10 things you should know about Ubuntu Unity

If you haven't experienced Ubuntu Unity, you're in for a treat. Jack Wallen offers a short crash course for Unity newcomers.

Now that Ubuntu 12.04 has arrived, a number of questions have bubbled up from the curious minds of those wondering about the state of Ubuntu. When 11.04 hit, faithful Ubuntu users were up in arms about how bad Ubuntu Unity was. It was buggy, it was far from user friendly, and it seemed a slap in the face to those who had worked so hard and so long on the previous default desktop: GNOME.

That was then. The "now" tells a much different story — one of vast improvements and user friendliness. But anyone coming to Unity from another desktop might need a bit of a heads up about this new UI. Here are 10 things to look out for when you first log into your shiny new Precise Pangolin. (That's Ubuntu 12.04, in case you didn't know.)

1: Lenses

Lenses are your friend. When you open up the Unity dash, you'll see five icons at the bottom of the Dash lens: Home, Applications, Documents, Music, and Video. If you click on one, the lens will change to focus specifically on that filter. So if you click on the Application lens and type a word in the search bar, the lens will reveal only the results from Applications. The same goes for Documents, Music, and Video. If you're in the Home Lens, the results will be filtered from all sources.

2: Keyboard shortcuts

There are a few keyboard shortcuts you must know. The Alt button will bring up the HUD, which allows you to search (and execute) items from an application menu. The Super (or Windows) key will bring up the dash. When you have the dash open, hit Ctrl-Tab to cycle through the lenses. Alt-Tab will cycle through your open windows. If you hold down the Super key, an overlay will appear displaying all the keyboard shortcuts. Now that is handy.

3: Quicklists

These menus allow you to right-click a launcher and do various things. For example, a right-click on the LibreOffice Writer icon will open a menu that lets you create a document, quit, or remove the launcher. A right-click on the Home folder icon allows you to select which subfolder you want to open Nautilus in (these are all subfolders to the user home directory). A right-click on the Dash icon enables you to open a specific lens.

4: Color management

With 12.04, you can create color profiles for various devices (webcams, scanners, printers, etc.) and then easily switch between these profiles. To get to the Profiles tool, open Settings and click on Color. When you first run this, you will have to download profiles and install a couple of minor dependencies. Then, you can create color profiles for your devices that will enable them to render more accurate color. You'll need to have a solid understanding of color profiles, but no longer is the desktop platform a hindrance to this task.

5: Configuring Unity

My Unity (a user-friendly tool for the configuration of Unity) was supposed to be included in the latest release. It was not. So one of the first things you should do when you install 12.04 is install My Unity. With this tool, you can configure the launcher, dash, panel, desktop, font, and themes. Why this wasn't included is beyond me. Since the inception of Unity, people have been clamoring for the ability to configure the desktop. Now they can — only they have to install the tool to do so.

6: HUD

I can't say enough about this amazing new menu navigation system. When you have an application open, hit the Alt tab to bring up the HUD search bar. Enter what you want to do with that application and select from the options. This will take some time to get use to (mostly because you'll keep reaching for your mouse at first). But once you get accustomed to the HUD, you'll wonder why someone didn't develop it before. One thing of note: Out of the box, LibreOffice won't work with HUD. To get it working, install the lo-menubar software from the Ubuntu Software Center.

7: Login wallpaper

This is minor, but it has raised a few heads in certain situations (I won't expand on that), so it bears mentioning. The wallpaper you choose on your desktop will be the image displayed on the login screen. So if you choose a questionable image to display on your desktop, know that same image will be displayed on the login splash screen. Choose wisely.

8: UbuntuOne Music Store

You can easily find music to purchase from UbuntuOne from the dash. All you have to do is open the dash, select the Music lens, type in the artist's name, and wait for the results to pop up. Select one of the results and Rhythmbox will automatically open to that artist in the UbuntuOne Music Store.

9: Privacy

After a while, you will notice that nothing is hidden from the search. If you've put it on your computer, there's a chance it will show up in a Lens search. You can, however, configure Unity's search system to exclude specific file types or folders in the Lens search results. You can also have Unity forget activities from the last hour, the past day, the past week, all dates, or from specified dates. To do this, go to Settings > Privacy and configure exactly what you want to exclude from the Unity dash.

10: Landscape

A new feature that comes with 12.04 is Landscape. This tool allows you to monitor and manage multiple Ubuntu 12.04 machines. It's aimed more at system administrators and larger companies. With Landscape, you can manage systems (delivering uniformity across multiple systems), monitor a system, and manage cloud storage on all managed systems. Once you've signed up, you either have to use a Canonical hosted service (which has an associated fee) or an in-house, dedicated server. Landscape is part of Ubuntu Advantage. Contact Canonical for more information.

Good and getting better

I have gone on record as saying Ubuntu 12.04 is probably the single best desktop I have ever used. I stand behind that claim and can only imagine that the experience will continue to improve. What Canonical has done in a year with Ubuntu Unity is nothing short of amazing. By taking the above tips into consideration, your Precise Pangolin experience should be as good as mine has been.


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

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