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Upgrading to Ubuntu 11.04 -- Part IV: Unity Tips and Tricks

Bill Malchisky  May 19 2011 04:00:00 AM
Here are a few tips on using the new desktop in Ubuntu to save time and a bit of frustration with the question, "Well how do I do now?" that you are sure to experience at some point. The post will cover a couple of points in each of these areas:

Mouse tricks
Keyboard shortcuts
Desktop Tips
Suggested Tools and Utilities

And since I've learned that in the first two days' posts within this series...the Domino blog template apparently can not handle multiple image files in a blog post. Thus, I will use them quite sparingly today, as I did yesterday as well. Though, I will keep searching for a solution. Here we go!

Unity Tips
  • Another pointer that is helpful is using the third or middle mouse button. If you only have a two button mouse, then clicking both buttons simultaneously should act as the third button (you can set this with mouse preferences as well). Either way, if you hover over the Launcher application icon of interest and click the middle button, you will then launch a brand new window for that application. It's that simple. Want multiple Chrome windows? Just middle click. Works for any application in the Launcher.
  • Know that to the left side of the respective icon, Unity adds an additional arrow head (triangle) for each application wind that you have open. So, if you are running Firefox, then click the middle button twice, you will have three arrow heads visible and tangent to the icon's left edge.
  • Finally, if the arrow head(s) next to an application icon are blue, the program is seeking your attention. An example, Adobe Acrobat informing you that an update is available.
  • Depressing the Windows key on your keyboard will launch the Ubuntu start panel (for lack of the proper jargon)
  • Unity runs on Compiz---a windowing manager layer---similar in how Adobe Air sits between programs like Tweetdeck and the operating system. So, to enhance or tweak your new environment, you need to install the Compiz Config Settings Manager (CCSM) --> Compiz Settings Manager; from there, just go to the launcher window type: ccsm and you are all set. This configuration utility allows for keyboard shortcuts, window behavior.

Image:Upgrading to Ubuntu 11.04 -- Part IV: Unity Tips and Tricks

From my perspective, much of these configuration tools (including Ubuntu Tweak and Startup Manager mentioned below) should be available out of the box, and the need for a confident beginner through an expert user to be forced to find the names of these tools, then download them all so they can click one check box to alter a feature annoying them, is well a bit much. In Canonical's defense, Ubuntu 11.04 is really Unity 1.0, so they are working through the kinks and I presume in a literal sense, they will fix and release enhancements in the future.


Window Resizing

You can drag any window to the top edge to maximize, drag to the right edge to maximize vertically and fill the screen 50% horizontally, dragging a window to the left edger performs the compliment resizing. So, combined, you can easily look at multiple programs or documents easily. What they also do is overlay an rust colored shadow on all application windows so you can tell the effect of your actions before you release the left mouse button. Very smart. If I recall correctly, I think there was a Windows 7 commercial about the document resizing as well--which I consider a good thing, regardless of who coded it first.


Remote Access

Initially, the TSClient native to Ubuntu --- and a fine tool in my opinion --- was slated to be replaced with Remmina in 11.04. At this time, the latest version (0.93-stable) is the version available within the Ubuntu Software Center (USC) and is highly rated. Know that at this time it is neither patched nor updated by Canonical, so further updates may need to be applied independently of the USC and correlated Update Manager. If you are using RDP, VNC, NX, XDMCP, or SSH (and you do not want to run this from the command line), then give Remmina a try. Just type remmina in the USC's application search field and click Install


Useful Tools to Install

Try these applications to make the experience even better.
  • Transmission -- BitTorrent client
  • Ubuntu Tweak -- This is akin to the Windows XP Power Tools and is quite handy for Unity; previous versions I would say it is of little value, but with the new focus on non-power users, this tool is a gem.
    An example of its capabilities includes the ability to heavily customize the login screen to your liking.

The software channel where this tool is located is not available by default. So, open a terminal window and type in three commands to enable the channel, get the channel's updates, and install. Remember: copy/paste is your friend:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:tualatrix/ppa
sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get install ubuntu-tweak
  • Startup Manager -- allows you to customize Grub (the boot manager); customize options and splash screens; Install via this simple command:
sudo apt-get install startupmanager
  • LinBerry -- decent package but rough in some spots, for synching Blackberry devices with your Ubuntu desktop; more details here
    N.B.
    the project is non-English, so you may need your favorite Spanish-English translation method if you lack fluency during the setup process.
    Note:
    Know that I have not used this product, but from the many forum posts I read, there seemed to be a growing sentiment that the project is moving in the right direction; thus its inclusion.
  • Alarm Clock -- handy program for reminders, counters, and alerts. Via the USC or command line: apt-get install alarm-clock
  • Skype Call Recorder -- the prerequisite is obvious, but it works with 11.04. Handy for client meetings or chats with your developer where after two hours of fruitless dialog, you final solved your problem. But as you are both strung-out on sugar and caffeine, you quickly forgot the collaborative brainchild you created. For not this tool recording your oral musing, you'd be deflated. ;)

Image:Upgrading to Ubuntu 11.04 -- Part IV: Unity Tips and Tricks

That winds-up this installment for the Ubuntu 11.04 Upgrade series. More tomorrow...
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