Re: can anyone who likes the 12.xx Unity interface tell me why?
I also love Unity, but for quite different reasons to many other people here. Sorry, this is a very long post, but Unity is a good desktop in so many ways.
1. Screen space. Unity's Launcher (the bar on the side) can autohide if you elect to. Even if you don't, it uses screen space that is generally not very useful on a widescreen monitor: the side. On a widescreen monitor you are lacking vertical space and it's wasteful to put too much user interface chrome in the vertical space.
Unity also folds the titlebar and menus of maximised applications into the top panel, so as to give you more space. Even the overlay scrollbars save some room, although not much.
2. The overlay scrollbars. On a laptop running Windows, you might keep your cursor hovering over the "down arrow" on the scrollbar of a document so you can just click to scroll down. If you want to scroll up, you have to grab your trackpad and move the mouse right up to nearly the very top of the screen to move up a line or two. Or use trackpad scrolling - which I've often found to be imprecise and annoying.
However with Unity's overlay scrollbars, when you click on the "down arrow" the overlay will stay there (as long as you don't move the mouse). If you want to scroll up, it's only a couple of pixels away. Obviously, somebody has looked at this particular use-case and thought "We can make this more helpful to the user".
3. Drag 'n' Drop in the Launcher. Back when I used Mac OS 9, I had a tabbed folder sitting on the bottom of my screen with shortcuts ("aliases") to programs I often used. If I wanted to open a file with a particular program, I could drag the file down to the tabbed folder (which would open in full), and drag the file over a program I wanted to try opening it with. If the program icon highlighted, it could open files of this type, and you could drop the file onto the program to open it. Dragging a file to a program icon makes a lot of sense to me as it emulates what you do in the real world (pick up a document and give it to a person), and the highlighting function allowed you to see easily whether the file could be opened.
Unity does this! I was thrilled when I found out about this. You can drag files toward the Launcher, and most of the icons will dim - the only ones that will stay lit are those that can open the file. Drag the file onto one of the icons (whether lit or unlit) and Unity will open the file in the program.
4. Indicators: If you had used Linux a few years ago, you might have had a frustrating experience with "notification area icons" (what Windows users would call the "System Tray"). Because every program was directly responsible for drawing and interacting with its notification area icon, it was a bit of a wild west in terms of how that icon would react. Depending on the program, a left-click would open the main program window, or open a menu, or do nothing, or toggle a switch. A right-click might open a different menu, do nothing, toggle a switch OR even ask if you wanted to remove the icon.
Also, you know how you can open the File menu in a program and, without clicking again, move the mouse to the Edit menu and it would open and the File menu would close? You couldn't do that with notification area icons. Not reliably, at least. Oh, and if you had KDE or Qt programs running on your Gnome desktop or vice-versa, they would look out of place and really inconsistent.
Not any more. Ubuntu-Desktop, which eventually became Unity, pioneered the "Indicator" API which provides a standard interface for programs to hook into to display indicators. A left-click will always open a menu. A right-click will do nothing. You can drag your mouse from one icon to another like any other menu. As a bonus, indicator menus are searchable from HUD. This adds to the tight integration in the desktop and just makes everything feel consistent.
5. Quicklists, progress bars and emblems. If you start copying a file, the file manager icon on the Launcher will show a little progress bar so you can keep an eye on it while doing other things. Update Manager will show you a little number in a circle in its icon; the number of pending updates. Right-click the Launcher icon of several different programs and you'll be given a quick list of things you can do in that program - particularly opening a new window or a new tab, but there is potential for much more. Windows 7 also does these things.
6. Wide-ranging search features. One of the more shameful parts of Linux was simply that there was no good search mechanism. Beagle, Tracker, all the others... they all ate up CPU power and in the end usually failed to find the file you were looking for. The search mechanism in Unity (hit Super and start typing) actually works, if you've opened the file in the past. And it's not just files - you can search music locally by ID3 tag, or online via music stores. You can search for videos locally or through online sources, and it's even clever enough not to try searching any sites that you can't access in your country. The shopping lens can search Amazon and will be extended to search several other places. You can look for programs locally installed, or in the Ubuntu Software Center - there's little distinction, and you don't even have to know if the program is installed, you just search for it.
It's all extendable. You can write your own "scope" or "lens" to do the search or display the search results respectively, and there are lenses and scopes you can download today to search anywhere. Unity makes it easier to watch catch-up TV services than to watch live free-to-air TV - that's really something!
7. Notifications. I always got annoyed with notification bubbles. I thought I was getting annoyed that they kept appearing, but in fact I always got annoyed because they seemed to make me "close" them. Oh, I know: They would disappear on their own, but the presence of the close button seemed to demand my immediate action. The Unity notification bubbles do not even allow user action, on purpose. Without that close box, and with quite a short timeout, the notification bubbles don't make me frustrated anymore. I find that a very clever piece of user-interface design - they really figured out what was annoying users, even when the users didn't actually know themselves.
8. Similarities to Windows 7. If you put the Windows 7 taskbar on the left side of the screen, you'll find it actually works just like the Unity launcher (except there's no Dash). I can't really explain it, you'll just have to see for yourself.
9. Nice animations. Yes, it's shallow, but I like the animations and generally the look of Unity. The folding/unfolding animation when you move your mouse over the Launcher when it's full of items, is cool. The fading and unfading of a notification bubble when you move the mouse over it, is lovely. The little reflective shine of a Launcher icon when a new window opens - very appealing. Window exposing and workspace management also look fancy due to the Compiz backend. And you can customise these, too, using Compizconfig Settings Manager.
I also like the semi-transparency of the Dash and Launcher, and the way these change colour depending on your desktop background. Try it!
I'll admit, there are two things about Unity that I don't like:
1. Program browsing. To browse your programs, you need to open the Applications lens of the Dash, which is two clicks or a keyboard combination. Then click Show All Results, then click Filters, then click on the filters you want to use (for instance, "System" and "Accessories"). It's a bit slow because it requires too many clicks. Fortunately it's not often that you'll have to do that, because usually you can just locate the program by typing its name or by clicking its icon in the Launcher if you've already pinned it. Once you have most things pinned to the Launcher or know the name of the program so you can just hit Super and type it, you'll be fine and happy.
2. Workspaces. Apart from them being disabled by default in Ubuntu 13.04, they've always been a bit clunky to use in Unity. In Gnome 2 you had a visual representation of the windows on each workspace, and you could just click one to switch to it. You could drag windows around the workspaces just using the little switcher. Simple, elegant and useful. Unfortunately, in order to look at or manage your workspaces in Unity you need to click the icon first. This seems to discourage me from using them, whcih is very sad because I used to be a heavy user of workspaces.
I strongly recommend you give Unity a proper try. A few weeks. I get frustrated that people don't give it a proper chance ("I upgraded from 10.04 to 12.04 five minutes ago and I hate Unity already! How do I install Gnome 2?") because Unity is actually a clever, well-designed desktop when you get familiar with it. I love the features and design principles behind it, and I find it a joy to use. Try it - it's a total break with tradition, and all the better for it.
TL;DR: Unity is very well designed apart from two rough spots. Try it for a few weeks and you may just love it.
Last edited by 3rdalbum; August 30th, 2013 at 01:24 PM.
I try to treat the cause, not the symptom. I avoid the terminal in instructions, unless it's easier or necessary. My instructions will work within the Ubuntu system, instead of breaking or subverting it. Those are the three guarantees to the helpee.