Just under a year ago I swapped from Ubuntu to Mint. This was a reaction to the awful Unity desktop that they had decided to use as the default in 11.10. The reaction to my blog post about the change showed I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, but after living with Mint for a year I’ve swapped back to Ubuntu.

Throughout the year I’ve been using Mint it’s been a reasonable choice, but their update/upgrade mechanism requires a lot more care and feeding than Ubuntus and the system never seemed as up to date as I had experienced when using Ubuntu. Additionally I had ongoing niggles with some of the hardware on the machine (wifi and sound being the 2 main culprits) which seemed impervious to all fixes I tried. As I’ve left my days of kernel hacking behind I’d rather just use the machine than spend time debugging intermittent oddities. The lack of certain packages in apt on Mint finally pushed me to think about a switch, so as the effort involved in moving to Mint 14 was the same as moving to Ubuntu 12.10 I decided to make the switch.

The switch was also encouraged by several people who have commented that recent changes to Unity have made it less horrible and easier to deal with, so as I believe in second chances, I decided it was worth a try.

After backing up my entire partition, downloading and burning the 12.10 Desktop ISO I booted the machine using a USB DVD player and waited. Sure enough Ubuntu appeared and asked me to install. Simple. Adding the wifi password got me online and the installation was as painless as I remembered. After a reboot it was done.

The biggest question I had was whether I could cope with Unity or would have to change to gnome-shell. First impressions weren’t encouraging as I was confronted by a list of items the systems thought I should buy!? WTF! This was almost enough to make me ditch the whole experiment and grab a Mint 14 ISO, but in the spirit of giving it a try I continued on. After some google searches and some preference changes the nasty adverts went away, though with them they (apparently) took some of the other functionality. Removing most of the default icons from the “bar” on the left was easy enough – adding the ones I wanted was much harder, but eventually I managed. Finding the apps I wanted to run was a challenge and mostly involved typing the first few characters of their name into the dash search bar. Seriously? Not the best start.

As for the “Dash” and the various “lenses” that people seem to be excited about, I don’t really get it. It’s my machine and my desktop with apps on it that I have chosen. I should be able to arrange things in a way that makes sense to me. On an average day I only use a few apps and having them easily available to me is important. If I wanted to have how I should use my computer dictated I would be running OSX on a Mac.

Loading some of my media from the backup proved more encouraging as everything played straight away. The days of having to find odd packages to get the right codecs appear to have been banished.

I may be showing my age, but I prefer my window buttons to be on the right, so I had to run

gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.wm.preferences button-layout ":minimize,maximize,close

Simple enough, but couldn’t there be an easier option?

Overall Unity has improved, but still lacks in many areas. Too much of Unity seems directly cloned from OSX, right down to the little arrows next to the app icons in the bar thing. As I don’t really like how OSX works, this doesn’t feel like a positive direction to me. Nor does it feel as though they are innovating. For all it’s faults, Windows 8 does at least feel fresh and innovative.

Will I stick with Unity? I’m not sure yet, but I wouldn’t put your money on it.