Ubuntu 13.04 has been out, officially, for a bit over a week at this point. I’ve upgraded, and I stayed with the current default of Unity for a while. I eventually realized that GNOME was still supported, and version 3.8 is the latest version available (not the current standard yet, as it still has some unstable features).
GNOME and Unity have had interesting developments. When I started using Ubuntu, back with version 7.04, the default interface was GNOME. It was a basic interface, and worked well enough. Eventually, Unity was being developed, and was added as an optional mode. I tried it, but didn’t find it that useful. What we now have as “lenses” were still in “beta” builds, and weren’t all that functional.
At some point, probably 11.10, Ubuntu switched to Unity as the default interface, and nowadays you have to choose to install GNOME. This Lifehacker article from 2011 details differences between the two as of the end of 2011, when Unity became the default interface.
For this, I’m just focusing on the here and now, with Ubuntu 13.04. As I’ve said, Unity is the default. If you do a clean install of Ubuntu 13.04, you have Unity to deal with: you have lenses, you have the dock, you have the toolbar atop the screen. Originally, GNOME and Unity looked quite different, but GNOME is looking more and more like Unity. The functionality is different between the two.
I’ve noticed (and this is probably just true for my older laptop) that Unity is slower, it tends to lag, especially when loading the “lenses” (I still don’t really get that term, but it seems to be what that menu is called). There seems to be a lot of work being done to add features to the “lenses”, but I don’t really use those “lenses” that often. In fact, searching for programs in that menu is a bit clunkier than what I am used to in GNOME.
After switching back to GNOME this week, I’m pleased to see that accessing programs is still as quick and simple as I remember, even though GNOME has taken on a slightly different menu design. Back in 7.04, you had a very Windows XP-ish main menu system, where you clicked one of three items on the main toolbar, and a dropdown menu would appear, and you’d search for programs like that. Very familiar to those used to Windows. Nowadays, you have a full-screen interface for the menu, centered around two features: an object-dock on the left, and a search bar along the top. Simply start typing the name of the program you need if it isn’t docked, and it will appear on the menu.
The current GNOME menu interface
I prefer GNOME’s sleeker, quicker menus to the clunkier, more lag-prone menus in Unity. Unity is a nice idea, it just isn’t quite there, yet. And I don’t think it will be. It’s a good alternative, I just wish GNOME were still the default for Ubuntu. I know Unity looks nicer, but GNOME just runs better. Again, this is all just my own opinion.