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Dash to search

The biggest news is that the Unity Dash sports some new search Scopes – more than 100 in fact, to search everything from your Firefox Bookmarks to Flickr photos to Picasa, Google Drive, Facebook, Wikipedia and many, many more. Like several new features in the Dash, Smart Scopes are a carry over from 13.04.

Smart Scopes arrived Ubuntu 12.10 with the controversial Amazon Scope, which added Amazon search "suggestions" to the Unity Dash. Canonical's plan was to include even more Smart Scopes in 13.04, but that didn't happen. Now Smart Scopes are here. The Unity Dash will now search across everything from Wikipedia to Reddit to Flickr.

Last time I reviewed this proto release, I noted Smart Scope's slightly erratic search return behaviour, manifested by a strange Britney Spears fixation. OK, so the quality and relevance of Smart Scopes' returns was supposed to improve over time. I get that.

But how useful this is will depend on how you use (or want to use) the Unity Dash. If you see the Dash as little more than a glorified application launcher, the new clutter of results is going to get in your way. Fortunately you can turn off Smart Scopes on an individual basis (right click the scope) or completely using the settings panel.

If you use the Dash like a HUD version of Google then the new Smart Scopes will be a welcome addition. And the good news is that Smart Scopes get smarter, though it does take a while. In my review of the beta I questioned the learning abilities of the Scopes, but I'm happy to report that, while it's taken a bit longer than I expected, Smart Scopes have indeed become smarter the more I use them.

That said, I ended up disabling them anyway. I just don't find Smart Scopes particularly useful most of the time. On the rare occasion that a long forgotten photo from my Flickr stream serendipitously appeared I momentarily really liked Smart Scopes. The rest of the time I found myself wishing them away.

What Smart Scopes need are a kind of keyword search capability like some browser URL bars offer. In other words, when I want to see results from Flickr, let me prefix my search with flickr: search term. Or amazon: search term. And so on. As it is I find Smart Scopes just clutter my results so I decided to forgo the potential serendipity and disabled them completely.

Ubuntu 13.10 Nautilus

Gnome apps like Nautilus have been fixed to fit in with Ubuntu's default theme

Other noticeable new features include a keyboard applet for quick switching between keyboards - handy for those of you frequently writing in multiple languages. Canonical has also fixed a regression that made some Gnome apps – notably the Nautilus file browser – look out of place in Ubuntu's default theme. Despite some talk of replacing Firefox with Chrome as the default browser in 13.10, Firefox is still there. Other standard Ubuntu apps like Shotwell, LibreOffice and Thunderbird have all been updated, but there are no major changes in the default app suite.

If the new Smart Scopes don't tempt you to upgrade, well, that's understandable. There's not much else to Ubuntu 13.10, which, as it turns out, is not so saucy of a salamander after all.

However, there are plenty of new and exciting things happening in the larger Ubuntu ecosystem. The desktop release may not have much pizazz this time around, but an entirely new phone platform should help make up for it.

As was the case with OS X when iOS first came on the scene, Ubuntu's desktop may take a back seat to the new mobile platform for a bit. That doesn't mean Canonical is abandoning the desktop, it just means that resources are limited and just like any other company, Canonical has to apply them to what needs them the most. Right now that seems to be the mobile platform, but I'd be surprised if it stayed that way. ®

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