Extend Ubuntu Unity Lens functionality with search filters and new lenses

Learn how to make the Ubuntu Unity desktop even more powerful and suited for your needs by adding search filters and new lenses.

Any techie who has checked out the newest iterations of Ubuntu Unity knows that the default desktop for Ubuntu Linux has come a long, long way. Unity Lens helps you manage an incredibly efficient desktop, and you can make it even more powerful with searching filters and new lenses. The search filters and lenses are easy to use, and the new lenses -- which range from Ask Ubuntu to a Pidgen lens and more -- are a snap to install.

What is a Unity lens?

A Unity lens is a tool the user "looks through" to only see specific things, which include applications, documents, music, or videos. Figure A shows the default lenses that are included, and one lens for graphic designers that I installed. All installed lenses are viewed through the Unity Dash. You can open the Dash by clicking the Ubuntu logo in the upper left corner or by clicking the Super (or Windows) key on your keyboard. Once the Dash is open, you will see the icons for Home, Applications, Documents, Music, and Video at the bottom of the lens. To get to a specific lens, you click the tab with your mouse or hit [Control][Shift] to cycle through the lenses. Figure A

You see the Unity Dash with lenses in action. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Unity search filters

If you want to filter your Unity Lens even further, instead of opening the Dash the normal way, click the Super key + A to open the Dash with the filters enabled. Once the Dash is open, click the Filter Results button to open the filters (Figure B). These filters can help you quickly narrow your search results, which is especially handy when the search brings up numerous results. Figure B

You can filter by category, ranking, and source (local apps or software center). (Click the image to enlarge.)
You can also run a search for applications that are available for installation based on ratings. To do this, click the star rating you want to narrow the results to, and this will automatically update the results within the Applications Available For Installation category. You can filter your results before or after you enter your search string. The Super key +A opens the filters for Applications. The Super key + F opens the filters for Files (Figure C). Figure C

The File filters allow you to filter by last modified, type, and size. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Adding new lenses

The ability to add new lenses to Unity allows you to extend the functionality of the Dash. This Ubuntu community Q&A page gives you an idea of some of the lenses available for Unity. Each lens entry has a description of what it does and installation instructions. Most of the lenses have an associated PPA, which makes the installation simple. Here's a walk-through of the Wikipedia Lens; this lens allows you to quickly search Wikipedia from the Dash.

1. Open a terminal.

2. Issue the command sudo add-apt-repository ppa:scopes-packagers/ppa.

3. Enter your sudo password.

4. Hit [Enter] to continue with the installation of the ppa.

5. Enter the command sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install unity-lens-wikipedia.

After the installation is complete, close all programs, log out, and log back in. You should see a new lens icon at the bottom of the Dash for the Wikipedia Lens (Figure D). When you see a result you want to view in the Wikipedia Lens, click on the result to open in your default browser. Figure D

Enter your search terms, and the results will quickly populate. (Click the image to enlarge.)

I suggest looking at the list of Unity lenses and install the ones that would make your desktop more efficient. Remember to log off and log back on in order for the changes to take effect.

Also read on TechRepublic: 10 things you should know about Ubuntu Unity