Narwhal: Not Really Classic Yet

While doing bug hunting yesterday, I noticed that when I was thrown into ‘classic’ ubuntu, the screen looked nothing like classic ubuntu or gnome.

OK first we have the menu, what happened to Applications/Places/System? That was a classic look for Classic Ubuntu. Now it’s just a round dot which means nothing to any of the users I’ve trained to use Ubuntu.

Then we have the file menus, they’re not in the windows like they were in Classic Ubuntu. They’re somewhere else. This is a major headache and retooling for something that’s supposed to be following the style of the classic desktop.

Now I’m not sure if these are just bugs, or if this is actually how classic Ubuntu is going to work. Because paying attention to Classic Ubuntu in this release is going to save A LOT of good grace from disgruntled users who are ready to tear into Mark’s Praxis desktop design. I don’t want Ubuntu to become a target of massive ridicule from users who are fed up with having their desktop change without a soft landing.

Unity developers: Pay attention to classic this cycle, or users will just move to another distro.

32 thoughts on “Narwhal: Not Really Classic Yet

  1. Yeah, I’m not terribly happy to see a radically altered “classic” Ubuntu. I’ve been telling panicked reactionaries that they don’t have to flip out over Unity because they’ll have the classic desktop to fall back on. This isn’t going to make them happy.

  2. Aren’t you making a _classic_ erroneous assumption here that no other distro is going to make Unity available as an alternative interface in their next release cycle?


  3. I agree that the “classic” desktop isn’t very classic. I’m pretty sure that I will not be upgrading my parent’s computer this time around. They had a harder time than I expected moving from XP to Ubuntu and these changes are going to be aggravating. I’ll probably wait for the next LTS and see what that looks like.

  4. The look of Classic Ubuntu is intentionally similar to the new Unity interface with a similar Ubuntu button in the top left to launch applications and the App Menu; intentionally similar to ease the transition of users to Unity since the Gnome 2 interface will not be officially supported much longer.

    However since it is Gnome 2, it’s not too difficult to customize it back to a a pre-Natty Ubuntu look.

    Ubuntu is not going to lose a noticeable number of users due to the look of Ubuntu Classic.

  5. heh, I’ve been trying to write an entire email about this issue, and some other that came up in this, and previous cycles, for the u-d-d ML but I haven’t had much time to do that yet.

    In short I have a feeling that the gamble that Canonical has done in the last cycle, and their (lack of) proper communication with upstream projects is starting to hurt Ubuntu, rather than helping it.

    Ubuntu has gotten so much bad press in the last months, that it’s going to take a lot of effort (mostly from community) to fix it, and that’s not fair given that we have no control over those decisions whatsoever.

    Canonical is trying to push for new users (to cross the damn chasm) so hard, that it’s risking loosing everything that we’ve already achieved. Maybe it’s time to step back and rethink our strategy.

  6. I think you do have a point; it is currently more Ubuntu Desktop (No Effects) than Classic Desktop.

  7. Agreed.

    It’s easy enough to fix it yourself, but Ubuntu will definitely lose a lot of users with the change if ‘Classic Ubuntu’ doesn’t work the same as Ubuntu 10.10 by default. Also the manual method, as best as I can tell, requires you to fix it for every account, which is pretty annoying as well.

  8. I agree! Those, who desperately want to use global menubar in classic mode will know how to enable it already. And rest of people will be confused with it. Classic menu (Program/Places/System) should come back. Not everyone will know how to re-enable it.

  9. I think it is already too late for this. Canonical has strongly decided where it will go and most of users will follow kicking and screaming. For powerusers – well, their bad, they can migrate to another distros if they want. It is not like they are paying Mike’s bills.

    Irony aside, I think they did wrong with Ubuntu Classic – it feels broken as you said. GNOME 3 fall back mode does a much better job. Of course, this release ain’t LTS, so propably solution to legacy support will come in time, but it isn’t good sign. Dropping your legacy just because you have something new and shiny is never good…because not all people migrate or move to newer systems very fast. Sometimes they don’t move at all.

  10. Yeah, the Classic desktop feels like it was thrown together pretty quickly to mimic Unity, which it is quite bad at doing because Unity is its own shell for a reason. I can understand the rationale (making the transition easier for 11.10), but if people want “Classic Ubuntu” they probably want classic Ubuntu. I’m afraid the current approach will alienate people who just want what worked for them.

  11. Martin,

    There’s very little stopping a different linux distributor from picking up Unity and offering it as an alternative login experience. It will should up in Fedora at some point as just another desktop offering not unlike KDE or XFCE. I have no doubt about that. It’s just a matter of timing and interest to do get the bits through Fedora’s packaging review. Adam is plugging away at in communication with Unity devs.

    So when you say having a user jump ship to another distribution means they won’t get a chance to experience Unity is probably not entirely true. I fully expect Unity to be available inside the Fedora 15 repositories at some point, even if its not on Fedora 15 release day. How close that experience is to what Unity devs intended really depends on how much expressed functionality requires patches to other things that Unity relies on. So far..looking over the work Adam is doing to prep packages I think Fedora’s packages of Unity should be pretty close to what was intended by upstream devs.

  12. Martin,

    The flip side question is, is there interest and the manpower in Ubuntu to build an GNOME 2 experience as it is intended by upstream? With a minimum of vendor differentiated patching? So far the effort to provide an un-vendor enhanced GNOME desktop offering inside Ubuntu hasn’t seen much support. There was a previous effort with a name I won’t be able tp spell correctly. The question is, is this break in UI now a big enough break for the Ubuntu community external to Canonical to pull the manpower together and maintain a real GNOME classic offering inside Ubuntu as an alternative?

    GNOME 2 has to continue to exist for a significant amount of time. Certain enterprise oriented distributors are going to have to support it for years to come. It might not be under active feature development but its not going to disappear as a usable environment overnight either.


  13. ” For powerusers – well, their bad, they can migrate to another distros if they want.”

    I remember when “powerusers” were people who changed compile time flags to get things to work as they wanted.

    These days “powerusers” seem to expect things to be just how they like right out of the box. (Which is ironic, given that they often seem to deride attempts to make things work out of the box for the average person as “dumbing down”).

  14. Jef – For Ubuntu (and Canonical) the important part is making sure that their radical shift in what the desktop looks like has a back button. Users are more accepting to changes if they know they’re not necessarally permanent. And the classic gnome look has become Ubuntu’s look too, so I’m not sure if it’s even valid to talk about user perception and gnome/packaging internals in the same breath.

  15. Classic mode has had at least one victim already – me. Unity was simply too much a change to take in at once, and classic mode resembles unthemed gtk on my machine. So have switched back to debian after a very long time.

  16. Deepankar – Classic mode only looked like an unthemed gtk with the default nouveau driver, the experimental driver brought the correct theme back. Although the proprietary driver killed the whole desktop.

  17. I thought I was ready to try a switch to Unity. I mean let’s give it a chance, but the beta is problematic for this. Unity gave me only a black screen with a mouse pointer. Tested on 2 pc’s

    I can work with the Ubuntu Classic desktop.

    Changed the graphics card and that made me able to run Unity.
    My impression of this beta: I agree with the article on this link:

    Natty Narwhal with Unity: Worst Ubuntu beta ever

    My advice: delay Unity to next release. It is not ready for the desktop yet.

  18. I think it’s alright for them (Canonical) to redefine ‘classic desktop’ according to more recent UI design/layout choices. That includes getting rid of the panel-wasting-and-ugly classic menu with the icon counterpart and moving the gtk-menu into the panel. It’s a great idea and that’s how the classic desktop *should have* looked all along. In any case, the change isn’t radical enough to warrant lost tears over. I can’t help but find this backwards-looking nit-picking anything but counterproductive.

  19. @huffer – How many ubuntu users do you look after? how many people have you done training with? It’s normally only the individuals who feel that having no classic setting is fine. The community folk who do a lot of training and other work tend to see a need for soft landing. Especially for their older users.

  20. I believe this was fixed with

    gnome-panel (1:2.32.1-0ubuntu6.2) natty
    * Update the layout to be closer from the previous cycle changing back the logo menu for the 3 menus, dropping the indicator-appmenu from the default layout and adding back the firefox launcher since it seems that’s what most users are waiting from the classic session.
    — Sebastien Bacher Thu, 07 Apr 2011 17:15:32 +0200

  21. PLEASE. It would have only been COMMON courtesy to ASK if I wanted the “NEW” and “IMPROVED” before forcing me to take UNITY. Now, I can’t get back to “Classic…”, and the suggested way doesn’t work. Why the H… do you people feel you have to do my thinking for me. I abandoned Windows because of issues like this, and I’ll be dammed if I’ll put up with this crap again!

  22. @Eric – Are you talking to me? Because I’m an Artist and Indy developer, I didn’t design or implement Unity.

    If you’re talking to the developers, then please bare in mind that they’re trying their best to do something new. I understand it’s going to be a pain in the backside and for me you have no idea how much of a pain in the backside it is, but I’m willing to cut them some slack since it wasn’t a completely black box process and we did have some input into the direction and implimentation of the system.

    I expect to see more variation as the quantum nature of Linux increases in amplitude over the next few cycles.

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