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Ubuntu's Unity Still Crashes A Lot, Usability Problems

Ubuntu

Published on 15 April 2011 08:45 AM EDT
Written by Michael Larabel in Ubuntu
66 Comments

A week ago a discussion began on the Ubuntu development mailing list whether Ubuntu 11.04 should ship with Unity or the classic GNOME desktop as many people are concerned about the state of the Canonical-developed desktop and shipping it too prematurely. While it looks like they'll continue using Unity since they went ahead and released Ubuntu 11.04 Beta 2 yesterday without any change, they have some published some rather frightening results from their user testing.

From this mailing list discussion we learned that Canonical will be launching some sort of Ubuntu developer web-site later in the year, but yesterday evening another interesting email was sent by Canonical's Matthew Paul Thomas.

He's sharing the results of the user-testing of Unity that Canonical did with 11 individuals on hardware that the company picked out. They were introduced to the Unity desktop and set to use it for one hours time. The mailing list message with the summary can be found here, but here are some of the key findings.

- Of the 11 individuals, not a single user understood Ubuntu One (Canonical's cloud file storage/sync-ing service).
- Everyone at least understood how to get to and use Mozilla Firefox. There were also no problems in using LibreOffice Writer.
- Some are confusing LibreOffice Calc as being a calculator and the Ubuntu Software Center as being a recycling bin.
- Only half of the users could easily delete a document and two of those users that did weren't even sure they deleted the document.
- Only 4 out of 11 people could figure out how to change the Unity desktop background. Re-arranging the launcher icons was also a challenge for the majority.
- Only one user was able to easily add a game to the Unity launcher while the other eight users that tried all experienced problems.
- No one was able to play an MP3 file on Ubuntu as they didn't understand the plug-in search prompt.
- Nobody seemed to understand the Ubuntu button.

While those are all usability issues, Unity itself isn't even stable in all configurations yet. The last note in this e-mail is that for five of the 11 users, Unity had broke within an hour of their initial testing. "5/11 participants (P2, P3, P5, P9, P10, P11) crashed Unity during their hour of testing. And towards the end of her test, P11 opened a zombie quicklist that stayed on top of everything and didn't respond to clicks." Now that sounds more like something users of Windows would expect.

To end, here's what one Phoronix reader wrote in to us last night about these results:
These results should be interesting for both proponents and critics of Unity. For my part, I'm fond of the critique angle. Look at this: Canonical gets to *choose* the hardware they want people to test on, and STILL, Unity crashed for 5 out of 11 people in an hour of testing?!!? And this is, hopefully, ideal hardware to run Unity on?!

How in the WORLD can this be considered production quality software? That's absolutely unacceptable, and sets exactly the wrong tone about GNU/Linux with the general public.

It's probably way too late to bang out a Gnome2 release, since it hasn't been the testing focus during this whole cycle; but even from a *stability* standpoint (nevermind usability), Unity is going to be a complete disaster for Canonical. Boy, they'll REALLY wish they had stuck with Gnome2 when the complaints start rolling in on release day.

These guys need to get their heads on straight. I really don't want to see Ubuntu die, but releasing Unity in this state to the general public is like committing software hari kari.

And certain ones of the UX tests were also remarkably bad. No one knows what the Ubuntu button is supposed to do? Double clicking it just causes the screen to flicker? People can't figure out how to *close* a *window*?

These people are apparently Canonical's target demographic, and they're stymied by Unity, even when it doesn't crash. And of course, long term loyal users, enthusiasts, and programmers are appalled at the regression in usability compared to Gnome 2 or even Gnome 3. This is shaping up to be very, very bad for Canonical and Ubuntu. Expect a lot of new users of Fedora, OpenSUSE, or Kubuntu in the coming months -- or at the least, a lot of users sticking with Ubuntu 10.10.

About The Author
Michael Larabel is the principal author of Phoronix.com and founded the web-site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience and being the largest web-site devoted to Linux hardware reviews, particularly for products relevant to Linux gamers and enthusiasts but also commonly reviewing servers/workstations and embedded Linux devices. Michael has written more than 10,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics hardware drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and OpenBenchmarking.org automated testing software. He can be followed via and or contacted via .
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