Saturday, June 23, 2012

unity - getting work done

Of the three GNOME 3 "shells" I've used (and, I'm not aware of more than three at this time), I like GNOME Shell the most for when I've got several windows open -- when I've got a lot going on and I'm trying to get things done. Unity and GNOME Shell don't have a "traditional" panel; Cinnamon has one, but it doesn't show running apps from all workspaces -- only the current one. When I've got several windows open, usually across multiple workspaces, I'll use GNOME Shell's Activities overview to quickly get around from one window to another. Likewise, in Cinnamon, Expo mode is often more helpful to me than the panel.

In Ubuntu 12.04, Unity's Launcher shows running applications from all workspaces. A running app is indicated by an arrow on the left side of a Launcher icon. If it's a "solid" arrow (really a triangle), the app is running on the current workspace; if it's a "chevron," the app is running on another workspace. Two triangles means you've got two windows from the same app running on the current workspace.

An arrow on the right side of a Launcher icon indicates the active application -- the one you're working in at the moment.

I find it frustrating that the Unity Launcher can't be moved around. I've had a hard time getting used to it being on the left side of the screen. Sometimes I wish it was like a "traditional" panel, at the bottom of the screen, or something that I can freely drag around, like the Xfce panel.

I've tended to set it to "auto-hide" (System Settings > Appearance > Behavior tab > "Auto-hide the Launcher"), but I'm finding that this mode hinders me when I've got lots of apps running -- I can't see which apps are running at a quick glance, and I have move the cursor to the left edge of the screen to un-hide the Launcher so I can get around to different windows quickly. I finally realized that it's better for me to have "Auto-hide" turned off so that I can fully take advantage of the Launcher, especially when I've got a lot going on.

Supplemental to the Launcher, I use a few other tools to get around the Unity desktop. One of these is the Workspace Switcher:

Another is to "Present All Windows" (from the current workspace):

Then there's good old Alt + Tab to get to running apps in the current workspace:

The Workspace Switcher can be brought up by clicking on its icon on the Launcher, or by using the Super + s ("Windows" key + s) keyboard shortcut. You can Present All Windows (from the current workspace) with the Super + w keyboad combo.

With the Ubuntu Tweak tool installed, you can set screen edge actions to bring up those two things. I have the upper-left corner set to bring up the Workspace Switcher; moving the cursor to the lower-right corner will Present All Windows (from the current workspace).

Often, I find it helpful to hold down the Super key to bring up a list of keyboard shortcuts:

Of course, you can also find lists of Unity keyboard and mouse shortcuts on the internet; for example, at this page.

So, those are the main tools and approaches I use for "getting work done" when I'm using Ubuntu's Unity. In addition, I take advantage of a couple of useful things I've written about earlier: The "quicklists" on the Launcher icons, and the desktop right-click menu (customized using Nautilus-Actions).

Ubuntu's Unity is a different animal, and it requires a different mindset. It takes awhile to get used to, and to figure out how to do things. In the end, I've become just as comfortable working in Unity as in any other desktop. I also think it's quite beautiful.

As always, YMMV. :)