Why Change Now?
Over the years, desktop standards have changed. New ways of using software have been introduced; new types of computer systems have appeared. Adding to the well-known desktop systems and laptops of old, we now have netbooks, tablets, and touch-screen interfaces. The expectations of users have changed now that Android phones and iPads have become commonplace. Canonical, the company that stands behind and supports much of the development of Ubuntu, noticed this trend and began working a couple of years ago to ensure that Ubuntu would remain relevant to users amid such change.
In an effort to avoid usability problems and stale or unattractive design, Canonical hired experts. Graphic designers and user interface experts were called in. Testing, user needs analyses, and professional design techniques were combined to try to make Unity easy to use and simple to understand. Because the Ubuntu community had already benefited from Canonical's work with professional font designers and the creation of the Ubuntu font family, trust was already established among the community development team, and work began.
Ubuntu 11.04 marks the first release that uses Unity as the default desktop. Both end users and the Ubuntu developer community seem to agree that the foundation is solid, but the desktop is not yet all that they hope it to be. That does not mean that Unity is incomplete as a usable interface, but rather that more flash and features are expected as development progresses toward future releases.
Unity does have increased hardware requirements, but anything made in the last several years should work just fine. Basically, if your graphics card meets the following standards, you should be able to run Unity:
- All GPUs released today by NVIDIA, AMD, or Intel
- GPUs released by NVIDIA and AMD over the last five years
- GPUs released by Intel after the GMA 950 (except for GPUs with no appropriate driver support or missing features)
A test is run when Ubuntu 11.04 is installed (or when an upgrade from 10.10 is performed) to see whether the system's hardware can run Unity. If not, the Ubuntu Classic desktop is installed, which is actually just the old GNOME interface. You don't need to worry about the details as this check is performed automatically.