Introduction To The Ubuntu Unity Desktop

Version 1.0
Author: Christian Schmalfeld <c [dot] schmalfeld [at] projektfarm [dot] de>

This tutorial is supposed to guide the reader through some new features of the Unity desktop, Ubuntu's new desktop environment used since Ubuntu 11.04. The prime subject will be the launcher, which is something like a side-dock, and how to configure it the way it fits your likings most.

This document comes without warranty of any kind! I do not issue any guarantee that this will work for you!


1 First Startup

If you have come in contact with any other operating system, be it an older version of Ubuntu, another distribution of Linux, Mac or Windows, you will be surprised about what the Unity desktop looks like at first glance. The first thing to notice is the dock-like structure on the left side of the screen.

It is called launcher and is your main navigation tool on Unity. Having dealt with previous versions of Ubuntu or Microsoft Windows, after some browsing you will also notice that the multifunctional control button is missing, by which you normally could access everything there is on the computer, usually positioned in the bottom left corner of the screen. There is kind of a control button on the top left corner, however it does not open half the possibilities you had with its kind before. Some of the common options have been exported to the control panel.


2 The Launcher

The launcher propably is an easy-to-use execution dock for your most used applications. On first startup it contains some basic applications as Firefox, some LibreOffice Apps and links to the Files & Folders as well as the Applications section. To add items to the launcher, you can just drag and drop them there or, if you have the application to put there opened (minimized tabs will be available from the launcher, not the top panel), you can right-click its icon and tick the Keep in Launcher option.

One of the launcher's main functions is its search bar that you can find in the main menu and in the Applications and Files & Folders sections. It is one of the quickest options to access a file if you do not have it fixed in your launcher. It behaves a bit strange however, compared to the search functions one is used to. It finds only those files that were opened at least one time and if you search for folders, it will only give you its contents (if one of the contained files was opened once, otherwise it will not find anything).

Another way to access your files quickly is by right-clicking the application section for applications and browsing the home directory or every folders top bar for folders. Right-clicking on Applications will give you the classic option to browse through the different categories of applications, although they are not displayed as compact as before. Clicking on the monitor icon on the top bar of any folder window will direct you to the root directory of your system.


3 Configuring the Launcher + Unity

If you have already been to the system settings to try to modify the launcher, you will have noticed that there is not much to be modified yet.

You can however install Compiz Fusion as well as its CompizConfig Settings Manager with your Ubuntu Software Center, which has a plugin to slightly modify the launcher. It is located in System Settings > Personal > CompizConfig Settings Manager > Desktop > Ubuntu Unity Plugin.

You may find yourself keeping a great deal of applications and files in your launcher since they are quite circumstantial to access on Ubuntu 11.04 that's why it might be a good idea to configure the icon size within the launcher to be smaller. If your opinion is that Unity is too hard to handle, you can still try to make life easier by configuring your own hotkeys via System Settings > Keyboard Shortcuts (there are already some installed, but they do not help to handle Unity in a great manner) or accessing files via Terminal (after you have got yourself a new layout, so it does not have a purple background any longer).

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From: syncdram

I've been forcing myself to use unity since 11.04 was released.  And i was kidding myself into thinking this is better than earlier releases. its not! If your not able to remember what you have installed and i found myself many times digging into applications to find what i need. productivity for me has dropped 70%. Everything is a chore. If this is the way they do things in Australia  i pity every one of you. This is a dam joke!

From: Anonymous

It can sound very tough but I didn't like it.

I tried it and I disliked it.

It's strange and seems awkward .

I think it was a regression, a big mistake.

Because of it I have given up of using Ubuntu and I am moving out.





From: Sapa Sapa

Me too. Use Ubuntu for quite sometime.

Ubuntu 11.04 make me say goodbye to Ubuntu.

From: Spidey

This has to be the worst desktop that I have ever seen. Ubuntu has lost some serious brain cells to put this out. Mini Windows are for cell phones not for desktops.

Epic Fail, Ubuntu!


From: Anonymous

If you think Unity is bad, what do you think of the new Gnome 3?


Also, do you think this is progress?

From: Jesse

Gnome3 is the worse. Can anyone, please, fork gnome2?

From: nooblinuxuser

Very new to Ubuntu and I hated the Unity thing. The way around it, is to log out of Ubuntu, then change the setting at the bottom of the screen from Unity 2D to Ubuntu Classic and you get the old style Ubuntu with a start menu. :)

From: Rakesh

Unity is still Child, It hasn't got enough polish and development. Upto 11.04 Unity is less productive but I'm optimistic that the upcoming release 11.10 we'll have a stable and more productive and eye-candy Unity.

From: Richard DiFranco

Unity is difficult to use. the launcher is good but after that let's get back to menus. Also, we need more words and less icons. Once you find the icon for files in the launcher, then launch the file manager not the hocum that is presented now.


From: Anonymous

i don't like this unity desktop, it is very hard to use, the best way to use Ubuntu 11.04 is to log out and log in again using ubuntu 2d, unity desktop is fail, pinguy OS have the most best desktop

From: Timothy J. Schutte

I have tried the Unity desktop, and I will be sticking with Fluxbox, thank you very much.

I do like the updated apps in Ubuntu's latest version, however.

From: Anonymoose

Bloated candy coated CRAP!!! I'm surprised ubuntu hasnt taken the terminal out cause it's "too complicated for new users"... lol! Ubuntu turned me on to Linux as a daily desktop a while back and i LOVED IT. Unity has turned me OFF from ubuntu and now it's annoying to use..

Too bad, it was coming along nicely until 11.04! If i wanted pretty pictures and icons i'd stick with windows or mac since there is so much software out there for them.

PLEASE bring back a functional desktop for the stable release or you lost *ANOTHER* user to another distro!

From: Yash Pal

Unity desktop will improve. If Canonical has made a break from the past, I think we should support and help them with constructive criticism. 

There will be no  progress without change and it should not happen that those who vehemently oppose and criticise Canonical for Unity will vehemently oppose and criticise Canonical for not experimenting and not changing. May be only one type of interface for desktops, mobiles and tablets will be liked by normal (ie not IT savvy) users.

From: Raghav

Unity is getting worse with new releases and 11.10 is another catastrophe. Many people are starting to move away from Ubuntu as well. I also wanted to, but after lots of struggle. managed to bring back some sanity. See this -

You can use task managers like avant to bring back productivity and some like it even more than Ubuntu's earlier task bar at the bottom. 

From: Anonymous

...but, for a lot of people, especially computer newbies, Unity actually is pretty good.  Personally, I prefer KDE 3.5.x and use Trinity ("KDE 3.5.12") as my desktop.  But I'm a systems engineer and thus not really representative of most "Joe Sixpack" computer users.  That's probably true of a lot of GNU/Linux users; we tend to be more computer savvy than the typical MS Windows or Apple Macintosh user.

Speaking of Macs, there is a certain "Mac-like" feel to the menus.  Having used a Mac before, I figured this out pretty quickly.  The thing I probably wouldn't have figured out is that you have to put the mouse up against the left side of the screen to get the dock to appear.  Nor had I figured out the "right click the app to make it stay in the dock" trick that this article describes.  Basically, with Unity, it's like relearning how to use the computer--kinda like Microsoft users when they try out a Mac ("where's the Start button?").  Or like Windows users when Vista, then 7 came out...and what will happen when 8 comes out!  Checked out MS Office 2010 lately?

Unity is clearly not geared toward the power user like, say, the KDE 3.x series was.  Remember Ubuntu's target market, though, and then Unity will make more sense.

From: Anonymous

Unity does not work on my laptop. 11.10 gives me a blank screen when I load the installation CD, and 11.04 provides a message that unity will not work with my computer and I need to use Ubuntu classic (Gnome). XFCE and LXDE work but I need a heavier desktop than those and I don't like KDE. It's a simple entry level HP laptop with ATI graphics. So Unity is not even an option for me

From: Anonymous

Always wanted to try Linux; my netbook seemed unhappy with windows so I thought i would see if ubuntu could take some of the burden off.

First, the installed mozilla crashed if  I opened more than two tabs- so after a onerous process  (is that really how you guys install stuff?) I managed to upgrade to mozilla Aurora which seems to work...  I have had more freezes and crashes in a week than the last year using windows, and slow? OMG slow.  And now I never know if the pc is frozen or just waiting to get around to doing what I asked.

Installing tor hasn't quite worked out either vidella keeps exiting unexpectedly)  though I did get python onto the machine.  All in all I am batting about 800 in getting stuff I want onto the box- and most of the successful installations have used the terminal. So the plan to make it accessible to newbies seems to have failed. Also why the Appleism of the toolbar at the top for every app?  I am not an Apple-hater, but that is one pretty annoying feature of Macs-  why increase the number of clicks?

So all in all I am underwhelmed and will struggle with this a few more days then consider a different distro.  If this is anywhere near the best linux has to offer I will go back to windows and just deal with it.

From: Anonymous

Try an LXDE based distro.  It's designed for relatively low-end systems so it's light on memory and space.

Oh, and I hate Unity.  I can't find anything, I can't customise my desktop appearance, and I can't get things back the way I like them.  Luckily good ol' Gnome is still around from the last 3 versions I had installed.  What moron thought this smartphone shit was a good idea?

From: Jason Costa

Agreed. I tried Ubuntu 11, erased it and went back to 10.4.  Tried Ubuntu 12, can't find anything and will go back to again to 10.4.  

From: Anonymous

OK, So I'm only a Linux newbie, trying Ubuntu because of MSFT is gouging again for revenue.  I read some reviews, saw Ubuntu as at least a major player, and wanted something a Windoze crossover might like.

Installed 13.10 on a desktop, flawless install BTW, and was fairly functional in a couple hours.  Reading all I can about components, one thing became clear quickly.  Many reviews / guides are years old.  I have found some later stuff, but like this article, everyone is whining about details, that appear to have been resolved years ago.  Perhaps a more timely review would be appropriate?

And (praying I don't get shot), there is definitely alot of attitude among Linux power users.  I get it... you're all Admin Gods, but most people are not.  For broader acceptance, and maybe that is not your interest, regular peeps need to be able to use a tool / OS, etc. To those of you that do improve the FLOSS movement, I Thank You!  MSFT held my company by the junk, constantly forcing paid upgrades for years.  I prayed to see a usable alternative, and am happy to see it this far. 

Unity seems very usable for a mortal, and can likely become an alternative for small business, fed up with MSFT, virii, and the NSA (lol).

Keep up the good work, and Thanks again!