Ubuntu 14.04 LTS: Overview, Review and Features

Ubuntu 14.04, call sign ‘Trusty Tahr’ is set to be released. In this article we review the core, significant changes along with the Features that make this release and the Distro as a whole a pleasurable experience.

I’ve been a Ubuntu user on and off from its very first version and starting 11.04, Ubuntu has been my default and mostly my only Desktop. Over the years, I’ve seen lot of good things happen to Ubuntu and so did bad things. Ubuntu 14.04 is one of the BEST things that has happened to Ubuntu. I can say this release had made leaps and bounds in terms of Usability, User Experience and Usefulness.

Following are the list of User Visibile features/changes in Ubuntu 14.04 Trusty Tahr worth mentioning:
  • Unity Greeter Like Lock Screen
  • Unity 7
    • Borderless Windows in default themes
    • Unity Control Center and Unity Settings Daemon
    • Locally Integrated Menus
    • Right Click for Global Panel
    • Searchable Window Spreads
  • GTK 3 based Window Decorations & Theming
  • Type-Ahead Search in place of recursive search
  • Better iOS7 integration
There are a lot of user invisible changes but we will focus on the Usabilty and User Experience related changes. The noteworthy user invisible changes are:

Unity Greeter Like Lock Screen:

Until Ubuntu 14.04, Trusty Tahr, when you lock the screen, you get a GDM lock screen with input for password and “Switch User” button to change user. This is now replaced with a LightDM based (I think) lock screen which mimics the Unity Login Greeter screen. This helps user have a fluid UX with the Lock-Unlock actions.

Also worth a note here is the animation of the locking/unlocking process. There is a gradual overlay type hiding/unhiding of the screen during the lock/unlock process.

New Unity Greeter Like Lock Screen

New Unity Greeter Like Lock Screen

 Unity 7:

Unity version 7 is highly stabilized in this release. After all this is an LTS release. While the difference between Unity 7 and earlier version itself is interesting, it would take a separate article to cover. So we will focus on the key Usability, User Experience related features.

Borderless Windows:

The default Ambiance and Radiance themes now go borderless. Now more bevels/raises/motifs to define boundaries of the window. This gives a good look and feel especially when windows are overlaid or a video is running in window overlay mode.

borderless windows

Borderless windows for Ambiance.

Unity Control Center and Unity Settings Daemon:

Unity now has its own Settings Daemon and Control Center. This is forked from GNOME Control Center and Settings Daemon. While this is wildly different from the Control Center settings seen in earlier releases, you’ll see that the online account settings has become a single application and the way Online accounts are handled have changed a little. This change was done primarily to accommodate consistent UI in Ubuntu GNOME.

unity control center

Unity Control Center

Locally Integrated Menus:
window w/o local integration

Window without Local Integration

window with local integration
Window with Local Integration

The long awaited Integrated Menu bar is now available. Prior to this release, when a window is Unmaximized, the Menu Bar of the application is typically shown in the Global Panel. While this was a better usage of the Global Panel, this was a straight contradiction to the Laws of User Experience (UX) like Fitts’ Law. To paraphrase, the longer the Window in focus is away from some of its components, the lower the UX is. Ubuntu brought about this concept around two years ago, but finally incorporated this into the Ubuntu 14.04 Trusty Tahr release.

Starting Ubuntu 14.04, The Local Integration is implemented. With this feature, when a Window is Unmaximized, it will carry the Menu Bar along with it i.e., the Title Bar of the Unmaximized Window will have the Menu Bar.

The Menu Bar is a hover visible Menu Bar i.e., it becomes visible when user points the mouse over the Title Bar. When hovering, Right Click will expose the Window Controls Context Menu as usual (Move, Unmaximize, Maximize, Minimize etc.,).

This feature is enabled as follows: Desktop right click->Change Desktop Background->Behavior->Show Menu Bar on a Window->In the Window’s Title Bar

 

RIght Click Window Controls Menu for Global Panel:

This one is a small but useful bug fix. When you right click on the Global Panel when the Window is in Maximized mode, the window’s control context menu appears. This is now consistent with what happens when the window is Unmaximized.

Maximized Window Context Menu

Windows Right Click Context Menu for Maximized Window

Searchable Window Spreads:

The Window Spread mechanism gets a cool enhancement with the Ubuntu 14.04 Trusty Tahr release. When the Windows are in Spread mode (through enabled hot corner or through keyboard shortcut), one can just type to filter the window of interest. This is pretty cool if you have for example: multiple terminal windows and want to quickly select the one you are interested in. By far the best keyboardist feature which I liked.

 

Unity Window Spread

Window Spread

window spread filtered

Window Spread filtered by Text In Window

 GTK Based Window Decorations and Theming:

This is one of the Major changes that will, in my opinion, act as a turning point in Ubuntu’s future. Out there, we have a major percentage of users who turn away from Ubuntu just because of the Orange/Fanta color schemes and the window decorations. Well, in Ubuntu 14.04, the themes are GTK 3 Based instead of Compiz based. 

Think about the same intensity of Theme development that currently happens for GNOME 3 based Desktops, only now it happens for Ubuntu Unity Desktop. I can’t wait to see a good Elementary like theme created for Unity.

Type Ahead Search instead of Recursive Search:

Well, this is one of those changes I wish hadn’t happened. But I guess you win some.. lose some. Type-ahead used to be the standard search mechanism as of 12.04 and earlier. It works by filtering the files containing names you type in window in focus. While this is good for the current window, it lacks THE requirement for finding the file anywhere in the current location down. Another thing which lacks in ‘Type-Ahead’ search is, one has to remember the start of the file name, unlike in recursive search where remembering any part of the filename string will do.

I guess this is targeted towards low resource computers. What doesn’t make sense to me is, if someone decided to run Linux in a low resource computer, would he/she decide to go with Ubuntu? Lubuntu/Xubuntu maybe. But Ubuntu? Would be interested in popular answer.

Anyways, all is not lost. the recursive search feature can be enabled by typing Ctrl+F explicitly. Below is the explanation of what I mean by I miss the default recursive search:

Unity recursive search.

Typing ‘serial’ to list ‘poap_serial..’ works in recursive search.

type ahead search

Type Ahead Search: Trying to filter poap_serial.. by typing ‘serial’ WILL NOT filter the file

 

 

 

 

 

 

Better iOS 7  Integration:

When Apple released the version 7 update of the iOS, all hell broke loose with the device connectivity via USB. Apparently, the communication protocol which worked until iOS 6 broke with iOS 7. The ‘libimobiledevice’ library is now patched to take care of this so the USB connectivity to access media in the Apple device works correctly.

 CONCLUSION:

Between the beautiful looking lock screen, optimized Unity, performance improvements, this is one of the BEST releases of Ubuntu thus far. Despite having some changes which would have been better off left alone, this LTS of Ubuntu 14.04 Trusty Tahr is going to be one stable, 24 months of hassle free, efficient computing.

I would love to here about what you think about Ubuntu in general and Ubuntu 14.04 Trusty Tahr in particular. Do share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

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