We've got the lowdown on Ubuntu 11.04 and the new Unity interface to help you breeze through your work and play.
Natty Narwhal is quite a departure from previous Ubuntu versions, thanks largely to the new Unity interface. So here are some tips and tweaks to help you make the most of Unity as you get to know Ubuntu's new interface.
Before anything else run the ‘Update Manager’, which can now be found via the ‘Power Button icon > System Settings’.
Every new version of Ubuntu sees a flurry of updated packages soon after release, but it's especially important with Unity given it's so new and bugs are bound to be found. Additionally, Unity requires accelerated 3D support and, in our testing, the latest NVIDIA drivers were installed automatically while updating. If you want to check you have accelerated drivers, click the ‘Power Button icon > System Settings > Additional Drivers’.
While you're in the ‘Update Manager’, don't forget to click ‘Settings’ and make sure ‘Proprietary drivers’ and ‘Software restricted’ are enabled, as well as ‘Pre-released and Unsupported updates’ (under the Updates tab) if you want to live on the edge a little.
You’ll notice your new Unity desktop is a bit bare. The following tips are a matter of preference, but if you're used to having the ‘Computer’ and ‘Network’ icons on the desktop, you can enable them as follows:
* Press Alt-F2 and type in gconf-editor
* Navigate to ‘Apps > Nautilus > Desktop’
* Tick 'Computer' and 'Network' checkboxes
The Compiz Unity plug-in provides some control over the new launcher.
Lastly if you use a lot of mounted partitions or removable media, you might remember that in previous versions of Ubuntu these appeared on your desktop when mounted. This still happens in Ubuntu 11.04, but with Unity mounted drives also appear in the launcher, doubling up the icons.
To remove mounted devices from your desktop, de-select ‘volumes visible’ from the same page as the above settings. Alternatively, you can open a terminal with [Ctrl]+[Alt]+[T] and run: gconftool –s/apps/nautilus/desktop/volumes_visible -t bool false
The new Unity launcher is straightforward but has a few tricks. To add new applications simply right-click on the program's icon in the launcher when it's running and select ‘Keep in Launcher’. Alternatively, click the ‘Applications’ icon, type in the name of the program, and then drag its icon across from the search results.
To move applications around, left-click and drag. They can also be dragged to the trash to remove them from the launcher without removing the originating program.
You can toggle the backlights on launcher applications via the CCSM Unity plug-in.
By default, the only options to configure the Launcher can be found via ‘Power Button > System Settings > Launcher & Menus’. This is relatively bare, but you can gain a little more control by installing the ‘CompizConfig Settings Manager’ with the ‘Ubuntu Unity’ plug-in. To do this, launch the ‘Software Center’ and search on ccsm
. Two packages will show up, click to install the first one, the ‘Advanced Desktop Effects Settings (ccsm)’ package.
Once installed, hit [Alt]+[F2] and type in ccsm
to launch the ‘Settings Manager’, or find it under ‘System Settings’. Scroll down to the ‘Desktop’ section and you'll find the ‘Ubuntu Unity’ plug-in.
Enabling desktop icons for 'Computer' and 'Network'.
From here you can play with a lot more - how the launcher hides itself and the keys to trigger it under the ‘Behaviour’ tab, and then, under ‘Experimental’ you can control the backlight behind launcher icons (setting ‘Backlight Toggles’ is a great way to see which applications from the launcher are currently running), the animations that are used to grab your attention, and the opacity of the top panel.
Perhaps the most useful option here is the launcher icon size. Adjusting this lower will provide more space of your launcher if you use a lot of programs, but importantly it lets you adjust the size, depending on your screen real estate.
While you're in the CCSM, if you click on ‘General Options’ under the ‘General’ heading you can tweak the number of workspaces you have under the ‘Desktop Size’ tab. The default is four but you can go crazy and extend it up to 9 x 9 (the settings go up to 32 x 32, but Unity displays a maximum of 81 workspaces).
Oddly, Unity, while aiming to be a streamlined GUI, kind of trains you to use keyboard shortcuts you might not normally use - once you know what they are, that is. Try these on for size. Note that if you have a Windows keyboard (and most are these days), the [Super] key refers to the one that has the Windows icon on it, between the left [Ctrl] and [Alt] keys.[Super]
Show the Launcher. Handy when you have a full-screen application and the launcher is hidden.[Super] + [(number)]
Launch the program associated with (number) from the launcher. Press and hold [Super] to display numbers to match the first 10 applications on the launcher.[Super] + [A]
Bring up the new ‘Applications’ view. You can enter keywords to narrow displayed programs, or run a program by typing its name and pressing enter.[Super] + [F]
Bring up the new ‘Files and Folder’ view, which is the Unity equivalent of ‘Places’ in Ubuntu 10.04.[Super] + [W]
Shrinks all running programs to your current workspace for an at-a-glance view. Click a program to switch to it.[Super] + [S]
Activates the ‘Workspace Switcher’, quicker than dragging your mouse over to the icon.[Super] + [D]
Minimise all windows. Hitting it again restores them. This is the only way to get the equivalent function of the ‘Show Desktop’ icon in Ubuntu 10.04.[Ctrl] + [Alt] + [(arrow key)]
Allows you to quickly switch workspaces in any direction. Works in the ‘Workspace Switcher’ view as well.[Ctrl] + [Alt] + [T]
Open a terminal.
[Alt] + [F1]
Bring up the launcher with the first element highlighted, you can then use the arrow keys to navigate the launcher.[Alt] + [F2]
Bring up the dash, a dual search and command-driven launcher. Text entered here will show matching programs and folders as you type, or you can press enter to run a program by name.[F10]
Open the first menu on the global menu bar for an application.
Finally as Unity is quite a different beast to past desktops, and there may still be bugs, if you end up making changes that you can't revert for some reason you can restore Unity to its default settings by running unity –reset
from a terminal. Note it's important not to run this sudo, otherwise you’ll change the root account's settings not your own. To reset the icons on the launcher to their defaults, run unity -reset-icons
Restoring the classic desktop
If Unity isn't your thing - and it probably isn't everyone's cup of cocoa - you don't need to do much to revert to the classic desktop. For now, you’ll find that Ubuntu 11.04 comes with both installed.
Reverting to the classic Ubuntu desktop, if Unity isn't for you.
If you set up to autologin, log out first by going to ‘Power Button > Logout’. At the login screen at the bottom you'll see a drop-down box called ‘Session’. Select ‘Ubuntu Classic’, then log in and you'll get the classic desktop.
This should be saved as well (you'll continue to log in to the classic desktop). You can also force it to be standard by going to ‘Power Button > System Settings > Login Screen’and selecting it as the default session.
Note that if you switch to classic and then switch back to Unity, you may find some of your visual styles and settings mucked up. If this happens, use the Unity reset commands covered here.