The Ubuntu Unity Launcher gets a facelift with Unity Drawers

Jack Wallen introduces you to a small app that brings stacks-like functionality to the Ubuntu Unity Launcher.


For the longest time, Ubuntu Unity users have wanted a bit more leverage from the Unity Launcher. As it stands, it's a means to launch applications and get to the Unity Dash. But with the creation of a new tool, Drawers, you can easily organize related items (files, applications, websites, folders, etc.) using "mini dashes" and "quick lists" -- similar to the Stacks feature in OS X. Drawers allows you to organize files together onto the Launcher and even create a Dash-like app menu for quick access to your applications.

Drawers is not a tool installed by default (though it should be). I'll walk you through the process of installing and using this handy app that will help make Unity more flexible.

Warning: This app is under heavy development. If you use it and find it buggy, check for updates to the app (by running sudo apt-get upgrade).


The installation is quite simple. Just follow these steps:

  1. Open up a terminal window ([Ctrl]+[Alt]+[T] does the trick)
  2. Issue the command sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ian-berke/ppa-drawers
  3. Issue the command sudo apt-get update
  4. Issue the command sudo apt-get install drawers
  5. Allow the installation to complete

With the installation complete, hit the Super key (aka "Windows" key) to open the Dash, type drawers, and then click on the Drawers icon to launch the app.


There are three types of drawers you can add to the Launcher:

  • Standard Drawer: A drawer that can hold numerous items (of different file types, if needed)
  • AppMenu Drawer: A Dash-like menu of only applications (sorted in categories)
  • Active Drawer: A drawer to display a folder's contents

Let's create one of each type. First, a Standard Drawer. With the Drawer app open (Figure A), click on the Create a New Drawer button, give the drawer a name, and click OK.

Figure A

Figure A
Creating a Standard Drawer.

When the new window opens (Figure B), configure the drawer exactly how you need it. You can give the drawer an icon, set it to autostart at login, and configure the individual settings for the drawer.

Figure B

Figure B
Settings for the new drawer.

Once you've set the drawer up exactly how you want it, click Close. The new drawer is ready to hold your items.

Adding items to a Standard Drawer is simple -- it's all drag and drop:

  • Drag files from Nautilus
  • Drag addressbar website icons
  • Drag applications from the Unity Dash

Note: At the time of writing, adding applications is a bit buggy. Until this is worked out, I highly recommend using the Drawers AppMenu Drawer instead.

I find it very handy to create a drawer for important bookmarks (Figure C). That way I can gain access to sites I frequent without having to first open the browser to get to the link.

Figure C

Figure C
A drawer for bookmarks.

One feature many Ubuntu Unity detractors might enjoy seeing is the AppMenu Drawer. This drawer adds a Dash-like application drawer to the Launcher. To create one, simply open up the Drawers app, click Create an AppMenu Drawer, and then click Close in the settings window. There should now be a new AppMenu icon on the Launcher. If you left-click that icon you will see the "mini dash," categorized menu (Figure D).

Figure D

Figure D
The Dash-like AppMenu Drawer.

If you right-click the AppMenu icon, you'll get a quicklist view of the menu (Figure E). Clicking on one of the entries in the quicklist view will open that sub-folder in a standard "mini dash" view.

Figure E

Figure E
The quicklist view of a drawer.

Finally, the Active Drawer allows you to create a drawer that will display the contents of a particular folder. I use this to gain quick access to cloud folders like Google Drive. To set this up, follow these directions:

  1. Open the Drawers app
  2. Click Create an Active Drawer
  3. When Nautilus opens, navigate to the folder to be used
  4. Select the folder to be used
  5. Click Open
  6. Configure the drawer to your specifications
  7. Click Close

Now when you left-click that drawer, a "mini dash" view of the folder will appear. You can open any file within or navigate into sub-folders. If you right-click that drawer icon, you'll get a quicklist of the contents.

Although it's not perfect, Drawers brings a lot of extra functionality to the Unity Launcher. Once the development settles down (and it more seamlessly works with 14.04), this will be a must-have for most Ubuntu Unity users.

What do you think? Does Drawers bring a functionality to Ubuntu Unity that should be rolled in by default? If not, what would you change (besides dumping Unity for another desktop)? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.