Notes on Migrating to an Open System (Ubuntu 12.04)

August 7th, 2012  |  Published in etc  |  3 Comments

I may move this into a real page at some point, but for now I’m making it a blog post because I don’t think Ubuntu 12.04 and I have a future. I gave it a few hours last night, taking notes as I went. The big killers for me were the window manager’s confusing menu bar and really awkward window resizing, which suggested that it was possible to grab a window on any side and pull it wider or narrower. In practice, the mouse kept falling off the edge of the window, sometimes sending a click to an application under the current one.

I don’t want to give up some of Ubuntu’s genuine accomplishments, though, so I think my next stop will probably be Xubuntu. When I had an eeePC, I ripped out the stock distro and replaced it with Xubuntu and had a decent time with it: It didn’t over-promise, so it never felt like it was under-delivering. Ubuntu and Unity are currently over-promising, and they’re reminding me of the whole “Martian user interface” problem we used to talk about back in Red Hat 4 days: Close enough to something you know (a Mac) to look inviting, but not close enough to use that way. It’s just disorienting. 


1 Migration Desktop Notes: See notes on migrating to an open system


1.1 Setup

I set up a VMWare Fusion VM with 2GB of RAM (for now, more to come as I use it more) and 20GB (no need for more: the broader iMac filesystem is right there and shareable)

Hardware specs:

  • 2.66 GHz Core 2 Duo iMac, 8GB of RAM, NVidia GeForce 9400 w/256MB, 24″ screen (early 2009)

My promise in this document: I won’t complain about performance until I upgrade the VM to at least 4GB. 2GB is an initial setting to allow me to get settled in and try things out

The purpose of this exercise is to have an open desktop running in a virtual sandbox and using it for day-to-day work.

1.2 Installation

Installation is easy. That’s been a solved problem for a while, but it went smoothly and Ubuntu does a good job of suggesting the ecosystem waiting for you on the other side. There’s the option to click a reveal arrow to show lots of installation noise.

On startup I got a notification from the software update tool (Update Manager). 221.6MB of updates.


1.3 Software (See Application List)

I’m going to go from my migration checklist to see which things I can solve right away.


1.4 Experience

Notes on how things seem to work.

1.4.1 Initial desktop is pleasant enough.



1.4.2 Wanted to change the default font to something less demanding of my attention.

Learned that I need to install something called MyUnity:

It didn’t work. Icon with a question mark, won’t launch after grinding a bit.

Update: After a reboot, it disappeared from the system. On reinstalling it, it started working.


1.4.3 Window resizing is frustrating.

Hovering the mouse over the edge of a window suggests it can be pulled to resize, but the only reliable way to get a handle on a window was via its titlebar. The mouse just “slipped off” everything else.


1.4.4 There’s a Mac-like influence on the way windows work, with a consistent toolbar for each application.

Firefox is my example app here.

What’s weird is that the menu items disappear when you’re in the actual app window. There’s no hint of where to go to do anything via a menu. e.g. in Firefox, you get “Firefox Web Browser” but no guidance on what you can do. Only by leaving the window you’re in and mousing over the menu do you get any sense of what the menu can do. That’s not great. Metaphorically speaking, I’m starting my journey without knowing where I want to go: I just know I’m going “north” to the menu bar, but I’m not sure where, specifically, I need to be pointed. Once I arrive up there, I might have to go a bit in either direction.

Also, there’s no provision for multiple windows of the same app in the menus.


1.4.5 Installed Chromium.

That was simple, but for whatever reason, the new browser doesn’t actually show up in the dock (Launcher). You have to “dash home” then search for the new app, then launch it. Once launched, you can right-click its icon to “Lock to Launcher.”

Chromium pulled in all my bookmarks, extensions and saved passwords.

Again with the weird “more than one window, not exposed in menus at all” thing.


1.4.6 Installed Dropbox

Pretty confusing experience. I had to ignore its complaints that it wasn’t installed correctly to finish installation. Once running, it seems fine. Nice hooks into the file manager (still Nautilus, if I understand correctly.)


1.4.7 Installed Skype.

Went smoothly. The one thing I had to do was enable my USB speaker/mic device in VMWare. Skype picked it right up and used it. Super bonus: Skype’s status icon actually uses color.


1.4.8 Miss the Mac’s “select an icon, tap the spacebar” instant preview of documents.



Author: Michael Hall

Org version 7.8.11 with Emacs version 24


  1. Ed Heil says:

    August 8th, 2012 at 3:58 pm (#)

    An iteration of Ubuntu ago, I found the super-dooper-minimalistic gnome 3 interface, the one which is basically nothing but an equivalent of Quicksilver, much more pleasant than Unity.  

  2. Ed Heil says:

    August 8th, 2012 at 3:58 pm (#)

    (But that’s not to say that it wouldn’t be easier to just not have a crazy interface at all.)

  3. m. hall says:

    August 8th, 2012 at 4:13 pm (#)

    I downloaded Mint last night to look at it: It’s got a version built around a fork of GNOME 2. Didn’t seem to like my VM. I also found an interesting tutorial/guide on Unity that hasn’t made it into the published outline yet, but here’s the link:

    I think I read that Debian is switching to XFCE as its default DE. That doesn’t sound like a terrible idea, but I’d sort of like to stay around the Ubuntu ecosystem for all the contrib packages. 

    I think my biggest nit with Unity right now is the crummy window resizing. If there’s some Linux equivalent to Breeze or SizeUp out there, I’d like to know about it. I seldom resize windows with a mouse on my Mac anymore because of SizeUp, but it seems a lot easier (from a Fitts Law perspective) to get a handle on a window corner on a Mac than either Unity or whatever XFCE calls its WM.

Leave a Response

© Michael Hall, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States license.