Open Source

Ubuntu Unity: A beginner's walk-through

Jack Wallen has been proclaiming Ubuntu Unity the single most efficient desktop on the market. This time he decides to illustrate a simple task and how Ubuntu Unity's approach is easy and efficient.

You may have noticed that over the last year, I've spoken quite a lot about Ubuntu Unity. More specifically, I've become quite the champion for Unity being one of the most efficient desktops on the market. I thought it might be helpful to take you on a walk through of the default Ubuntu desktop to help you see just how it could be that a completely different desktop could possibly be so user-friendly and efficient.

In order to do this, I'll walk through the steps to tackle a simple task — open, write, and save a document. Why such a simple task? Well, using an office suite is one of the most common tasks in business, so it only makes sense to show just how this works on the new and improved Ubuntu desktop. So... are you ready? Let's do this.

Step 1: Open the application.

Figure A

Unlike the old-guard desktop, there is no Start menu to click through. You have two choices for starting up an application. You can either click a Launcher icon (the Launcher is the vertical bar on the left side of the screen), or you can open up the Dash and find the application from there. Let's take the long, hard road and open the app from the Dash. Here's how it's done:

1. Click the "Super" key (otherwise known as the "Windows" key).

2. Type "libre" (no quotes) in the search bar.

3. Click on the LibreOffice Writer icon (Figure A).

That's it.

Step 2: Type your document

Figure B

I am fairly certain most know how this is done. However, with Unity you might have noticed something — there is no menu bar! Where did it go? Simple — Unity now has what is called the HUD (Head Up Display). This new display is an incredibly powerful evolution to the menu bar. How this works is by integrating what used to be the system of menus into the Unity Dash. What makes this so powerful is that you can now search through your application menus to quickly find what you need. No more guessing through a litany of drop-down menus and sub-menus to find the item you need. Let me demonstrate.

Say you want to add page numbers at the bottom of every page. First you would have to insert a footer to every page. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Alt key.
  2. Type "footer" into the HUD (Figure B).
  3. Select the Insert > Footer > All entry by moving the selector down with your cursor keys.
  4. Click the Enter key.

Now, click into the newly added footer and then do the same thing as you did above (only this time search for "page number") and select Insert > Fields > Page Number.

Finally, you can save the document in the usual way (Ctrl-S) or by opening the HUD, typing "save", and selecting Save.

Many of you might, at this point, be asking how is that more efficient? The best evolution Unity has done is make all application menus searchable. This is especially true of applications with complex menu structures. Instead of having to hunt around for menu entries, one only needs to search for them and select what you want.

Opening a previously saved document

Figure C

Now, let's say you've saved that document and want to re-open it. The Dash makes this incredibly easy — even if that document wasn't recently opened. Here's what you do:

1. Click on the "Super" key to open the dash.

2. Enter a search string for your document (it doesn't have to be the full document name, just a portion).

3. Click on the entry from the results that matches your search (Figure C).

Your document will open and you're ready to go.

I know — there are still doubters out there. But I can promise you this — since I have been proclaiming how efficient Ubuntu Unity is, I have have plenty of doubters contacting me to say they finally drank the Kool-Aid and get what I'm saying.

If you're still doubting, you really need to have a taste of Ubuntu's special sauce. Give it a week and you'll be a convert. It really is that good.


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

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