Unity 8 Review: What’s good, and what’s not so good.

Hi everybody!

As promised, I have a software review for you! This time, it’s on Unity 8, an interesting and innovative project. I was going to try and have a video version of the review here too, but I will explain the reasons why I can’t in a second. They’re umm… interesting 😛


First Impressions

That’s the login screen, and I think it looks quite nice, and is not too much of a departure from Unity 7’s equivalent, lightdm.


My first thought was “what the hell is this?”, and I’m sure you can see why. A lot of people criticized Unity 7 and below for being “tabletty”, but this one really takes the cake. I mean, what’s with the 2D look everyone’s going for, and what’s this “scopes” thing? It doesn’t behave like something designed for a desktop/laptop, it feels like it needs a touch screen.

So, yeah, first impressions weren’t great.

What on Earth are scopes for?

Scopes, it turns out, are a new way of accessing applications. Each type of application has its own subheading, so for example, SuperTuxKart (https://supertuxkart.net/Main_Page) would appear under “Games”, and WxFixBoot (I know, I know…) would appear under “Utilities”. This is all very well and good, but where is my menu?

Umm, there isn’t one. Anywhere. At all. Clicking the Unity dash open scopes, but doesn’t do anything else.

Okay, never mind, how do I use Unity 8?

Open an app from scopes, such as the software centre, or the browser, and… Oh. They don’t really work, at least for me. I had heard that they don’t play well with NVIDIA cards, even with the Nouveau drivers. So, I tried the Intel HD Graphics, which should be fine. But nope, the software centre can’t install anything, and none of the other apps open, they just hang. I mean, this is beta, but it should at least sort of work. My hardware’s from late 2013, so it’s not exactly cutting edge anyway, which is usually when you’d have problems.

So, really, you can’t use it at the moment!

Why didn’t you give me a video recording?

Well, the only apps that open are scopes, and software centre, which is unable to install anything else. Like a terminal. You see, you can’t launch “traditional” apps from scopes, so you have to run them elsewhere. But, there’s no terminal, and I can’t use the keyboard shortcut, so I can’t run my screen capture software. I have had to use screenshots instead, but I wasn’t even sure that would work at first! Talk about frustrating.

When does it come out?

Umm, it was originally meant to come out for Ubuntu 13.10 I think, but that has obviously been and gone, and they’ve been promising it for each new release ever since, so where is it? I don’t know, but I really hope it’ll be better than this when it’s released as stable. It also better have much functionality. I mean, this is meant to be better than Unity 7, except it can do almost nothing that Unity 7 does, and they’ve been working in it for at least 3 years, so I seriously don’t understand what’s going on here! I think they must be focusing on the mobile platforms more exclusively.

The other thing to mention is that Unity 8 runs on Mir, Canonical’s alternative to Wayland, except that it doesn’t (currently) work with any proprietary graphics drivers. Some would say this is a good thing, but it means people can’t get the full potential out of their graphics cards, which basically means they won’t game on it, certainly.


I know this review has probably sounded quite scathing, but don’t get me wrong, I will be very happy if canonical’s project works, and I wish them success. I’m being ranty because we’ve all been waiting for this a very long time, and (on my system at least), it barely even works. I reckon they might release it for 18.04, and that would likely be good, but earlier than then I think might be a disaster, as with Unity on Ubuntu 11.04.

To end on a positive note, I’m going to finish up with some screenshots from Unity 8’s controls in the upper right corner, and the window switcher, which I really like, even though they are a bit tabletty.

That’s it from me. As always, I have some new topics coming up, and I hope you enjoyed reading this article.


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About Hamish McIntyre-Bhatty

I'm a self-employed software developer working on Free Software projects, as well as studying for my degree with the Open University. Being pedantic when it comes to detail is fortunately useful for both of these things! A strong believer in free software, I have a few pay-for programs available under the GPLv3 and enjoy reporting bugs and helping to improve various open source projects, including volunteering at Wimborne Model Town to work on their river control system.

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