Coming Soon: Unity 7

I’m happy to announce that today I filed for a Feature Freeze Exception to get the latest Unity stack into Ubuntu Raring.  It’s a lot of new code, but it should all be available in a PPA in the next day or so, and it’ll be available there for about two weeks for people to test and provide feedback before it lands.  I won’t go into all of the fixes, performance work and other technical changes, but if you’re interested in what this means for you as a user, keep reading.

Smart Scopes

Discussed during a UDS-style Ubuntu On-Air hangout back in January, Smart Scopes use an intelligent server-side service to decide when they should be used to search.  This allows a single process (the Dash Home) to run a query through only a sub-set of your installed scopes.  It also allows the scopes processes to be terminated when you close the dash, and only re-start those that are likely to produce a relevant result.  As defined by the spec, this service will learn as more people use it, providing more relevant results, so you don’t get unwanted Amazon product results when it should be obvious you’re looking for an application.  It also means fewer running processes on your local machine, and therefore less memory usage overall.

100 Scopes

While there won’t be quite 100 in this release, there will be more scopes installed on the client than in previous releases, and even more that we will be able to implement on the server-side.  Thanks to the Smart Scope Service, these additional local scopes won’t be using up a lot of your system resources, because they’ll only be run when needed, then immediately terminated.  You will be able to install 3rd party scopes, just as before, even ones that the Smart Scope Service doesn’t know about yet.  Plus we will be able to add more server-side scopes during the lifetime of a stable release.  So while we’re not at 100 yet, there is still a large and growing number of scopes available.


Now I know I couldn’t get away with talking about changes to the Dash, especially ones that put more of it’s functionality online, without talking about privacy concerns.  With these changes we’ve tried to strike a balance between control and convenience, privacy and productivity.  So while we’re providing more fine-grained controls over what scopes to enable, and whether or not to use the Smart Scope service, the default will still be to enable the services that we believe provides the best user experience on Ubuntu.  In addition, 13.04 has already added more notice to users that their the Dash will search online sources as well as local.

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51 Responses to Coming Soon: Unity 7

  1. Luis Alvarado says:

    Hi Michael, thanks for the good news, if I may ask in regards to the 100 scopes, how will this influence users that have slow internet speeds or have limited internet usage. In the case of scopes that are server-side, since each new query am assuming will use bandwidth, how much will they use and how often. Is it feasible for slow internet users or limited ones?

    • Michael Hall says:

      The linked spec goes into more detail, but these changes should actually help users with slow/limited bandwidth. It will send one query to one server (one of Canonical’s) that will return both a list of local scopes to use, and the results from all the server-side scopes that it thinks are useful. Then the dash will search only those local scopes that the smart-scope-service thought would be relevant. The end result should be fewer remote queries that before.

      If you have no internet access, then obviously you won’t be able to use these remote services, but your local scopes that only search local data (apps & files) will still be run.

  2. Fred says:

    I don’t really care for Internet services integration and don’t want shopping advertisements and stuff like that.

    I prefer fast performance and a less cluttered view with only what is relevant to me.

    • Michael Hall says:

      The good news is that you can get that on Ubuntu. If you don’t like the defaults, you can change them to your liking. Turn off what you don’t want enabled all the time, or completely remove components you don’t think you’ll ever want to use. The choice is there, all we’ve done is provide the defaults we think will work best for the most users.

      • john smith says:

        no, you have defaulted to what gives canonical more money. if you did respected user’s then this stuff would be disable by default and it would be an opt-in an not an opt-out. you know people rarely change defaults, especially the target audience of ubuntu. changing defaults requires effort and knowledge.

        your behaviour is similar to those in the windows platform in which software developers and distributors attach their software with third party adware, spyware, and malware, all selected by default, and then their users end up with their systems all screwed up.

        in this case this type of dishonest, rude, and unscrupulous behaviour gains a new dimension. the operating system is an adware, spyware, malware machine. and this is without any user intervention.

        you have so little respect for your users for the sake of 30 pieces of silver.

        • Michael Hall says:

          Again, trying to appease people who automatically and always assume the very worst about us, and publicly accuse us of such, is not an effective use of our time and resources. If you hate us, go find a distro that makes us happy.

        • Aaron Wolf says:

          John, you need to understand that most people are susceptible to conflict-of-interest. The folks at Canonical are most assuredly well-intentioned and most assuredly have a conflict of interest here. In other words, your critique of their ability to choose the right default setting is SPOT ON, but you’ll do better if you don’t try to be attacking in your tone.

          The deal here is simple: Canonical folks, we don’t hate you personally. Admit that you have a conflict of interest though. You can’t possibly claim to be objective about the opt-in or opt-out being the right choice. So the only honorable thing to do is to be conservative and avoid the option that might infringe on privacy. A good option would be to have a setting on install that forces an answer from all users, thus being a neutral ground between opt-in and opt-out.

          • Michael Hall says:

            An install-time option would only be seen by the person installing it, not every user of the system (or potentially *any* user of the system).

        • ovis says:

          Ubuntu is provided for free, so I don’t see why people are so shocked when Canonical needs to some way to balance its checkbooks. Taking the long view, perhaps that is better for users.

          And I don’t even use Unity, by the way.

  3. Kintrawo says:

    CLA as well?

    Im puzzled by this :/ Why does Canonical need more than GPL?

  4. John says:

    Hey, it’s very nice that you’re thinking more about privacy, but it would be even better if the source for the server-side service was released. That way everyone could have a better idea of what’s going on, what data is collected, and what is missing from it. It would greatly boost everyone’s trust in Canonical’s handling of the dash.

  5. Jef Spaleta says:

    I previously saw some discussion about pre-populating the search box with text that indicated the search was going to contact networked resources. Is this still the plan for the enhanced notification? I hope it is, that particular implementation of notification feels right to me.

    The notice of online activity is the critical thing for me in the privacy discussion (now that the secure transaction bug was fixed). As long as users are informed before entering any search queries that the search is by default going to contact external servers, that meets my personal bar with regard to informed consent. The preloaded search box text, if worded well enough, will keep me from poking anyone in the eye over this again.

    That’s not to say I like the opt-out approach. I’m not personally thrilled with the opt-out approach, but as long as every user can be reasonably expected to know the search will be using networked resources before they do any query, I think the privacy mandate is met. My personal dislike of out-out constructions does not by itself give me cause to strap on the the firey gauntlets of dissent. Though I’m pretty sure I’ll find another reason to be a thorn in your side, soon enough.

    Or summed up in tweet-speak:
    Good recovery on the privacy issue.

    • Michael Hall says:


      The text “Search your computer and online sources” is the placeholder text for the Home lens search bar, and also the tooltip for the BfB on the Launcher. That change is already in 13.04, it landed a while back.

      • john smith says:

        that should say that the online sources are completely outside users control. searching online sources is not in itself bad if that sources are controlled by the users, like for example an owncloud installation.

        the text should say “local and external third party sources”. but again this simple change would be too much honest for canonical. canonical that doesn’t even has the decency of making all this stuff opt-in!

        • Michael Hall says:

          According to the design the user should be able to opt-out of any scope, even server-side scopes. Scopes may search local data, remote user data (2nd party data let’s call it) or remote public data (3rd party data). Given that fact, it would be inaccurate for it to say “external third party sources”.

          Your approach of calling us dishonest and indecent in no way inspires us to go out of our way to appease you.

          • icewater says:

            Your responses and attitude here toward users concerned by Canonical’s emerging behavior with regard to privacy are instructive.

            Opt-in over opt-out is widely accepted as a principle by those who respect others’ privacy.

            The fact that many users had no idea their local searches were going over the wire until they saw Amazon ads in their results is clear evidence that Canonical was, in this instance, at the very least deceptive if not dishonest. Whether or not it’s indecent is a value judgment each person must make on his or her own.

            Telling people who are upset over this to get lost and find another distro, or chide them that they shall not be “appeased” by raising their concerns, is pathetic.

          • Michael Hall says:

            Whether opt-in over opt-out is really an “accepted principle” is very much open to debate. It is a matter of opinion, certainly. Regardless, Ubuntu is advertised as “Linux for Human Beings” not “Linux for absolute privacy protection”. As such, our defaults are selected based on what produces the best user experience. If privacy is your primary concern, there are niche distros that cater to you.

            Canonical has already taken steps towards being more up front about the fact that searches will be sent to online services, and we have also taken steps to give users more fine-grained control over which of those services are used. We have listened to reasonable people who raised reasonable concerns, and we’ve taken reasonable steps to address them without sacrificing the user experience.

            But I’m not going to spend time writing code for people who call me indecent or dishonest, because there is no chance of my code making them happy. Instead I choose to spend my time writing code that produces new/better features for the people who I can make happy.

      • Jef Spaleta says:

        Good enough for me. I’ll buy you a beer at my curling club next time I see you in Fairbanks.


  6. Nekhelesh says:

    How is this different from Unity updates that have landed already in 13.04? I was under the impression that the daily builds of Unity in raring were actually Unity 7.0.

    • Michael Hall says:

      This changes the Dash & Home Lens to use the new smart scope service (and also moves the Home lens into an actual lens instead of special code in the Dash itself)

  7. JOHN B says:

    Hi Michael, I’m a relatively new user to Ubuntu almost a year now I just moved from 12.04 to 12.10. Because of that I have very little history with the squabbling over what people think Canonical should be or have done. Personally it really doesn’t matter the end product speaks for itself.
    While others have chosen this forum to criticize and berate you and Canonical I applaud your tack in dealing with these attacks.
    Thank you for your hard work and a great product.

    To the future and beyond

    • Philio Dilio says:

      I agree John B. I rarely see posts like “Thanks for writing great free software.” It’s a tough crowd out there and I appreciate all of Ubuntu’s and Debian’s hard work on an OS that I use every single day at home and work.

  8. Josh says:

    Closer integration is useful but there is a genuine privacy concern. Is there somewhere we can get a thorough disclosure/explanation of the scope of the data being collected and how it is used?

    Its not a matter of personal trust or distrust but a professional expectation of disclosure. While its certainly not mandated, it would improve the reception of tools like this which use data mining to produce a better user experience.

    • Michael Hall says:

      Josh, I provided links in the post to the Spec page on the wiki, as well as a recording of the On-Air hangout where we presented the changes to members of the community who had provided reasonable criticism of the Shopping Lens.

  9. Aleve Sicofante says:

    Can you please stop acting like a 3rd grade bully when people complaint about Canonical’s policy regarding privacy issues? People are not attacking you, Michael, they are attacking Canonical.

    Canonical is a company and company’s shouldn’t be trusted. Never. Ever. Period. There are more than founded reasons to suspect you (Canonical) are doing all this for the wrong reasons, no matter how much you (Michael) believe yourself and want everyone to believe it’s for “the best user experience” (why do you keep spouting these marketing speak lines, btw? It doesn’t help precisely…)

    If you (Michael) are unable to handle harsh criticism for things your employer (Canonical) does, just ask your employer to hire someone who actually knows how to talk to customers and stop talking to the public about what Ubuntu is or isn’t doing. It’s not just those few people you reply with arrogance are leaving: for each of your childish replies, Canonical is actually losing many potential customers. It’s pretty obvious you don’t get that, so ask management for a substitute and go back to coding only.

    Back on the subject: yes, it’s pretty much widely accepted that opt-out means bad intentions from the publisher/developer, while well advertised opt-in will bring you basically the same income with tons of confidence attached. Then again, you aren’t in PR, as a I said. How would you know that?

  10. Aleve Sicofante says:

    Oh, and btw, where can we download the server-side open source software you’re using for all this again?

  11. Leo says:

    Hi, Michael. Is there any UnityNext(QML) in this, at all? Looking forward to it.

    As a side note, I am really, really embarrassed of the amount of hatred against Canonical and Ubuntu among a vocal fraction of the FOSS community. I don’t think we’ll make a better world fighting projects like Ubuntu, that at heart are trying, right or wrong, to accelerate adoption of Free Software, which I consider a big win for the society, if achieved.

    So, sorry Michael, Mark S. and many others, in the name of some perhaps not so vocal, but appreciative members of the community. We, and certainly I, appreciate your work


    • Michael Hall says:

      No, this is work that has been going on for a while, the Unity Next (QML) work will begin in earnest after 13.04 is released.

    • Jarlath Reidy says:

      Hear, hear. I haven’t been as excited about linux in quite some time and despite *needing* to stay on 12.04 so I can support others I know using it, I’m extremely tempted to upgrade to 13.04 anyway so I can enjoy all the great work that is being done.

  12. Alex says:

    I am amazed by all these trolls. Well, Ubuntu is still the best and most professional distro ever. Period.

    Is this new Unity version going to be available for 13.04?

    • Leo says:

      Yes, this is for 13.04 (Ubuntu Raring, see the first paragraph in the original post. The news here is that, even though the deadline for new features has already past, this feature was granted an exception and will be in :)

      • Michael Hall says:

        The exception has not been granted yet, but the request is there and the required teams are weighing in on the decision.

  13. Michael McGuire says:

    Thank you Michael for your info and your patience with the haters. In my opinion you’ve given me the data I need to explore and tailor my search experience to meet my needs and security requirements; that’s exactly what I expect from a spokesman. Anyone who criticizes a spokesman because he’s not speaking the words they would like to hear should probably consult a dictionary, if it’s done in anger they should consult a therapist ;-}

  14. TheGhost says:

    If Ubuntu would REALLY care about delivering the best user experience, than the following bug would get fixed:

    For those who don’t want to read it. The file/folder search in nautilus is broken because Ubuntu is using the outdated 3.6 version.

    Why need to search using nautilus, when we the user can use “find” via terminal -.-
    Great user experience that Ubuntu has, really….

  15. Greg says:

    Mr. Hall, it’s been reported that you said users should switch distros if they care about privacy. I’m interested to know what distros cater to privacy?

    Regarding the scopes, I think sending user data off to Canonical servers is an unattractive behavior for any OS. I’d rather see Ubuntu spend resources to give users full-control & knowledge of what applications are connecting to the internet and when they are connecting. Instead, Ubuntu has just been working on ways to send my personal info off to their servers to provide search results I can already get elsewhere by just opening a web-browser of my choice (for example, one that respects my privacy and doesn’t log stuff etc) to accomplish the same thing. This is not what people want. Remote connections is a big reason why users leave Windows and switch to Linux. I thought Ubuntu did research to figure out what people want. I find it hard to believe this is what they came up with. Study after study shows that people do NOT like it when companies trade in their personal information. Now Canonical will likely argue that it is not trading users personal info. But are the server connections in HTTPS? Are the logs and data that are stored on the server harddrives encrypted? What about hackers who gain access to the servers? What about unethical employees who have access to the servers? What about non-technical users who just don’t want their info sent at all? Point: this should be an opt-in feature AFTER users get full control/apprisal capabilities over application internet connection behavior via more advanced firewall controls than Ubuntu currently provides.

    I think the big problem with this is really for non-technical users (like Ubuntu is attracting). These kind of users won’t know how to turn this stuff off, perhaps won’t even know what’s happening. And I’m willing to wager the majority of people who understand the implications will not like that their data is being sent out onto the internet like it is. The non-technical users will not understand the privacy/security implications of what ubuntu is doing. Sadly it’s things like this that lead to users security/privacy at risk and they feel powerless to stop it. Like the Windows user who’s machine has been infected with a RAT. And instead of reinstalling the OS, the user posts sticky-notes over the webcam when the light comes on to prevent some creep from spying on them. The user knows they are infected. Knows someone is spying on them. Yet all they feel they can do is put a sticky note over the webcam. This breaks my heart. And I think some responsibility lies with the software providers to protect users from this. Windows is pathetic. Ubuntu WAS much better, but now I’m not so sure.

    Ubuntu should have improved the outgoing-filter capabilities of the Ubuntu firewall before adding these privacy-invasive features to Unity. A way for users to control what apps can connect to the internet. A way to log when applications connect to the internet. AND A WAY TO BE FULLY APPRISED OF WHAT CONNECTIONS ARE OCCURING FROM WHAT APPLICATIONS. I can’t overstate this last point. There needs to be some sort of notice/indicator/windicator/communicator that users can refer to that will inform them of when apps (or certain apps) try to connect to the internet. But none of this is present. And few non-technical users will read (if understand) the implications as perhaps will be stipulated in the privacy notice. It’s disappointing what canonical/ubuntu are doing to user privacy. I would argue that “Linux for human beings” is more about, not solely ease of use but, protecting users who are non-technical, like the poor user who’s privacy/security is compromised by an OS who hasn’t sufficiently protected the user’s privacy/security, than about adding the Dash privacy-invasive search Canonical is doing. Computers are everywhere. Not everyone spends the same time and learns as much about them. “Linux for human beings” means this stuff is addressed by the developers so the non-technical users don’t have to know about it. Adding this feature like it is being done has failed to honor this motto.

    These are my thoughts on the issue. Thank you Open-Source for allowing everyone to chime in.

    • Michael Hall says:

      What I said was that users who are primarily concerned with privacy, meaning they care about maximizing privacy at the expense of any other consideration (usability, support, community, etc), then there are “niche distros” that make such a trade-off. Notice I said “niche”, because none of the more popular distros make this trade off. If you really do care about privacy above all else, you should be using something like Incognito Linux where all of your internet traffic is routed through TOR by default, and everything is encrypted everywhere.

      There seems to still be confusion as to what is being sent to Canonical. We do not collect any personally identifiable data. IP addresses are not stored with the search data, nothing about you or what is on your computer is stored with the search data. We are not told what search results were found on your local machine, we are not told what search result you click on, and we are not told how good or how bad a match it was to your search term.

  16. Gustavo Medeiros says:

    That’s just terrible what Canonical is doing with their products. Ubuntu may be one of the best Linux distros (though I’m not sure if we would call Ubuntu a distro anymore, considering how the things are going), but it doesn’t mean Canonical can act like Google to get easy money.

    Mr. Michael, I’m with a doubt. These changes applies only for Ubuntu or also for the fork distros based on it (Xubuntu, Lubuntu, Kubuntu, Linux Mint)? If so, which distro you reccomend for your readers?

    Once more, thank you for sharing your thoughts with the public.

    • Michael Hall says:

      If you think this is “easy money”, you should give it a try yourself.

      These changes affect only the Dash part of Unity. It has no affect on other desktops like Xfce, LXDE, KDE or Cinnamon, which means only those flavors/respins/derivatives that use Unity will be affected. It may also affect non-Ubuntu distros what provide Unity as an option, though whether those distros will continue to use Canonical’s smart scope service or provide their own I can not say.

      I continue to recommend Ubuntu for the vast majority of people, and these changes to the Dash only make it a better. It continues to be, in my opinion, the best general purpose Linux distribution available. If you have specific needs or concerns, then perhaps you would do better with a more niche distro, but that would depend on your individual situation.

  17. Noah Menzi says:

    Thanks for writing great free software!!

  18. Cortman says:

    I would first like to applaud the programmers responsible for developing Ubuntu and making it the super easy-to-use distro that it is. The hardware support and functionality are terrific. Thanks for writing great free software.
    There is no way that I would use a UI that collects my private search data on my own machine and sends it to a corporate server. Never. Not even if I would get ads relating to my search. I would condemn this functionality in an UI.
    Therefore I don’t use Unity (although I have no problems with its design or functionality) and I strongly discourage anyone I know interested in GNU/Linux from running it.
    However Ubuntu (sans Unity) is a terrific system, and so I usually recommend Xubuntu or Lubuntu.
    So while I strongly disapprove of Unity and what Canonical is doing with it, I still like the underlying system and will keep using/recommending it.
    Until find starts sending data to Canonical. :/

  19. Dietmar says:

    I am looking forward to unity 7. If I can support canonical this easy way, I am glad to help. Thank you for all the work.

  20. DH says:

    As Unity goes, at first I was a bit sceptical but now that I’ve used it for some time I would not have any other. Firstly, its something that will grow and evolve, which you can’t say for a number of dyed in the wool Linux desktops like Mint, which I tried and gave it a fair run but I don’t and didn’t see the point in trying to rehash old Ideas, to make it marginally less useful, the people that use it still have a hankering for Windows and the good O’l days of blue screens and poor performance, almost no real functionality. There is really only two contenders now Windows 8 and Ubuntu with the unity desktop. Apple is spending all its time in smart phones rehashing OSX and law suits.

    W8 Metro interface shot its self in the foot trying to make an all touch Os, Business isn’t biting, they have little or no use for it at this time. The applications just don’t exist to make it viable for them. It may be popular with students until they have to use it for educational reasons rather than recreational.
    Unity well its all sorts of useful as I’ve found out, the links to search and purchase are going to be highly useful not just to me but to students, and the rest of the world that are not wearing jesus sandals bushy beards corduroy hats and drinking real ale. The privacy problem I don’t think will be a big issue for most as long as they can switch it on an off as needs be. All the furore about links to Amazon I thought pointless, if Unity has to become more encompassing and useful its going to have to include links of that nature, or are the Model T drivers amongst us going to hold back Unity as can be seen with the likes of Mint. I suspect its new found notoriety will fade it’s tried to capture the very low end, a desktop that would appear useful in 1999 has limited appeal in 2013. Sanding still is no longer an option and a fully free operating system of such complexity and a fully interactive desktop environment is fast becoming history. The Desktop of today has to be a place of work a shop and a place of recreation, Integration and usability is key to that now.

    By analogy I like to use a brand named washing machine to wash, spin and dry my clothes, that only takes a couple of hours so I can get on and do a great many other things, not a large washing kettle and use a hand cranked mangle to get the water out then hang it out for the birds to crap on, and takes most of the week. Things move on no matter how fond we are of the past and how it looked through those sepia coloured glasses.

    So I expect its onward and upward for unity 7

  21. leousa says:

    First of all, thank you for Ubuntu and thank you for Unity. As Ubuntu user since Dapper Drake I could not see myself using anything else but Ubuntu on my systems. And despite initial indiference, I do love Unity now in 12.10…so I am looking forward to 13.04!!

    I just came across this video on OMG regarding the smart scope search

    Is this the actual state of the feature or just an April fool’s prank?? If this is true….well then better be prepared for another flame war when 13.04 is released!

    Still, looking forward for this to be a huge success!


  22. cipnrkorvo says:

    These Core apps seem really nice and classy. But it seems to me one of the most crucial tools is missing: a good note-taking tool.
    When Microsoft made Windows 8, they released MS OneNote for free. That’s because they understood a good note-taking app is crucial on any touch device.

    Just like OneNote, this note-taking app should let you insert any video, sound, spreadsheet, etc. anywhere on any page.
    There is Basket Note Pads for KDE, but that’s not close to being touch-friendly enough.

    It seems necessary to me if you want Ubuntu Touch to be considered seriously for people using it for work/business etc., or even for university students, to whom note-taking is one of the most important things.

  23. leousa says:

    Looks like it was not a hoax after all….but at least common sense has prevailed.

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