Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Making a Usable Unity Hybrid

I am a well-known Unity sceptic. The Unity launcher gets too full too quickly, full of icons I can't always remember; then there's that weird concertina-slide effect to scroll down the launcher stack.

Removing any option for a conventional gnome panel and menu system remains a step backward; principally because the Unity Dash doesn't work for me. Try to run an application and you're either clicking on 'More' and scrolling through pages of icons, or you're trying to type the exact name of some executable hoping for a quick hit so that you can get on with some work. I still fail to see how this is a usability increase unless all you use are the same four things in the launcher?

Far from being a light-weight and convenient pass-through to real activity, I find Unity a hard obstacle. I've been playing with some options to get past Unity quicker.

Xfce4 Application Finder
I've been promoting the switch to the Xfce desktop since Ubuntu 11.10 came out and having the Xfce stack installed, I've found a useful Xfce utility that makes the Unity launcher and Dash largely redundant.

Open the Dash by clicking on the Ubuntu logo in the top of the launch bar. In search, type 'find.' Your default result should be the Xfce4 Application Finder. Run it and pin it to the Launcher by right-clicking its' icon and selecting 'Keep in Launcher.'

What you get with this little utility is a conventional categorised program menu with names and icons, and a quick search if you need it. Select a program from the right pane and hit launch. There! Done! If you tick the check-box, bottom-left, for "Close on Launch" the Application Finder closes itself each time. It doesn't have a maximise control, but if you stretch it to full screen and close it down it will remember it's display size for subsequent use.

Find Files
My second useful utility is the faithful Gnome Search Tool. With this you can search for any files in any or all locations. Open the Dash and Search for 'Search,' it will come up. You can also find it in the Xfce4 Application Finder under Search - "Search for Files."

You can pin both these in Unity's Launcher, but I've also created desktop short-cuts as per our previous article. This gives me a usable Desktop, with 11.10's standard features, including the global menu and notifications, without messing about in Unity Dash for too long. RC