Five tips for making GNOME 3 and Ubuntu Unity more useful

Both GNOME 3 and Unity offer a unique approach to the desktop experience -- but they'll take some getting used to. Jack Wallen shares some advice for taking advantage of the new features.

The change is almost upon us. In a matter of months, GNOME will shift to 3 and Ubuntu will shift to Unity. These desktops are both unique in their approach and this will be reflected in the user experience out of the gate. New users are going to have some serious issues with such a radical change. Experienced users are going to rethink their favorite desktop and/or distribution. However, it doesn't have to be that way. Both GNOME 3 and Ubuntu Unity are strong candidates for the next step in the computer desktop.

But how do you get up to speed on these desktops quickly enough so there is no interruption of production? Here are some tips that will help you do so.

1: Create favorites

This is going to be a serious timesaver. On both GNOME 3 and Unity, you will not have the standard Start button. Instead, you will have side panels that contain categories. To launch an application, you must find the correct category (in the case of GNOME 3, it's just Applications), locate the application, and then click on the application launcher to launch said application. Instead of walking through all these steps, right-click that application launcher and select Add To Favorites. This will add a launcher for the applications to the Favorites category, which is much quicker to access than searching for the application through categories or an All Applications listing.

2: Give yourself multiple desktops

By default, both of these desktops offer only a single desktop. This is counterintuitive to every Linux distribution to date. To make sure your new GNOME 3 or Unity desktop is more in line with the way you're used to working, you will need to add desktops. This is actually easy. In GNOME 3, you move your mouse to the upper-left corner to bring up the side panel and then click the + symbol in the bottom-right corner to add as many desktops as you like. For Unity, at least as of this writing, the only way to add desktops is by editing the gconf-editor entry like so:

gconftool-2 --type=int --set /apps/metacity/general/num_workspaces *

where * is the number of desktops you want. I'm sure once the official release hits, there will be a GUI tool for this configuration option.

3: Use the GNOME 3 sidebar

This feature hasn't received much publicity yet, but many users will want to take advantage of it. This little sidebar can be opened by clicking your login name on the desktop and selecting Sidebar. When the sidebar opens, you will have quick access to some common application launchers, as well as a clock and your Recent Documents. The GNOME sidebar has two views: a tiny view and a full view. The tiny view will probably suit most users and you do not lose access to any features. Unfortunately, as of this writing, you can't configure which applications are included in the sidebar. I hope this feature changes, as not all users prefer the same default applications. Even so, the sidebar is a handy tool.

4: Don't ignore desktop searching

For many people (especially Windows users), desktop searching has always been a hassle that was neither quick nor accurate. With GNOME 3 and Unity, this changes. When you do a desktop search on either of these desktops, all search results will quickly appear. At least in GNOME 3, this is powered by Zeitgeist and is incredibly fast and accurate. No more should users have to concern themselves with indexing bringing their machines to a slow grinding halt. But the search doesn't just search for files. The desktop search will also find files and/or applications. So instead of searching for an application launcher, you can just type in the name of the application and the launcher will appear. (Actually, it will appear before you get the name typed completely.)

5: Make use of bookmarks

If you look at the GNOME 3 activities section, you will see the Places section. If you look closely, you might notice that this listing corresponds with your Nautilus bookmarks. That's right: You add bookmarks to directories in Nautilus and those directories will appear in your Places section in the GNOME 3 activities section. Many users don't take advantage of the Nautilus bookmarks because they are simply not used to making a file manager work efficiently. For GNOME 3, you will want to make use of every advantage you have to make this desktop as efficient as possible.

Embracing change

Neither GNOME 3 nor Ubuntu Unity needs to be looked at with disdain. Both desktops take a unique approach to computer/user interaction and both have some fantastic features that will help take the desktop to a new level of user friendliness. Does that mean that these two desktops are the epitome of usefulness? Not necessarily. But what makes them different will also help bring them closer to the way modern PC users use their desktops. It's all about efficiency and simplicity.

By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....