Ubuntu 11.04 Alpha 1 is set to be released today and many of you have been wondering what Canonical's Unity desktop will look like in this forthcoming release codenamed Natty Narwhal. I, for one, have been quite interested based upon the terrible Unity experience in Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook, so I fired up the latest Ubuntu Natty daily LiveCD released this morning. Here are some screenshots of the new Ubuntu Unity desktop as it stands in Natty Alpha 1 along with screenshots of Natty's classic GNOME desktop.
Unity is the default desktop shell in Ubuntu 11.04 on supported systems, which right now basically comes down to systems that are backed by open-source drivers with 3D acceleration support for the default Compiz compositing window manager. For Ubuntu 11.04 this basically means those with Intel i915 IGPs or newer, most all ATI Radeon graphics processors except for the newest Radeon HD 6000 series, and potentially most NVIDIA graphics cards. Right now Ubuntu does not enable the Nouveau Gallium3D driver by default, but they may enable it to bring the Unity experience to NVIDIA users. Once Ubuntu is installed off the LiveCD and any proprietary graphics drivers are installed, the Unity desktop can run in other configurations. For those with 3D drivers by default in Ubuntu, the first six screenshots show what the desktop looks like in Ubuntu 11.04 Alpha 1.
It does not look too different from the Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Edition interface and it is still far from being finished. There are also comments from Canonical's Rick Spencer about the state of Unity in Ubuntu 11.04 Alpha 1. The big improvement in Ubuntu 11.04 Alpha 1 compared to Unity in Ubuntu 10.10 is that the desktop is not as sluggish, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. Overall, though, Canonical still has lots of work ahead to get Unity ready for Ubuntu 11.04. Unity in Ubuntu 11.04 will also not use Wayland by default as its display server, but that will come later.
For those lacking 3D acceleration support when running Ubuntu 11.04, you will fall back to the "classic" GNOME desktop (shown above) that really is not different from previous Ubuntu Linux releases. The GNOME 3.0 Shell also requires OpenGL support with its Mutter window manager, so that is not used either. A primitive message box appears when this happens informing you that you lack the necessary 3D acceleration support to run Ubuntu Unity. To those without any 3D acceleration hardware or drivers, the Gallium3D-based LLVMpipe driver that is able to accelerate OpenGL on the CPU (and other Gallium3D state trackers) as a better software renderer, still does not yet support the necessary requirements to run Compiz, KWin, or Mutter. The compositing window manager experience with LLVMpipe though would be quite slow with all but the most recent CPUs. Ideally though NVIDIA users will get Nouveau Gallium3D support by default in Natty, since the Gallium3D-less Nouveau experience in Ubuntu 11.04 Alpha 1 right now is quite poor and actually worse than with the Gallium3D component enabled. Moving around Windows in the classic GNOME desktop is slow and takes a noticeable time for the regions behind the window move to be repainted, etc. Nouveau Gallium3D is slow at gaming, but our tests show it working out just fine for the desktop with most generations of NVIDIA GPUs.