Ubuntu 16.10 Yakkety Yak has just been released with quite a few number of new stuff and a first preview of Unity 8 desktop environment. Unity could be installed in Ubuntu 16.04 but it comes with 16.10 pre-installed. Unity 8 has been in development since 2013 and anyone who has seen or used Ubuntu phone will quickly notice the similarities and some major differences.
So what is the big deal with Unity 8? Unity 8 is the next evolution of Unity on Ubuntu and the first technical preview has shipped with Ubuntu 16.10 as an alternative for the default Unity desktop environment. Unity 8 aims to bring the desktop experience on mobile, tablet and the desktop together. With convergence, canonical wants to produce a seamless work between all form factors in a manner quite similar to Microsoft’s Windows 10 mobile. Like I mentioned earlier, the Unity 8 technical preview is not the default on Ubuntu 16.10 so you will have to choose the Unity 8 session from the greeter before logging in.
After logging in, you’ll be a the desktop and there you’ll see the startling difference from the default session. The desktop is pretty bear as you cannot put App icons or shortcuts on it. You’ll also realise that right click does not work either.
By default, only the Apps scope is shown frow where you will be launching your apps from. You can add other scopes by clicking on the arrow below the scope and choosing manage. There are a very few applications that come with the Unity 8 preview including a terminal, a browser and a system settings.
Upon launching any of these applications, you’ll quickly realise how everything looks like your typical mobile (android/ubuntu phone) OS. All the default apps look like they have been built with mobile/tablet in mind, and this is to be expected due to the convergence direction taken by canonical. By default, Unity 8 launcher is automatically hidden to maximise but I do believe a change is due here to make it look and work like the previous Unity versions.
You can switch between apps with Alt-Tab combo.
The apps work quite well considering they look so much like something you’d expect on mobile, or maybe it's because mobile apps are blurring the difference between them and traditional desktop apps.
You can also change the display mode from “desktop” to “mobile” and the os behaves as if it were being used on a mobile device. Currently, customizations are on the minimal side.
There is little you can really do in that way apart from changing the desktop background.
Some of the customizations are available from the indicator area on the top toolbar. There are sliders for toggling you speaker and microphone volumes. You can turn on silent mode and also toggle desktop or mobile mode from here.
Apps available in the default session (Unity 7.5) don’t show in the Apps scope and launching them from the terminal won’t work either since these apps require the Xorg display server which isn’t available by default. If you have to run your Xorg supported apps, you can check out Libertine which will provide container to provide and run your Xorg based apps.
Fortunately, you can install snappy apps and these are supposed to be the future as the containerize apps so you can get the latest version of an app as soon as it is available regardless of the OS version you will be using.
In conclusion, Unity 8 is a work in progress. Canonical has given as a preview of what they are working on although many would say for almost 4 years, this isn’t much to show. Nonetheless, it is a work in progress and hopefully, now that we’ve been provided with a preview, improvements will come pouring in.
Conclusion Or Tip for you
NB. Unity 8 does not work with all pc configurations and the experience on AMD machines are particularly underwhelming.
You can grab Ubuntu 16.10 from the button below and let us know your impression of Unity 8.