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Essential Unity Tweaks

Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal), Reviewed In Depth
By

While Unity has its fair share of limitations, the two most heinous can be remedied with some simple tweaking.

Disable Launcher Auto-Hide

Considering that most users do not have the Apple Magic Trackpad or a suitably responsive and compatible touchscreen device, the default auto-hide behavior of the Launcher is perhaps the most irritating change in Ubuntu 11.04 for a majority of folks. As stated earlier, it tends to show itself when attempting to use an application's left-most toolbar controls. And it just doesn't make any sense for desktops and 12+-inch notebooks. Luckily there is a solution, though it's not available out of the proverbial box, as it should be.

First, open the Ubuntu Software Center and search for “ccsm”. CCSM stands for CompizConfig Settings Manager, and it acts as a control panel for all things Compiz, including desktop effects, window snap, keyboard shortcuts, and even Unity itself. There will be two search results: Advanced Desktop Effects Settings (ccsm) and Simple CompizConfig Setting Manager. Since the Simple CompizConfig Settings Manager will not install in Ubuntu 11.04 due to unsatisfiable dependencies, choose Advanced Desktop Effects Settings (ccsm) and install it.

When installation is complete, launch CCSM. It can be found in the new Control Center under the Personal category. Remember that the Control Center is found by selecting System Settings at the bottom of the login/logout indicator menu.

When CCSM opens, you'll need to scroll down to the Desktop section and click Ubuntu Unity Plug-in (the actual button, not the check box).

Open the drop-down menu next to Hide Launcher and select the option for Never. The Launcher is now locked in place. Maximized windows no longer force it off-screen. You can now easily switch between tasks and know what is running on your system at a glance (just like Windows 95; imagine that!).

Unity 2D

The second big problem with Ubuntu 11.04 is that not all users get to experience Unity. Unless your computer has a suitable OpenGL-compliant 3D compositing graphics processor, you're stuck using Ubuntu Classic. However, there is a 2D version of Unity that didn't make the release deadline for Natty Narwhal, and it is available from the Ubuntu Software Center.

If you cannot run Unity, your installation defaults you to Ubuntu Classic. So, obviously, this tweak assumes that you're in Ubuntu Classic. Open the Ubuntu Software Center from the Applications menu in the upper panel and search for “unity”. The second listing should be for Unity 2D; install it.

When the installation is complete, log out of your system. At the login screen, select your user name and then open the third drop-down menu in the lower panel. Select Unity 2D, enter your password, and log back in.

Unity 2D is pretty much identical to the 3D version, just without some of the snazzier graphical effects and associated capabilities. For instance, Launcher items do not fold down, but simply slide down off-screen, and there appears to be no way of reordering Launcher entries. Without Compiz, the Workspace Switcher is simply hideous. There is also no window snapping at all, since this feature is also provided by Compiz. Window Manipulation Mode in uTouch does not work, though surprisingly all of the other gestures do work in Unity 2D.

Dash appears to suffer the greatest number of differences between the 2D and 3D modes. In Unity 2D, the Installed section of Dash defaults to show all items instead of making the user select See X more results.

Narrowing down applications by category is also slightly different in Unity 2D. In the standard 3D version, a drop-down menu appears within the search box after selecting one of the four shortcuts from the Dash home screen. In Unity 2D, the drop-down menu is replaced by a right-hand pane of check boxes.

It may be our imagination, but the 2D version of Dash seems to be noticeably more responsive than its 3D counterpart. Selecting different categories populates Dash with the new category almost instantaneously. Using the Apple Magic Trackpad with Unity 2D is also significantly different. The smoothness and momentum of scrolling in Dash is just as responsive as in Mac OS X.

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  • 4 Hide
    jryan388 , June 10, 2011 4:25 AM
    One problem I faced with the standard unity desktop is the horrible performance even on my Athlon II @ 3.6 and Radeon 5750. I upgraded on launch day, so maybe canonical fixed it by now, but the performance was absolutely abysmal. The easiest fix is the unity-2d package. Great performance, doesn't look any worse.
  • 5 Hide
    ksa-_-jed , June 10, 2011 4:30 AM
    U should add more distros to the benchmarks like Debian, Fedora, and open SUSE.
  • 0 Hide
    shiftmx112 , June 10, 2011 4:32 AM
    Meh is exactly how I described 10.10 Still gonna try Unity.
  • 3 Hide
    Yuka , June 10, 2011 4:34 AM
    11.04 sucks; plain and simple.

    Power users can do little to nothing to fix things between gnome3 and the buggy Unity.

    I wouldn't even bother with 11.04 when 10.04 is rock solid.

    Cheers!
  • 1 Hide
    davewolfgang , June 10, 2011 4:45 AM
    I tried the upgrade, but unity is blech. I am still using the upgrade, but doing the classic.

    But I may go back to 10.10 for my EeePC.
  • 0 Hide
    adamovera , June 10, 2011 4:53 AM
    jryan388One problem I faced with the standard unity desktop is the horrible performance even on my Athlon II @ 3.6 and Radeon 5750. I upgraded on launch day, so maybe canonical fixed it by now, but the performance was absolutely abysmal. The easiest fix is the unity-2d package. Great performance, doesn't look any worse.

    Wow, that isn't right, the old X2 test system which has a considerably older Nvidia card runs it great. What's the full specs?
  • 0 Hide
    adamovera , June 10, 2011 4:56 AM
    ksa-_-jedU should add more distros to the benchmarks like Debian, Fedora, and open SUSE.

    Fedora 15/GNOME 3 coming up next. I have never had any luck whatsoever with openSUSE, will keep trying new versions as they come out though.
  • 2 Hide
    bellman80 , June 10, 2011 4:58 AM
    I tried 11.04. Unity was more annoying than useful. I installed the new Linux Mint instead, I'm a happy camper now.
  • 1 Hide
    Tamz_msc , June 10, 2011 5:14 AM
    I'm going to stick with 10.04, because it has been running rock-solid without a glitch for almost a year. It was able to find drivers for my on-board audio which even Windows 7 could not find.

    Unity is not my cup of tea., though I'm looking forward to GNOME 3.0.

    Till then Lucid Lynx FTW!
  • 1 Hide
    RogueKitsune , June 10, 2011 5:20 AM
    Unity is a nice idea, but not my cup of tea. Overall I am happy with the changes in 11.04. Right now i have my laptop(AMD Turion x2, radeon x1200)running it with no problems(everything worked out of the box)
  • 0 Hide
    Filiprino , June 10, 2011 5:31 AM
    Well, Unity is a plug-in of Compiz so if you install Compiz-config GUI you can configure more options and a bunch of effects, window management utilites and shortcuts.
  • 0 Hide
    3ul , June 10, 2011 6:21 AM
    I think the performance issue in unity 3d is due to the vsync(not sure the name right or wrong) is on by default in compiz setting. Turning this off should fix the performance problem. This issue mostly affected by AMD card.

    BTW unity imo have bright future. This is 1st public release so expect some bugs. By the time unity matured, its going to be a great shell for gnome..
  • 0 Hide
    antemon , June 10, 2011 6:25 AM
    I'm still waiting for better games for linux

    hope the big names in the industry follow suit with indie devs on this...
  • 1 Hide
    haplo602 , June 10, 2011 6:36 AM
    running the xubuntu variant so not bothered by unity. however ubuntu in general is a bloated mess. the only thing I like is automounter works out of the box.

    However I switched graphics cards and getting it to run again was not automatic. I expected a bit more :) 
  • 1 Hide
    razor512 , June 10, 2011 8:56 AM
    the os is good but the UI sucks.

    The unity crap bar makes it hard to launch multiple windows of a program, requiring you to basically use options built into the program to open another window

    the side bar is annoying, when ever you go to click on something on the left side of the window, you can easily accidentally bring out that annoying menu

    the search bar is annoying and will at most drive new users away from ubuntu. Since it requires you to search for things, for a novice user if you don't know what specific option you are looking for but want to discover the options, this makes it hard to do.

    while hardware support has been getting better, the Os has also been getting slower overall. They need to shift their focus from bloat to speed.

    they need to take a lesson from professional software makers. Most new professional apps, eg check out the latest adobe audition or photoshop or maya 3d or the mental ray render engine
    Performance is always improved on the same hardware

    An upgrade is not really a upgrade if you are losing performance.

    Would you "upgrade" from a GTX480 to a GTX460?
  • -1 Hide
    killerclick , June 10, 2011 9:03 AM
    Linux shouldn't try to be a desktop OS for grandma.

    It's strong in the server segment, it's nearly ubiquitous in the supercomputer segment and Android is now a force in the mobile market. It should build on that and leave the desktop market to Windows and OSX.
  • 5 Hide
    DSpider , June 10, 2011 9:34 AM
    killerclickLinux shouldn't try to be a desktop OS for grandma.It's strong in the server segment, it's nearly ubiquitous in the supercomputer segment and Android is now a force in the mobile market. It should build on that and leave the desktop market to Windows and OSX.

    Why ? Linux can look like both of them and can do much more. OS for grandma ? Hahahaha. Don't compare Ubuntu to Linux in general. You think grandma can install Arch Linux or Gentoo ?
  • 7 Hide
    Spanky Deluxe , June 10, 2011 9:48 AM
    I made the mistake of trying Ubuntu 11.04 a few weeks ago when I needed a Linux distro for my CUDA development machine. Can't believe the joke of a GUI that they're using now, Unity is one of the worst user experiences I've ever had. Took me ages to just find where to change the screen resolution - the search terms I put into the search box didn't bring it up. After a few hours I uninstalled it. I gave Fedora a try too but Gnome 3 wasn't much better in terms of usability. In the end I went back to good old Scientific Linux with it's 'traditional' Linux GUI.

    I don't know what these Linux folk are thinking. It seems they're trying to force GUIs that are only useful on Netbooks on everyone. Trust me, a Netbook GUI is a pile of poo on a 2560x1600 display - let alone a 3 monitor setup.

    I don't really understand the point in the whole oversimplification thing either. There is no way in hell that I would ever recommend Linux to any non 'pro' user. Not because of how complicated it may be, which they're trying to do away with here, but because a non 'pro' user would struggle to get support and would struggle to get the software they want. Windows is hardly a big premium on computer costs these days and besides which, if it were for a grandma who'd never used a computer before then I'd get her an iPad instead.

    It really looks like the movers and shakers behind these big Linux distros are disillusioned as to who their customers or potential customers are and they're messing up the GUI for the people that know and love Linux in a vain attempt to encourage a tiny tiny minority of new users. Linux as a whole just went seriously down in my regard.
  • 1 Hide
    winco , June 10, 2011 10:00 AM
    Still no "shutdown when idle" power management? A big big drawback for me adopting Linux.
  • 2 Hide
    burnley14 , June 10, 2011 10:42 AM
    This should be the desktop background on a loop:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykwqXuMPsoc
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