Unity is the default user interface in Ubuntu, a position that has given it extensive exposure to critics. Some of the criticism it has received has been justifiable, but many of the things that has been said about it also strike me as quite odd.
Unity has had and still has its share of issues; There are in fact several perfectly valid reasons you might not want to use it. Just like all big desktop environments, it loves memory. I’d go as far as saying you shouldn’t use it with less than 1 GB of RAM, though you won’t need more than that for a good experience either. At the moment, it needs hardware 3D acceleration to even be able to run. If you lack such hardware, that’s a good reason to look elsewhere.
In the past, Compiz, the underlying technology Unity builds on has been notoriously buggy and was prone to both crash and leak memory, neither being desirable features of the most important program running on your desktop. Since Ubuntu 12.04, most of these problems seems to have disappeared and Compiz now provides the stable experience most people expect from their desktop.
From a more cosmetic perspective, Unity can to some (Including me) look hideously ugly. The colors almost gives me the same feelings as the original Windows XP look. Why would anyone think it looks good?
So why would these criticisms strike me as odd? They wouldn’t, but these aren’t the things people usually criticize about Unity. Unity is usually criticized for dumbing down the desktop, for not being possible to customize, for copying OSX, and several other things.
First of all, Unity has simplified several aspects of the desktop, but this has not come at the expense of more experienced users. In fact, I’d argue Unity probably is one of the most keyboard friendly desktop environments available with its extensive focus on keyboard shortcuts and the dash. Launching even seldom used applications can be done in little more than an instant using only the keyboard.
There is some truth to the claim that Unity has been hard to customize; Unity is a relatively new interface and customization was not a top priority during early development. However, tools such as MyUnity has since made it possible to change many aspects of the system. Since Unity builds on the Compiz, you can also change pretty much all behavior ranging from how windows placement works to which application switcher it uses. In other words, not only can Unity be customized, it’s actually one of the environments with the most possibilities for customization.
There’s no doubt that Unity has adopted some elements from OSX and for that matter other environments. But people who criticize Unity for this seems to always leave out an explanation for why this is a bad thing. In fact, I get the distinct impression that the main reason the most so called “hardcore” Linux users are criticizing Unity is because it’s an environment that breaks with the classic GNOME look, which is actually the Windows 95 look. Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a desktop environment which is based on the ideas of Windows 95. But people shouldn’t criticize Unity for not being “linuxy” enough, simply for not looking enough like Windows 95. That’s just utterly absurd.
Before I finish this post, I’d like to add a few notes about the memory consumption of Unity. This is what many people refer to when they say they feel that Unity is bloated. And yes, Unity does like memory, but what a lot of people seem to not realize is that so does a lot of other desktop environments. Unity does not use significantly more or less memory than other popular desktop environments such as GNOME (2 and 3), KDE, or XFCE. Some people do feel all these environments use too much memory and it’s okay to have that opinion. But Unity sometimes gets unfairly singled out as being particularly bad, which simply isn’t true.
This post was mainly written so I could refer to it when people ask me about these things, though hopefully you found it interesting even if you discovered it by accident. It’s also important to understand that this post isn’t trying to make you want to use Unity. You should use whatever desktop environment you feel comfortable using.
But I do hope that me writing this means fewer people will try to discourage other people from trying Unity based on faulty assumptions.