Thursday, 24 June 2010

Things to check out in (Ubuntu) Linux

The default setup of Ubuntu is still not on par with Windows or Mac OS X:
  • An icon-based application switcher with previews is missing.
  • The option for a Mac OS X - style global menu bar is coming in the next Ubuntu release.
  • The Ubuntu Menu is clearly separated into Applications, Places, and System, but requires several clicks to get you where you want to go, and does not support search.
  • The File manager does not support quick preview of most file types.
In this post, I offer solutions for these four issues. I believe each is worth trying for anyone using Ubuntu Linux. Most are possible to try under other distributions as well, though you may need to compile things from source or search for alternate binary releases to the ones I present here.

For the first issue, an icon-based application switcher with preview support, I recommend DockbarX. I let the screenshot from DockbarX's gnome-look page speak for itself:

For Ubuntu, the easiest way to install this is to add the DockbarX PPA and install dockbarx with synaptic. After that you can add it to the GNOME panel and start dragging/pinning applications and launchers to it.

For the second issue, my solution is gnome2-globalmenu. The Google Code site has an illustrative screenshot:

Good enough? Install it from the globalmenu team PPA on Ubuntu, and head for the Google Code Site otherwise. After installing and adding it to the GNOME panel, I had to toggle some gconf options to make it work properly. Press Alt-F2 and type in gconf-editor, then press enter. Look for /apps/gnome_settings_daemon/gtk-modules/globalmenu-plugin and turn it on.

For the third issue, the limited Ubuntu menu, Linux Mint, a derivative of Ubuntu, has come up with a very functional menu replacement, with customization options, search, and favourites, that also allows menu editing like the default GNOME menu. Their screenshots include this:

The colours will follow your GNOME theme. By clicking System, Places, or Applications, you can iconify portions of the menu to the left side. I found that the best way to install this into Ubuntu is to get the debs from A Linux Mint mirror. The debs you need are mint-translations, mint-common and mintmenu. Just click the "all" next to them on the mirror page if the links in the previous sentence do not work. To install them, you can double-click the debs and install them with the package installer in the same order. For those who prefer a quick one-command install, do
sudo dpkg -i mint*deb
in the folder where you saved the debs. You will also need deskbar-applet installed for the menu to work. The former method does this for you, while the latter requires an extra
sudo apt-get install deskbar-applet
. The final issue, previews and usability for our file manager, can be accomplished using nautilus and gloobus-preview from the elementary project. This is a bunch of developers that have inspired the current icons and cleaner themes of the Ubuntu default install. The PPA for the elementary team is here. Just install gloobus-preview and upgrade nautilus in synaptic. Then restart nautilus. Nautilus should now look cleaner, have a transparent UI, a zoom slider, and pressing space should preview files and folders.

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