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5 problems with Ubuntu 12.04 part 1: Unity Dash usability issues

Ubuntu 12.04 has a number of challenges to overcome before we think it's ready for the planned LTS release later this month. We kick off a irreverent list with a few gripes about Unity and the Dash…

Picture the scene. Wendy Windows is taking the plunge with Ubuntu 12.04. She boots the live CD, installs the operating system and arrives at the fresh, gleaming new Ubuntu desktop.

'The scene', yesterday (and by that we mean yesterday, 1998)
"When I press the button, Ubuntu 12.04 appears here."

Being the ‘90’s throwback she is, Wendy promptly connects to the Internet with a view to configuring her email accounts for both home and office. The default email application can’t be found in the launcher, though, and there doesn’t appear to be a drop-down menu called ‘Applications’.

No matter… She does what any Windows user would and looks to the bottom left icon for ‘Start’. Instead she finds a trash can – not a problem. She looks to the top left – the Ubuntu logo…

"Err… Click?"

What Wendy Windows sees next is an entirely blank window overlay with a search bar at the top.

And nothing else.

At first glance she doesn’t see the Lens icons at the bottom of the window at all, but even if she did would she recognise which represents applications? Should she take her chances she would eventually be met by a list of applications, but it needs to be expanded and cycled through before she’ll get the result she’s looking for.

An application lens icon, yesterday.

All she wants to do is access the email client, so being the computer literate person she is she simply types ‘email’ into the search bar. Whether she likes it or not, this is the 21st century – how hard can it be?


Nul points.

Does Wendy persevere from this point or does she decide that the Windows tax she’s currently paying is a necessary evil? We can almost hear one of one Redmond’s richest residents rubbing his hands together with glee. At least that’s one interpretation…

It’s okay – we know – Wendy made a multitude of mistakes in the way she was using Ubuntu. Silly Wendy.

Firstly, Wendy  neglected to realise the name of the email client as ‘Thunderbird’. Had she searched for that (or even ‘mail’ as it transpires) she would have scored a hit on her search of the Dash.

Wendy is now ‘doing it wrong’ in full Olympic 2012 style. Surely everybody knows what Mozilla Thunderbird is, but that’s Wendy for you – you really couldn’t make it up.

The more glaring mistake, though, is that she neglected to spot the small envelope on the top right of the screen, just next to the battery and network indicators. It’s a drop-down menu that would have got her moving in the right direction.

Why didn’t Wendy see it at first glance? In this instance we feel compelled to stand to her defence – the better question should probably be: “why would she see it at first glance?”

Ubuntu is one of the few operating system slash distro derivatives that treats email and messaging in this fashion. No big deal, but does that excuse the lack of a shortcut in the launcher?

Just about every operating system slash distro we can think of that features a dock or launcher has a full gamut of default applications in it, including the email client. Close your eyes and imagine a dock – the chances are you’re seeing File Management, Web Browser, Office, Email, Audio/Video and graphical editor. In, or around, that order.

Obviously there’s a very good reason there’s a shortcut to LibreOffice Impress in place of a shortcut to the default email client. In fact it’s probably such a good reason there’s no need to go into it now.

Let’s not get into it now

Join us next time as Wendy Windows (having successfully configured her email client) attempts to check the coming month’s meeting schedule using Ubuntu 12.04’s calendar integration.

We’ve already had a sneak preview and – we can assure you – it’s Wendy at her best…

It's Wendy at her best