Chapter 10: Personalizing Ubuntu: Getting Everything Just Right

An excerpt from Beginning Ubuntu Linux: From Novice to Professional by Keir Thomas, published by Apress.
Changing Keyboard Settings

Select System→Preferences→Keyboard to open the Keyboard Preferences dialog box. This dialog box has four tabs:

  • Keyboard: Using the Keyboard tab, you can alter the rate of key repeat. This can be useful if you often find yourself holding down the Backspace key to delete a sentence; a shorter setting on the Delay slider and a faster setting on the Speed slider can help. However, if you get the settings wrong, you may find double characters creeping into your documents; typing an f may result in ff, for example. Beneath the Repeat Keys setting is the Cursor Blinking slider. Altering this may help if you sometimes lose the cursor in a document; a faster speed will mean that the cursor spends less time being invisible between flashes.

  • Layouts: On the Layouts tab, you can choose to add an alternative keyboard layout, as shown in Figure 6. For example, if you write in two different languages on your keyboard, it may be helpful to be able to switch between them. Click the Add button and select the second language from the list.

  • Layout Options: This tab lets you select from a variety of handy tweaks that affect how the keyboard works. For example, you can configure the Caps Lock key to act like a simple Shift key, or you can turn it off altogether. You can configure the Windows key so that it performs a different function, too. Put a check alongside the option you want after reading through the extensive list of options.

  • Typing Break: This tab features a function that can force you to stop typing after a predetermined number of minutes. It does this by blanking the screen and displaying a “Take a break!” message. Note that a notification area icon will appear before the break time to give you advanced warning of the lockout.

Figure 6. You can have more than one language setting in place for a keyboard, which is handy if you need to type in a foreign language.

Creating Keyboard Shortcuts

Ubuntu lets you define your own keyboard shortcuts for just about any action on the system. To create a shortcut, select System→Preferences→Keyboard Shortcuts. In the dialog box, search through the list for the action you want to create a shortcut for, click it, and then press the key (or key combination) you want to use. For example, you might locate the Volume Up and Volume Down entries in the list, click each, and then press Ctrl+left arrow and Ctrl+right arrow. Then you will be able to turn the volume of your sound card up or down by holding down Ctrl and tapping the left or right arrow key, respectively.

Caution: Be careful not to assign a shortcut to a popular key. It might be nice to make Totem Media Player appear when you hit the spacebar, for example, but that will mean that it will start up several times whenever you type a sentence in a word processor! Also be aware that some key combinations are used by applications. Within's Writer, for example, the Ctrl+left/right arrow key combination moves you from word to word in a paragraph. If you define those combinations as shortcuts, you will no longer have this functionality.

I like to configure my /home folder to appear whenever I press the Home button on the keyboard. This can be done by locating the Home Folder option under the Desktop heading.

Personalizing Login Options

You can even personalize the login screen under Ubuntu. This is known technically as the GNOME Display Manager, or GDM. To access its configuration options, select System→Administration→Login Screen Setup. The dialog box has eight tabs:

  • General: In the Local drop-down list, you can choose the type of login screen: Themed Greeter, which is to say one that includes the Ubuntu graphic, or GTK+ Greeter, which is a basic login box into which you can type your details. By unchecking the Use Default Welcome boxes, you can type your own Welcome and Remote Welcome text (the remote text is what appears if someone logs in graphically via GDM across a network; it isn't something you should worry about). The Automatic Login heading lets you do away with the login box completely and go straight to the desktop from bootup. Simply put a check in the box and provide the login username. This presents obvious security issues, but if you're the only person using the computer and if it's located in a secure location, you might want to choose this option. The Timed Login option lets you select a user who will be logged in by default after a given period. This is useful if you want to present the opportunity to log in as a different user but also want to have the failsafe of logging in automatically, too.

  • GTK+ Greeter: Here, you can change the appearance of the simple GTK+ Greeter that will appear if you chose the relevant option on the General tab. You can change the picture by clicking the Browse button, or get rid of it completely by clicking No Logo. You can also alter the background so that there's a picture or color.

  • Themed Greeter: The Themed Greeter is the default under Ubuntu, and it makes the standard login page appear. You can select from a couple of other themes from the list on the left. Particularly handy is the Happy GNOME with Browser option, which shows a list of all users on your system during login. To log in, just click the appropriate entry and type the necessary password. Clicking the Install New Theme button lets you install a Themed Greeter theme from disk. You can download these from

  • Security: This tab lets you alter login settings that might present a security risk to your system. For example, if the Happy GNOME with Browser option is activated in the Themed Greeter tab, you can activate the Face Browser, which will show a picture on the login screen. This is considered a security risk, because it removes the need for people to type in their usernames, thus potentially handing valuable information to hackers. You can also activate the X Display Manager Control Protocol (XDMCP) for GDM, which will let users log in graphically using GDM from a remote computer (this requires the remote system to be specially configured).

  • XServer: This tab lets you specify settings that can be passed to the X server when it's started by GDM. In most cases, you can ignore this tab.

  • Accessibility: Here, you can allow activation of the GNOME Assistive Technology modules. You can also have GDM make sounds when various events occur, such as a bad login. This can help partially sighted people.

  • XDMCP: If you activated XDMCP for GDM in the Security tab, this tab lets you fine-tune various settings, such as the network port it listens on as well as the maximum number of remote sessions. Unless you have specifically activated XDMCP, you can ignore this tab.

  • Users: Here, you can specify which users are offered as choices within GDM if the Face Browser option is activated in the Security tab. Bear in mind that Linux has many system user accounts that aren't designed to allow logins. By default, all users who have a password are displayed, which is the best way of working (the system accounts don't have passwords because they aren't login accounts).



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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!