaming service currently available on both iPhone and Android platforms.
Ubuntu, as with any Linux distro, is somewhat of a niche product which for years has been limited to technophiles but with the Unity interface, Canonical will be hoping that Ubuntu will gain a broader appeal. And to that end, for the first time ever, users will be able to trial the operating system online using only their browser. Visitors to Ubuntu.com will be able to access a complete version of the latest product without having to download anything.
“This release breaks new ground for Ubuntu by offering users a PC experience that is stylish and efficient” said Jane Silber, CEO of Canonical. “With this release Ubuntu will recruit an entirely new wave of users to free software. Ubuntu 11.04 is a high watermark for what has been achieved with open-source technologies for the everyday computer user.”
Ubuntu 11.04, and the trial online version, will be available from 28 April while Ubuntu One is available today here with apps available from the Android Marketplace and iTunes AppStore. It will ship with the Firefox 4 web browser, Libre Office suite, Banshee media player and Evolution email client.