Ubuntu 13.04 beta touts search privacy - before it hooks in eBay, IMDb etc
Um Bongo boss Shuttleworth offers 'incognito' mode for your desktop PC
Review Linux distro Ubuntu 13.04, which hit its first beta today, is already showing promise: there are small but very useful usability tweaks planned for Ubuntu's Unity user interface.
Assuming you've managed to get past last year’s privacy fiasco, either by being comfortable with Canonical sending your search queries to Amazon and others or disabling the feature, this latest beta - code-named Raring Ringtail - is shaping up to be a high-water mark for Unity fans.
There's even some good news on the privacy front. In a bug report about the location of the privacy notice in Unity, Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth said his company plans to "make a very bold, clear way for you to turn on and off network queries across ALL scopes for any given session in the Dash". Shuttleworth likened the feature to the private browsing mode available in web browsers, and went on to say that users will be able to "configure the Home screen, including choice of scopes, and the behavior of individual scopes".
That's good news, though it could end up making the configuration experience slightly overwhelming: Canonical plans to seriously ratchet-up the number of Unity scopes included by default, promising more than 100 scopes by the time 13.04 launches. The plan is to add popular web search tools - think EBay, Yelp, IMDb and so on - directly to the Dash: when a user searches their system and network, the queries will be passed through Canonical's servers and on to these websites which may have something related to offer.
As of this first beta, though, none of these things are actually part of Unity. The privacy panel still offers the same single option to toggle the Amazon search lens, and the bug Shuttleworth commented on is still marked "incomplete" with no one yet assigned to fix it.
So what is in the beta? A lot of little things that add up to a much better Unity experience.
This looks so sweet - just like a nice game of Limbo, right?
(Click for slightly bigger)
Take the Mouse and Trackpad settings panel for instance. Canonical has added a few new options, but the best part about it is the new integrated testing tool. Want to make sure your third mouse button is registering as a middle mouse click? Just test it right there in the panel. It's a small thing, but add it to the many others in the 13.04 beta and you have a much nicer, more polished overall experience.
Another small, but useful feature is the new Sync Menu applet, which makes it easy to see what Ubuntu One is doing on your system, offering links to recently changed files and quick links to share. The menu is more or less a clone of what Dropbox has long offered on most OSes (including Linux), but open to third-party apps. While one-off downloads, such as torrents and web files, are explicitly outside the Sync Menu scope as defined by Canonical, other third-party apps such as Dropbox or Box.net could use the new sync menu.
The final verdict: too many bugs or a beta that's just right?
Unity also gets a couple more customisation possibilities, such as an optional Launcher button to reveal the desktop and an option to remove the Workspaces button from the Launcher. By the time the final release rolls around the latter will be gone by default so the customisation will be to enable, not disable, Workspaces. But for now it can be disabled if you don't use Workspaces.
Other small new features include an easier-to-see focus outline when switching apps with alt-tab or looking for a particular window. Unity now outlines the window that's about to get focus with a red glow.
Make sure you haven't got anything odd open before popping up this browser list menu in front of colleagues
Right-clicking an application in the Launcher will now bring up a list of open windows, giving those who prefer to use the mouse a quicker way to navigate between apps and windows.
The Software Updater app has received a slight design makeover that makes it a bit more user friendly by grouping updates into relevant sections. For example system updates fall under "Ubuntu Base" while Firefox gets its own section that - when - expanded, reveals updates for both the browser and the Unity menu integration for Firefox.
As with any Ubuntu release the usual complement of GNOME apps have been updated since Ubuntu 12.10 arrived last year. Firefox is currently at version 19; Libre Office has also been updated, as has Thunderbird and other bundled apps. Expect most of them to be updated again before 13.04 arrives in final form next month.
Yes, there were bugs, but this is a beta. I encountered some problems around the new right-click window lists in the Launcher, and Libre Office crashed several times.
That said, however, this is one of the more stable betas I've tested and the system didn’t crash once during my tests. Based on the beta there’s much to welcome in Ubuntu 13.04, with the promise of more interesting things to come. ®