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uTouch

Ubuntu 11.10 Review: Benchmarked Against Windows 7
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uTouch is Unity's multi-touch gesture language. The gestures haven't changed since Ubuntu 11.04. So, for a complete explanation of uTouch gestures, see our Natty review. In that article we used an Apple Magic Trackpad to give uTouch a spin. For this review, we switch to an actual touchscreen.

The Fujitsu T580 convertible tablet PC packs an Ubuntu-friendly N-Trig DuoSense touchscreen, making it perfect for going hands-on with uTouch, though the setup is not without its quirks.

As a convertible tablet PC, the T580 has traditional keyboard/mouse inputs, but we went about this part of the review completely in tablet mode. In order to expose any touch-only shortcomings in Unity, we interacted with Ubuntu 11.10 as is if there was no mouse, keyboard, or even stylus.

LightDM Login

Our first concern was logging in. Luckily, LightDM holds accessibility options in the upper right-hand corner, including the all-important on-screen keyboard.

Unfortunately, the lock screen does not.

Planning on using Ubuntu on a slate? Deactivate the screen lock (via Screen in System Settings) or plan on a hard reset every time the unit goes idle.

Unity Panel

Tapping the small Panel indicators and dropdown menu items requires an extra bit of concentration. You need to be ultra aware of what pixel your fingertip actually touches. This makes interacting with the Panel indicators a frustrating affair.

Using the global menu with only touch input isn't impossible like we initially thought in our review of Ubuntu 11.04. Since the Fujitsu T580 is a tablet PC, there is an on-screen cursor. Tapping an empty area of the Panel places the cursor on the Panel, thus executing a hover to expose the foreground application's global menu. However, as with the indicator menus, global menu dropdowns also require extra care to avoid mis-taps.

But the worst Panel element for touchscreens only appears on maximized applications. The tiny round window controls in the top-left corner of the Panel are nearly impossible to use properly. Because the new placement is in the corner where the Panel meets the Dash button in the Launcher, accidents are irritating and plentiful.

Unity Launcher

Moving the Dash button from the Panel to the Launcher was definitely a good move for touchscreens. The Launcher Dash button is significantly larger than the old Panel Dash button, which essentially eliminates tapping accidents. However, the uTouch gesture for right click is a two-finger tap, and Launcher entries are much too small for two fingers. This essentially makes all the Launcher menus unavailable on touch-only input devices.

Unity Dash

Although Lenses appear larger than the Panel indicators, they prove to be as difficult to select. Likewise, the collapsible menus to See more/fewer results can be difficult to tap. Simply placing these items inside buttons, instead of relying on tapping the actual icons/words, would make this issue go away.

When the number of app icons outgrow the amount of screen space, an extremely thin scrollbar appears for scrolling through apps. Unfortunately, actually grabbing the scrollbar is difficult (close to impossible when Dash is maximized). Worse, Dash does not seem to recognize the uTouch gesture for two-finger scrolling. This makes using Dash as a start menu nearly impossible with finger input alone.

Windows

As mentioned previously, the window controls don't do well with finger taps in the global menu, and they're no better in the window title bar. But instead of being too close to the global menu entires and Dash button, they are simply too close to each other. To further illustrate the issue, the screenshot to the right shows how large the actual active area around the close button is within a yellow square. That square is 18 pixels high by 20 pixels wide. We contrasted this versus Apple's iOS spec and Windows Phone 7's recommended range for button size.

These window controls are designed for the mouse, not touchscreens, plain and simple.

One nice change to uTouch since Natty is in Window Manipulation Mode (activated by a three-finger tap on a window). It now recognizes screen edges, which allows you to snap windows from Window Manipulation Mode.

Applications

Some applications, such as the redesigned Nautilus file manager, System Settings, Thunderbird email client, and Ubuntu Software Center all make using finger input slightly easier. However, most other applications have not been modified for Unity, and are no better (or worse) on a touchscreen than your random Windows application.

The hidden scrollbars are again a source of frustration. It's bad enough that they rely on hover to reveal the pill-shaped scrollbar, but since they occupy only a few pixels on the edge of a window, tapping them is a ridiculous challenge. It's essentially impossible when windows are maximized, with the scroll strip on the very edge of the screen. While traditional scrollbars are no picnic either, at least they are technically usable.

Overall, using your own hands as the primary input for Ubuntu 11.10 is not realistic. When using an actual touchscreen as the input instead of a multi-touch clickpad, we were able to expose a few serious issues in uTouch, and expanded upon some of the predicted issues with the Unity interface. Between Dash not recognizing the two-finger scroll gesture and the two-finger tap not working for the Launcher, the uTouch gesture language has a couple of rough edges that we could not have seen using the Apple Magic Trackpad. The small size of the Panel, including the global menu, makes that entire component of Unity a hassle for tap navigation. The window controls exemplify the sizing and spacing issues. While the hidden scrollbars and lack of a pervasive on-screen keyboard round out why Ubuntu is far from ready for use on slates.

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  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 13 February 2012 15:45
    Perhaps we can now put to bed that tired old meme about AMD/ATI graphics cards and drivers being unsuitable for Linux?
  • 0 Hide
    will_chellam , 13 February 2012 16:44
    ah, but does it run crysis (and i mean properly, like more than the 1fps most people will get with WINE)....

    the answer is that natively, no, it does not, and this is the main problem most people stuck on windows have got - the lack of native support for games, and yes you can argue that linux is free, so if you have windows for games, it costs nothing to have linux aswell, but most people cant be bothered installing a second OS for the relatively limited benefits.
  • 2 Hide
    Gonemad , 13 February 2012 17:28
    I was wondering how you would pull benchmarks off, exactly because new stuff (games) won't run in Linux. I expected some tool that would simulate Office use (OpenOffice, mind you) or others chores that can be duplicated on both OSes, like, for instance, Browsers.

    Rendering speed for browsers, memory usage, are they affected in any way by the OS running behind them? In this regard, at least the browsers would be up to date, like Chrome, Firefox...

    If Ubuntu won't run Photoshop, can Windows run GIMP? That could prove interesting too. Or am I too far off the point here, been under a rock or something?
  • 1 Hide
    nigelren , 13 February 2012 20:28
    I liked the - 'which is faster' theory of the article - which comes out to be Ubuntu. Which is then instantly dismissed as - well it can't run A or B so why bother?!
    I build my own computers and run all sorts of clustering & private cloud stuff - which if I had to pay Windows licenses for I could not afford to. To say that a free operating system performs faster than something which costs a not insignificant amount of money is a thank you and a BIG thumbs up to the Ubuntu mob!
  • 0 Hide
    nixnet , 14 February 2012 05:20
    Great article! I'm personally dissapointed only in the linux gaming area...
    Besides that, 7 years after realeasing Ubuntu 2005.05, the latest ubuntu UI still feels laggy vs 3 year old Windows' 7... or am i the only one with that feeling?
    That plus the daily updates of the software/bloatware i almost never use or see in action AND the subconscious feeling that there is no one common goal in the thousand app devs' minds, is what still keeps me close to the good old glassy hole in my wall...

    PS. My Ubuntu server yesterday kicked tha bucket. /boot was full (of old kernels), did the !important! _security_ update... and spend few hours rummaging through the web with a handful of quirky error messages... For humans, thay said...
  • 0 Hide
    Ryan-Hutchings , 27 February 2012 22:09
    I personally enjoy using This version, I use it on a 64bit intel dual core desktop and the live cd version on my REALLYYYYYYY old laptop with 512mb DDR ram. Windows 7 Requires at least 1 GB 32 bit and is very resource hungry - Win7 will simply will not work on it. That said i do feel the same as a lot of people that hardly any type of linux is able to run .exe's easily/properly. I found that using a virtualisation product like virtualbox enables you to run windows on ubuntu and run Win programs that way. The handy unity (Windows integrated interface NOT ubuntu interface referred to in article) means you will hardly notice that the programs are actuyally running in virtual machine. Main reason i use this for is Itunes.

    Sorry i went on quite a bit lol.
    -Ryan