Ubuntu 11.10 for Productive People

Following on from my blog post, “Dumbed Down Ubuntu”, I’ve spent the past 24 hours trying other distributions with varying levels of success.

From reading Mark Shuttleworth’s blog, I’ve found strong feelings out there on Ubuntu’s default user interface. I agree with some of them – that the new Ubuntu UI is not aimed at a certain demographic of people who are power users. Having installed Ubuntu 11.04 for a friend of mine, she loved the Unity interface, and I left her to it.

I’ve played with Fedora 15 and Linux Mint 11, but neither quite worked the way I wanted them to. A specific show-stopper in Fedora’s case was Spotify’s lack of RPM. For Linux Mint, it felt like a reskinned Ubuntu. One really interesting thing I foudn is thatZalman have really cool SATA enclosure which can act as a CD-ROM drive for ISO files, and that’s on my shopping list.

After trying Ubuntu in VirtualBox, and deciding to persevere with taming the UI, I came across a handful of steps to get the interface back to something that people like me will use. Here’s how:

  1. Install Ubuntu 11.10
  2. Install Gnome using apt-get install gnome
  3. Remove the scrollbar eye-candy using apt-get remove overlay-scrollbar
  4. Log in, but select Gnome (Classic) from the gear icon next to your username
  5. Install the Gnome Tweak Tool using apt-get install gnome-tweak-tool, select Fonts and set the text scaling factor to 0.8, and Hinting to ‘slight’, then under Theme, set the GTK+ them to Ambiance, the Icon theme to Gnome and Cursor theme to Adwaita (if they aren’t already)
  6. Alt-Right Click on the bar at the top of the screen, select Properties, Background, and set a solid colour of opaque #3F3E39
  7. Alt-Right Click on the bar again, and select New Panel. Alt-Right Click on the bar at the bottom, then add a Workspace Switcher and a Window List in the bottom right and bottom left corners

Ta-da. That’s a user interface that I’m more than happy to use, and importantly, one I think lots of other non-novices will enjoy using.

Something I forgot in my original post is to say how much I value choice. I tried using Windows over a decade ago as a desktop machine, but quickly became irritated with the way it worked. Slackware served me fine, Debian was great, and I started to use Ubuntu several years after that. I’ve tried a beta of Ubuntu 11.10, and I didn’t like it, so went and tried – for free – two other distributions. Neither quite did it for me, so I came back to square one and found out how to mould Ubuntu’s interface to the way I like it.

I hope some of you find my experiences useful, particularly how to tame the UI.

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