When I upgraded from Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal) to 11.10 (Oneiric Ocelot), I had mixed reactions, not least due to the occasionally problematic graphical user interface. I was more familiar with the classic desktop, which was available as an out of the box option in 11.04.
For the pedantic Linux enthusiasts, the Unity desktop which comes as the only out of the box option in 11.10 is a cause for annoyance. There’s talk that Canonical is unlikely to act swiftly enough to address every problem. However, I learnt in the past few days that users could as well get accustomed to the new environment while waiting for software updates to arrive.
There are many ways to enhance your experience with the Unity desktop. In this article, I discuss some of the significant ones – those that promise to boost my efficiency with Canonical’s newest presentation.
Using the Compiz Config Manager
First, I downloaded the compiz config manager, and allowed myself to configure several settings.
The settings manager can be launched by pressing Alt-F2 – a key combination that helps you run commands – and then running:
On the Behavior tab, the Reveal Mode is supposedly meant for you to set which direction you can hover your cursor to reveal the launcher – for me, just the left and bottom-left options seem to work.
The Edge Reveal Timeout lets you choose the time period in milliseconds before the launcher appears, on hovering the mouse near the chosen edge of the screen. To me, 1 millisecond feels just right.
The Hide Launcher sets the way the launcher disappears when it’s inactive. The Dodge Active Windows option is my favorite – it causes the launcher to hide only when an active window touches it.
The rest of the options on this tab let you set the key combinations for various shortcuts. All of these have helped me use my desktop faster.
On similar lines, the Switcher tab allows you to set key combinations to effectively switch between running applications.
On the Experimental tab, I found the Launcher opacity and Launcher icon size sliders most useful. This stops the launcher from getting too distracting and accommodates more icons in it. The Always option in the Show Devices dropdown comes in handy for ease in mounting other partitions.
Installing the Docky
The Unity launcher is frustrating at times, so a Mac OS X like Docky will help calm you down.
The Docky can be installed by running the command from the terminal:
sudo apt-get install docky
The settings can be adjusted after launching Docky via the Unity dash. There are some useful Docklets to choose from – I found the CPU Monitor and Recent Documents very useful. To view your recently opened documents, by the way, you need to right click on the Recent Documents docklet and choose from the list.
This is also a good alternative for those looking for a bottom-aligned taskbar. I tried looking for a taskbar, but wasn't happy with the one I found.
The keyboard is almost always faster to work with than the mouse. It helps to get accustomed to the shortcuts that enhance the Unity desktop's ease of use.
These are my favorite ones:
Launcher and Dash-related Shortcuts
Super– Tap and Leave: This key, the same as the Windows key, opens the dash.
Alt-F1: This puts the keyboard focus on the launcher, allowing the use of the up and down arrow keys to navigate. Press Esc to reverse.
Alt-F2: Launches the Dash in the Run Command mode – this had helped me open the Compiz Config Manager.
Super– Press and Hold: This indicates the numerical position of each application in the launcher.
Super-[Number]: This opens or brings to focus the application indicated by the previous shortcut.
Super-Shift-[Number]: This opens a new instance of the application indicated by Super – Press and Hold - if that application is already running.
Super-T: Trash can appears.
Super-A: The Applications lens is opened.
Super-F: The Files and Folders lens is opened.
Ctrl-Alt-T: Terminal window is launched.
And, what if you've just opened an application via the dash and want to add a shortcut to it in the launcher? Simply right click its icon in the launcher and click "Keep in launcher."
Managing Windows and the Workspace
Ctrl-Alt-D: This minimizes all windows, and if pressed again, restores them. I love the fade-out and fade-in effect.
Super-S: This lets you see all four workspaces at once and switch between them by using the arrow keys and then pressing Enter.
Super-W: This spreads out windows of running applications across all workspaces, letting you see them all at once and bring one of them to focus with just a mouse click.
Shift-Alt-Up: This causes all windows in the current workspace to be zoomed out and displayed separately. The fade effect that accompanies this is fairly pleasant.
Ctrl-Alt-L: This locks the screen.
Ctrl-Alt-[Num-Key]: This positions the current window according to the number specified on the numeric keypad. For instance, Ctrl-Alt-1 will dock the window on the bottom-left of the screen. I found this very useful to quickly dock windows side by side, using the 4 and 6 keys.
Below is a snapshot of an image with details on shortcuts. You can click on it to download the image, and then set it as your desktop's wallpaper.
Thank you Octavian, for the creativity behind your wallpaper!
Do you run Ubuntu 11.10 with Unity on your machine? What steps have you taken to improve your efficiency while working with the environment? Which of the settings and shortcuts do you find the most useful?