An improved, smarter and more diverse search experience will feature in Ubuntu 13.04.

Smarter Dash Searches Included in Unity 7
Smarter Dash Searches Included in Unity 7

Unity 7, which has just been granted a Feature Freeze Exception by Mark Shuttleworth, introduces the new ‘Smart Scopes’ feature to the Dash. Aiding the feature will be a plethora of new ‘Scopes’ (think ‘content specific search engines’) installed by default.

But do more Scopes mean more irrelevant results appearing in the Dash at inopportune times?

No. Let’s see why…

Smarter Scopes Give Better Experience

The ‘Smart Scopes Service’ service, along with the wedge of new scopes installed by default to power it, is called ‘smart’ for a reason. And here’s why.

When you make a search in Unity 7’s Dash, your query, whether it’s for an app, band, or celestial body, is passed to a central server maintained by Canonical.

This ‘disembodied brain‘ mulls over your request, looks at what Scopes (think ‘specific search engines’) you have installed on your computer, and then returns results it deems relevant, from the scopes it deems relevant.

You then see these in the Unity Dash.

Only the Scopes suggested by the Smart Scope Service will be triggered to deliver results, making the Dash perform quickly despite as many as 100 Scopes being scoured through.

Many New Scopes Will be Installed by Default
Many New Scopes Will be Installed by Default

All Scopes are ‘terminated’ when the Dash closes; none are left running in the background to sap on bandwidth or memory.

Local results – your files, photos and documents, etc – are given greater priority in results.

But that’s not where the ‘smartness’ ends. Oh no.

Having served up a selection of results that it thinks are relevant, the server then pays attention to which results you click on, learn from it, and adapts its future results based on it.

By ‘crowdsourcing’ the value of relevancy the ‘Smart Scope Service’ will only grow more and more smarter as more and more people use it.

Smarter Approach to Privacy

As with the single, solitary shopping scope that debuted in Ubuntu 12.10, news of Unity sending more of your searches online will see concerns over privacy and data protection raised.

Canonical are approaching things cautiously this time around, with super-fine-grained controls planned for the disabling of specific scopes, and the entire Smart Scopes Service feature entirely.

But it will be enabled by default.That won’t please those who think online features should be disabled until the user “opts-in”.

Ubuntu developer Michael Hall recently responded to one such argument:

“…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.”

By choosing to download/install/upgrade to Ubuntu 13.04 users are opting into the “Ubuntu Experience”. And part of that experience is having a powerful, ‘find anything’ search experience included by default.

When Will It Arrive

So that’s what it is, what it’ll (mostly) include, but when can you play with it?

If you’re already using Ubuntu 13.04 then Unity 7 is tentatively pegged to arrive on March 25th. A PPA containing Unity 7 will be available shortly before then for testers to use.

Ubuntu 12.10 users will have to wait until they upgrade to Ubuntu 13.04.

29/3/13 – The inclusion of Smart Scopes in Ubuntu has now been deferred until Ubuntu 13.10. For more on this decision click here.
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