There’s a lot of reasons to love Ubuntu Unity. Out of the
box, it’s an incredibly efficient and user-friendly desktop environment. Is it
standard fare? Not at all. Is it hard to learn? Not even remotely. Are there
necessary tweaks you have to make? Certainly. Depending upon your desire to
tinker, you could find yourself tweaking the interface the entire time you use
it. Thankfully, there’s a single tool — called the Unity Tweak Tool — that enables you to fine-tune the Unity
interface so that it works exactly how you want it to work.

Let’s dig in and see exactly what you need
to get that interface just right. The Unity
Tweak Tool can be found in the Ubuntu Software Center, but I’ll show you
an even easy method of installation.

Installing Unity Tweak Tool

This method of installation will demonstrate just how
user-friendly Unity actually is. Here’s how you can install Unity Tweak Tool
without even opening the Software Center or touching your mouse. Follow
these steps:

  1. Hit
    the “Super” key (aka “Windows Key”)
  2. Using
    the cursor keys, navigate to the Application tab (at the bottom of the Dash)
  3. Hit
    Enter
  4. Type
    “unity tweak” (no quotes)
  5. Navigate
    to the Unity Tweak Tool and hit Enter
  6. When
    the preview opens (Figure A), hit Enter
  7. Type
    your sudo password and hit Enter
  8. Allow
    the installation to complete

Figure A

Installing the Unity Tweak Tool from the Unity Dash.

You’ll know the tool is installed because the application
button will appear on the Launcher.

Working with the Unity Tweak Tool

Now, it’s time to get to those tweaks. When you first open
up the Unity Tweak Tool, it should look somewhat familiar (Figure B).
The layout resembles the Unity System Settings tool (which offers a nod to OS
X).

Figure B

 

 

The Unity Tweak Tool in action.

1. Background blur

One of the first
tweaks you might need to take care of will depend upon whether or not your
hardware can handle the Unity Background blur. I’ve experienced older
machines that can’t handle the compositing necessary to draw the blur. When opening the Dash, if you find that Unity starts to crawl and the desktop
becomes distorted (or goes black in the Dash window), you’ll need to turn the
Background blur off. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Open
    the Unity Tweak Tool
  2. Click
    on the Launcher section
  3. Click
    on the Search tab
  4. Click
    the On/Off slider for Background blur to the Off position

Now, when you open the Unity Dash, chaos should not ensue.

2. Web Apps

The next tweak is one that I always take care of. Web apps integration is a nice idea — it creates a Launcher icon for certain apps that have web integration (such as Amazon, Google+, YouTube, etc) — but it’s more of a nuisance than anything. The problem,
in my opinion, is that it’s quite unnecessary, because all of these web apps
are actually web pages. So, when you have your browser open, with multiple tabs,
and you open up one of the web apps, a new launcher for that tab will appear.
These web app launchers add no extra functionality or efficiency (unless you’d
like a quick access icon for, say, Google+ on your Launcher).

To disable this feature, do the following:

  1. Open
    the Unity Tweak Tool
  2. Click
    on the Launcher section
  3. Click
    on the Web Apps tab
  4. Click
    the On/Off slider to the Off position

That’s it. You’ll no longer be prompted to install web
apps.

3. Workspace switcher

By default, the Workspace switcher (aka Pager) is set to off
in Unity. To turn the Workspace switcher back on, follow these steps:

  1. Open
    the Unity Tweak Tool
  2. Click
    on the Workspace Settings section
  3. Click
    the Workspace switcher On/Off slider to the On position

From this same screen (Figure C), you can also
configure the number of workspaces, the color of the current workspace, and
even the key combination to start the workspace switcher.

Figure C

 

 

Bring back the Workspace switcher.

4. Hotcorners

Hotcorners is another configuration you can add to the mix.
You need to be careful not to configure a Hotcorner that interferes with
Window Snapping. Personally, I like to configure a Hotcorner (generally the
lower or upper right corner) to set off the Window Spread behavior (all open
windows are thumbnailed on the screen, so the user can select which window they
want to work with). To enable this Hotcorner, do the following:

  1. Open the Unity Tweak Tool
  2. Click the Hotcorners section
  3. Click the On/Off slider so it is in the On position (if
    necessary)
  4. Select Window Spread from either the bottom or top right
    drop-down (Figure D)

Now, when you hover your mouse at the newly-configured Hotcorner, all open windows will appear on the screen as a thumbnail image.

Figure D

 

 

Setting up Hotcorners.

5. Window Controls

Window Control placement is a big one for many users. For
years, people have gown accustomed to the minimize, close, maximize buttons
being in the upper right corner of the window. Unity places those buttons in
the upper left corner of the window. If you can’t seem to get used to that
placement, change it back to the standard like so:

  1. Open
    the Unity Tweak Tool
  2. Click
    on Window Controls
  3. Select
    Right for the Alignment section (under Layout)

From this same section, you can also add a menu button to
the window task bar. This menu button offers a number of handy options to the
Window Controls, such as:

  • Minimize
  • Maximize
  • Move
  • Resize
  • Always on top
  • Always on visible workspaces
  • Only on this workspace
  • Move to workspace right
  • Move to workspace down
  • Move to another workspace

For those who use the Workspace switcher, the menu button
might be a must-have, to help you easily move windows to different workspaces.

6. Auto-raise and focus

Finally, there is the Auto-raise and focus behavior. One of
my favorite old-school behaviors is having both auto-focus and “focus follows
mouse” set. With this, it’s very easy to give focus to a window simply by
moving your mouse to a window (no mouse click is necessary to focus the
window). To set these, follow these steps:

  1. Open
    the Unity Tweak Tool
  2. Click
    Additional
  3. Click
    the On/Off slider for Auto-raise until it is in the On position (Figure E)
  4. Select
    Mouse from the Focus mode drop-down
  5. Select
    Auto-raise delay to suit your needs

Figure E

 

 

Getting the old school “focus follows mouse” back.

There are plenty of other tweak you can perform with the Unity Tweak Tool. How
much mileage you get from them will vary on your needs. The tweaks
listed here are some of the most popular and helpful. Unity is already pretty efficient, but with just a few tiny tweaks, you can make it even better.

What tweaks have you made to Ubuntu Unity? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.