Chapter 10: Personalizing Ubuntu: Getting Everything Just Right

An excerpt from Beginning Ubuntu Linux: From Novice to Professional by Keir Thomas, published by Apress.
Setting Font Preferences

Ubuntu lets you change the fonts that are used throughout Ubuntu (referred to as system fonts). You can also alter how they're displayed.

To change a system font, select System→Preferences→Font. In the Font Preferences dialog box, shown in Figure 4, click the button next to the system font you want to change, and then choose from the list. You can also set the font point size so, for example, you can make the labels beneath icons easier to read.

By clicking the entries under the Font Rendering heading in the Font Preferences dialog box, you can change how fonts look on your monitor. This will alter the antialiasing and hinting of the font. Antialiasing softens the edges of each letter to make them appear less jagged. Hinting affects the spacing and shaping of the letters. Used together, they can make the on-screen text look more pleasant. Try each Font Rendering setting in sequence to see which looks best to you (the text in the dialog box will update automatically to show the changes). Nearly everyone with a TFT-based screen, including notebook users, finds the Subpixel Smoothing option best.

Figure 4. You can alter the way fonts appear on screen by using the Fonts Preferences dialog box.

Bytecode Hinting

Two font hinting subsystems are available under Ubuntu: Autohinting and Bytecode Interpreting. There's a lengthy debate about which produces the best results. Personally, I prefer to use the Bytecode Interpreter because I believe it leads to the cleaner fonts, but others say Autohinting is better in this regard.

Unfortunately, the Bytecode Interpreter is protected by patents in the United States (for more information, see This means that individuals in the United States can't use it without paying a license fee to the patent holder (in theory, at least). Those in the rest of world should be fine.

It's easy to activate the Bytecode Interpreter. Follow these steps:

  1. Open a GNOME Terminal window (Applications→Accessories→Terminal).

  2. In the terminal window, type the following:

    sudo dpkg-reconfigure fontconfig

  3. On the first screen of the configuration program, select Native to activate the Bytecode Interpreter. Alternatively, you can choose Autohinting or even None, which will turn off the hinting system.

  4. On the next screen, you can select whether subpixel rendering is activated. This is useful only for TFT screens (including notebooks), so either select Automatic or, if you use a TFT monitor and want to ensure the option is activated, select Always.

  5. The third screen offers the option of using bitmap fonts. These are fonts that, unlike the TrueType fonts used within the rest of Ubuntu, don't scale beyond their original size. There's no harm in enabling them because they can sometimes be useful as system fonts.

  6. Once the program has finished configuring the software, restart your X server by logging out and then back in again.

Configuring Input Devices

Mouse and key repeat speeds are personal to each user, and you may find the default Ubuntu settings not to your taste, particularly if you have a high-resolution mouse such as a gaming model. Fortunately, changing each setting is easy. You'll find the relevant options under the System→Preferences menu.

Configuring Mouse Options

Select System→Preferences→Mouse to open the Mouse Preferences dialog box, which has three tabs:

  • Buttons: This tab lets you set whether the mouse is to be used by a left-handed or right-handed person. Effectively, it swaps the functions of the right and left buttons. Beneath this is the double-click timeout setting. This is ideal for people who are less physically dexterous because the double-click speed can be slowed down. On the other hand, if you find yourself accidentally double-clicking items, you can speed it up.

  • Cursors: On this tab, you can select from any mouse cursor themes that are installed. You can also activate the Locate Pointer option, which causes a box to appear around the mouse cursor when you press the Ctrl key. This can help you find the cursor on a busy desktop.

  • Motion: This tab, shown in Figure 5, lets you alter the speed of the mouse pointer, as well as the drag-and-drop threshold. Changes are made as each setting is adjusted, so to test the new settings, simply move your mouse. Here's what the settings do:

  • The Acceleration setting controls how fast the mouse moves. Whenever you move the mouse, the pointer on screen moves a corresponding amount. However, the cursor actually increases in speed the more you move your hand (otherwise, you would need to drag your hand across the desk to get from one side of the screen to the other). This is referred to as acceleration. If you set the acceleration too high, the pointer will fly around the screen, seemingly unable to stop. If you set it too slow, you'll need to ramp the mouse several times to make it go anywhere.

  • The Sensitivity setting controls how quickly the acceleration kicks in when you first move the mouse. Choosing a higher setting means that you can move the mouse relatively quickly before it starts to accelerate and cover more screen space. A low setting means that acceleration will begin almost as soon as you move the mouse. Higher sensitivity settings give you more control over the mouse, which can be useful if you use image-editing programs, for example.

  • The Threshold setting determines the amount of mouse movement allowed in a click-and-drag maneuver before the item under the cursor is moved. This setting is designed for people who have limited dexterity and who might be unable to keep the mouse perfectly still when clicking or double-clicking an icon. In such cases, a large threshold value may be preferred.

Figure 5. The Mouse Preferences dialog box lets you tame that mouse.



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Ya Linux is awesome i am

Jack's picture

Ya Linux is awesome i am running a dual boot of vista and ubuntu... linux is great so far how can i customize more any websites anyone can direct me too

On Ubuntu Edgy use this

Anonymous's picture

On Ubuntu Edgy use this command for configuring font:
sudo dpkg-reconfigure fontconfig-config

You should mention which

Jaques Haas's picture

You should mention which version of Ubuntu you're using. I'm using 6.10, and lots of the tools you describe aren't where you say they are. For example, I have no configuration editor. A few other things too.

Good guide though, and thanks.

The configuration editor is

Anonymous's picture

The configuration editor is there, you just need to add it to the menu bar. I believe if you go to the menu and click add, you will be able to select it.

Ubuntu Rocks. Who Needs Windows Vista

Comp keyboard's picture

Windows Vista is going to launch pretty soon, but I am definitely not excited about that. Who want to pay extra hundreds dollars when you can get ubuntu for free and more stable operating system?

ugh...not vista

Durand's picture

well, im glad im not the only one who thinks like that!