With Ubuntu 11.04, codenamed Natty Narwhal, the appearance of the Desktop has undergone a complete change. This is because of the adoption the Unity Desktop. Canonical, which is the company that owns Ubuntu, has sent shockwaves through the Ubuntu community by departing from the Gnome Desktop that has been the standard Desktop for so many years. The Unity desktop was developed in partnership with Canonical, specifically for laptop/notebook systems.
You will find that at the Ubuntu Login screen, you will be able to choose between the Unity Desktop and the classic Gnome desktop. During startup, having reached the login screen, once you select a Login name you will see a menu appear on the bar at the bottom of the screen. The default choice will be “Ubuntu” which will take you to the Unity Desktop. If you choose “Ubuntu Classic” it will take you to the well known Gnome Desktop.
Unfortunately, for those people who find the Unity desktop hard going, the gnome option will no longer be available as from next year. For those aficionados of Ubuntu it is simply a matter of "Get used to the Unity desktop".
The first obvious change in the Unity Desktop is the graphical application Launcher. It appears as a side bar down the left side of the screen (the launcher is shown on the left here). This replaces the text type menu which was previously at the top of the screen on earlier versions of Gnome. It is an attempt to de-clutter the top and bottom of the screen. The theory is that with most people now using wide screens, there is more room for a sidebar than a topbar.
It has a small selection of applications on the launcher. You can hide the Launcher if you so desire plus you can add or remove application icons from the Launcher. As apps are launched a small arrow appears to the left of the Launcher Icon. The App that is currently in focus has a small arrow to the right of its icon.
If you click on The Workplace Switcher Icon (The purple one at the left) you can see all four available desktops laid out on one screen. To activate the desired desktop you need mouse onto the desired screen and right click.
If you maximize an app on the screen the Launcher sidebar will disappear but if you move the mouse to the left screen border it will once again appear.
If you wish to see all the apps you need to click on the Ubuntu Logo (start icon) in the top left hand corner. This opens the dark full screen dash. It shows the apps under categories (media apps, Internet apps, more apps) etc.
Alternatively, if you right click on the Applications Icon (The icon with the + sign on it ) a drop down menu text menu will be displayed showing a full list of App Categories which can then be expanded to show individual App icons.
As a further alternative, if you left click on the same Applications Icon it will show a list of Apps. If you go to the row containing Installed Apps, and click on arrow it will show up the full list of apps installed apps.
The Office package is now LibreOffice 3.3.2. It looks similar in almost every respect to Open Office and needs no learning curve to those familiar with Open Office.
Ubuntu is still one of the most popular of the Linux distributions. This usually means that it is the first of the distros to have drivers available e.g. for newer printers and other hardware.
The one thing that has not changed with Ubuntu 11.04 is the rapid boot-up and shut-down process. It outshines Mandriva and other Linux distros that I have tried so far.
In spite of the challenges of getting used to the Unity Desktop Ubuntu 11.04 is well worth a try. It is available as a live CD. The live CD is always slower than if the system is installed on to your hard drive but at least it allows you to familiarize yourself with the new Ubuntu.