Ubuntu 14.04 LTS: Customizing Unity

Although the Unity Desktop Manager has made HUGE performance and usability strides since the initial release in Ubuntu 11.10, some people are still put off by a number of the limitations in customizing the look and behavior of the window manager. We are going to take a look at how to customize Unity and bring back a sense of control to your desktop.

Unity Customizations Available
In Ubuntu 14.04, Unity has several customizations that are available that were not previously. If you log into Unity, go the the “Settings” and choose “Display”, you will see the following screen:

Ubuntu 14.04 LTS Display and Unity Settings


Most of what you see is new since the Ubuntu 11.10 Unity introduction and several are new since just the latest version of Ubuntu 13.10. New since 13.10 are the ability to scale the menu and title bars. This is useful in very high resolution screens OR as a visual impairment option. Everything scales equally.

Specific to Unity we can also turn on or off that “sticky edges” option. This is the somewhat annoying “pause” your mouse does on the edge of each screen of a multi-monitor setup. It stops the mouse momentarily at the edge, like it gets stuck. Finally, we have to option to turn that off.

In the “Settings” screen still, choose the “Appearance” option to see the following:

Ubuntu 14.04 LTS Appearance and Unity Settings

Here we have one of the most requested options for the Unity Dock, the ability to change the Launcher size. Although it could be done in multiple ways in various versions of Ubuntu since 11.10, including it in the Appearance setting just makes it all official. I like that it allows you to change the icon size all the way down to 16 (even the tool we will talk about next only supports 24).

Unity Tweak Tool – Now Repo Strong!
This tool has been around since the early days of Ubuntu 11.10 when Unity was first introduced, although you had to jump through a large number of hoops (and progressively smaller as the versions went on) to get it installed and it would be broken by Unity updates.

Now however, it has officially been added to the default Ubuntu repositories and gets updated when Unity gets updated. There are a large number of customizations, so let’s get it installed:
sudo apt-get install unity-tweak-tool

After installation, start it up and you will see the following screen:

Ubuntu 14.04 LTS Official Unity Tweak Tool

This tool encapsulates a large number of Unity Desktop customizations all in once convenient location. Most of these options can be had in the default Unity settings, at the command line or by editing sometimes hard to find configuration files.

We can change the behavior of the dock, the panel, web applet integration, search within the Unity menu, etc. all within this one tool. Take the time to explore the options available to you – Unity Tweak Tool – learn it, live it, love it (at least if you use Unity).

Final Thoughts
Ubuntu 14.04 LTS is shaping up more and more to be the Linux Desktop (sorry Canonical, you are still Linux) of choice for both the casual Linux user (is there such a thing) as well as the die hard professional.

We now have more control than every over the Unity Desktop without resorting to tools, utilities or configuration file edits that may break with each subsequent Unity update. The desktop performance is pretty rock solid and, by adding some flavor with the Unity Tweak Tool, looks pretty cool as well! Drop us your thoughts or post links to your Unity Desktop set up in the comments below, we would be interested to see how you are using Ubuntu 14.04 LTS.

Terrence T. Cox

A veteran of twenty years in Information Technology in a variety of roles. He has worked in development, security and infrastructure well before they merged into what we now call DevOps. He provides training in Linux, VMWare, DevOps (Ansible, Jenkins, etc) as well as containers and AWS topics.

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