Getting to grips with Ubuntu Unity

For the third episode in our Working without Windows series, it’s time to take a closer look at how to get things done using Ubuntu.

Ubuntu is the bones and meat of the system. It is the layer on which the desktop sits. The desktop that ships with Ubuntu is called Unity.

Starting from the top (literally) you will see the menu bar.

Menu Bar

Unity Menu Bar
Unity Menu Bar

Unlike Windows, which has a separate menu bar for each and every application you have open, Ubuntu just has one. That is all it needs, as the options on the left of the menu bar change depending on which application has focus. Handily this means you aren’t left staring at the screen trying to work out which menu bar you should be using, as it will always be in the same place.

Menu Bar - Program Menu
Menu Bar – Program Menu

To the right of the menu bar you will find some important options that will always be available.

Menu Bar - System Menu
Menu Bar – System Menu

Clicking on the icon to the far right (next to the time) reveals a drop down menu which gives you options for logging out, restarting the computer, shutting down and so on. Selecting the Ubuntu Help option opens the very useful Ubuntu Desktop Guide.

Ubuntu Desktop Guide
Ubuntu Desktop Guide

Going back to the menu bar itself, if you click on the time it reveals the time and calendar drop down, where you can also change the time and date settings if you wish. Next to that is the option for sound, depicted by a little speaker icon. The interface is very simple and allows you to change the volume. Moving on to the next icon (two arrows pointing up and down) takes you to the networking menu options. Finally, the folder icon allows you to launch the Thunderbird e-mail client, receive notifications when mail arrives (the icon turns blue), compose a new message or go straight to your contacts list.


Down the left hand side of the screen is the Launcher. You will see a long column of icons for various programs and folders. Here is a brief list of the ones you will see when you start Ubuntu for the first time. We will go into more details about each one in this and future blogs.

  1. Dash Home
  2. Home Folder
  3. Firefox
  4. LibreOffice Writer
  5. LibreOffice Calc
  6. LibreOffice Impress
  7. Ubuntu Software Centre
  8. Ubuntu One
  9. Amazon
  10. Ubuntu One Music
  11. System Settings
  12. Workspace Switcher
  13. Rubbish Bin

Dash Home

Dash Home sounds like something you would do at the end of a long day at work. However, in Ubuntu it is much more useful. To access it click on the top most icon in the Launcher.

Unity Dash
Unity Dash

From the Dash you can search for any application you have installed, any file on your system and many other things besides. GIMP is an image manipulation program which can do many of the same things as Adobe Photoshop. We installed it to help write this blog. After it was installed, it was a simple matter to find it using the Dash and launch it by clicking on the icon.

Unity Dash - Searching for GIMP
Unity Dash – Searching for GIMP

As you can see from the screen shot above, typing in the word “gimp” not only found the application we had installed, but also listed several books about the application which may come in useful.

Once an application is running, you can lock it to the Launcher if you choose. Just right click on the application icon on the Launcher and select the option.

Home Folder

Home Folder
Home Folder

This is the place where all your files will be stored by default. Think of it as the equivalent to My Documents in Windows.

One little thing that may catch you out if you are used to a Windows environment is the scroll bar. For the scroll bar to appear, you need to hover the mouse over the right hand edge of the current window where you would expect it to be, then you can drag it up and down. It is often easier just to use the scroll wheel on your mouse.

Folder with scroll bar
Folder with scroll bar

Under the Network sub heading, you can gain access to other computers on the network or any shared drives you may need. To speed things up at a later date, you can bookmark drives. To use Windows terminology you are creating a drive mapping. To do that simply right click on the drive entry on the left hand side of the window and select Add Bookmark.

Right clicking on a file or folder on the right hand side of the window brings up a context menu for that item. You can do all the usual things, like renaming a file, deleting it, or checking its properties. Dragging and dropping files works just the same as it does in Windows, as do many of the same keyboard short cuts (Ctrl + C to copy, etc.).

After being a long time Windows user, taking on something even a little bit different can at first seem daunting. Ubuntu definitely does not seem daunting after very long though.

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