My last post, about the latest version of Ubuntu and some of the problems I had with it, has been by far the most popular thing I’ve ever posted on here. Which isn’t really saying much. Anyway, I’ve had a bit longer with it now, and it’s led me to think that I was a little bit harsh before. Yes, there are things that I still find very annoying, and I still don’t really see how it’s better than the old way, but Unity isn’t quite as unusable as my previous post made out. I suppose I’ve learned to live with its faults, for the time being at least, and I thought I’d use this post to share some of the things I’ve done to “improve” it so far.
Something I didn’t really address in my previous post was the bugs I encountered, in particular there is one which makes certain areas of the screen into mouse dead-zones, clicking or moving the scroll wheel while the cursor is in them does nothing. Having searched a bit I found this forum post, which offers a solution of adding the xorg-edgers PPA and doing a dist-upgrade (add the PPA using the instructions on the site then, in a terminal, do:
sudo apt-get update followed by:
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade). For me that didn’t remove the problem completely, it seems to come back occasionally, but it’s not as frequent as it was. Perhaps at some point it will annoy me enough to look for another solution, if there is one, but hopefully an update that fixes it will appear before then. Note that the xorg-edgers PPA is unstable, i.e. it is quite possible that an update will break something! So use it at your own risk and read the warnings it gives on the site, twice, and pay attention to the bit where it tells you how to use ppa-purge to go back to the default packages in the Ubuntu repositories, as that’s what you’ll have to do if things go bad. Please don’t blame me if using it breaks your computer, if you’re not confident you could fix it if it goes wrong then just wait, as eventually the updates will trickle down to the official Ubuntu packages. It goes without saying that if you haven’t encountered the same problem then there’s probably no point in you using that PPA, so don’t!
I also found another couple of links that helped me a lot. The first was this one, a list of “application indicators”, which is a fancy way of saying “those little things next to the clock”. By default you could set up the older versions of Ubuntu to display the weather next the clock, but now you have to install the Weather Indicator separately. It still does the same job though. I don’t know why it’s omission by default bothered me, I’m not the type to really care about the weather, I suppose I was just used to it being there when I did want it. Weirdly, my one seems to have a bit of a bug where it doesn’t update automatically after I come out of standby, I haven’t got round to investigating it yet, but it seems fine after I do a manual update. I also have the System Load Indicator installed, as I had the old equivalent set up before I upgraded. I find it really useful to have the CPU usage on-screen at all times, occasionally I get programs in the background flipping out and using up 100% of the CPU, the Flash Player does it quite often for example, and it’s the easiest way to spot this. Having the memory usage on screen is also a great way to spot programs with memory leaks.
Unfortunately, the System Load Indicator has a memory leak, or Unity/Compiz does, as using the applet makes the Compiz process gradually take up more and more memory. From what I can gather there’s a leak in Unity, this one, which the indicator makes worse because of the way it works. So I would avoid using this indicator if you don’t have much RAM or if you’re one of those people who never turns their computer off. I don’t fall into either category so I’m still using it. [Edit: I think this bug has now been fixed, as I haven’t encountered any problems for the last few days.] It definitely made me a bit happier about 11.04 to have my old applets set up.
The other link was this one, which describes how to customise the launchers on the dock so that right-clicking them displays more options. I only edited my Home folder launcher so that right-clicking brings up shortcuts to some of the folders I use most, but you can do much more than that if you want to. At the moment there is no graphical way do this, you have to edit text files, and there is sometimes some trial and error involved in getting it working right, which is another example of how Unity is rough around the edges. Another thing I missed was the “show desktop” button, I don’t usually use separate workspaces so it’s something I use quite often. This page describes how to add one, though it’s a little bit of a hack. Hopefully a proper one will be added at some point. An alternative to the icon is to use the CompizConfig Settings Manager to set it up so that moving the mouse cursor to one of the corners, or sides, of the screen shows the desktop. To do this click on “General Options”, which is in the “General” section (slightly confusingly), then click the “Key Bindings” tab. In the list of options there are two “Show Desktop” ones, the one with a little keyboard icon is the keyboard binding, set to Super + D by default (Super is the Windows key, in case you don’t know), and another with a little icon of a monitor, which is the one we want. Clicking the button next to it which says “Disabled” will let you choose one or more areas of the screen, once you’ve pressed OK moving the mouse to those areas will have the same effect as pressing the Super + D key combination, minimizing all your windows, or restoring them if they are already minimized.
So there’s a few things which helped me get past some of the issues I had with the new Unity interface, and perhaps they will also help someone else. I’m still not really sure it’s worth the trouble, but I suppose it can only get better as new features and bug fixes are released. Hopefully.