Chapter 10: Personalizing Ubuntu: Getting Everything Just Right

An excerpt from Beginning Ubuntu Linux: From Novice to Professional by Keir Thomas, published by Apress.
Personalizing the Panels

Panels are the long strips that appear at the top and bottom of the Ubuntu screen and play host to a choice of applets and/or icons. You can add a new panel by simply right-clicking an existing one and selecting New Panel, or you can remove a panel by right-clicking it and selecting Delete This Panel.

Caution: If you delete a panel, the arrangement of applets it contains will be lost. Of course, you can always re-create the collection of applets on a different panel.

By right-clicking a panel and selecting Properties, you can change its size and dimensions. For example, by unchecking the Expand box, you can make the panel shrink to its smallest possible size. Then, when you add new applets (or, in the case of a panel containing the Window List, a new program is run), the panel will expand as necessary. This can be a neat effect and also creates more desktop space.

Selecting the Autohide feature will make the panel slide off the screen when there isn't a mouse over it. Choosing Show Hide Buttons will make small arrows appear on either side of the panel so that you can click to slide it off the side of the screen when it's not in use.

Working with Applets

Almost everything you see on the desktop is an applet, with the exception of shortcut icons and the panels. A menu is a form of applet, for example, as is the Workspace Switcher.

Ubuntu provides many more applets that you can choose to add to the desktop to provide a host of useful or entertaining functionality. To add an applet, right-click the Panel and select Add to Panel. As shown in Figure 10, you have a wide choice of applets, divided into categories. Many require configuration when they've been created, so you may need to right-click them and select Properties. For example, you'll need to set your location in the Weather Report applet's properties so it can provide accurate forecasting.

To remove an applet, simply right-click it and select Remove from Panel.

Figure 10. A wide variety of applets are available. Some are informative; others are just fun.

Setting Power-Saving Features

Ubuntu includes a number of features to use the power-saving features of your computer, including the ability to switch off the monitor after a set period of inactivity. However, some quick configuration is necessary to set up the system just the way you want it.

Tip: If your computer has a CPU that can adjust its clock speed on the fly, such as a mobile processor or an AMD chip with the PowerNow! function, Ubuntu will automatically install software that will make this work. To see the speed of your processor, right-click the Panel, select Add to Panel, and choose the CPU Frequency Scaling Monitor.

Controlling the Monitor Shutoff

You can configure the monitor to go into standby mode after a certain amount of time has passed. This can save a lot of electricity should you happen to leave your computer unattended for long periods.

To configure this aspect of Ubuntu, select System→Preferences→Screensaver, and click the Advanced tab, as shown in Figure 11. In the Display Power Management section, make sure the Power Management box is checked. Set the desired timings in the Standby, Suspend, and Off boxes. Not all monitors support all three features. Consult your monitor's manual to determine which you should configure. If you're unable to find this information, simply set all three to similar values. For example, set Standby to 30 minutes, Suspend to 31, and Off to 32.

Figure 11. You can configure your monitor to automatically switch itself off after a certain period.

Spinning Down the Hard Disk

All modern hard disks come with the ability to spin down their motors to save energy. Then, when data is requested, the motors spin up again. There may be a slight delay while this happens, and some people dislike using disk spin-down because of this. However, on a notebook, it can lead to a substantial increase in battery life. On a desktop system, it's worth considering, because over the lifetime of a computer, it can save a lot of electricity (and therefore money!).

The spin-down settings are contained in the /etc/hdparm.conf file, which you'll need to edit by hand. Follow these steps to adjust the spin-down settings:

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

  2. Type the following in the terminal window:

    sudo gedit /etc/hdparm.conf

  3. Click Search→Find and, in the box, type spindown_time.

  4. Click the Find button, and then close the Search dialog box.

  5. Change the line the Find routine has highlighted to remove the hash mark from the beginning, so it reads like this: spindown_time = 24. You can alter the value to anything you want. Each time unit is five seconds, so 24 equates to 120 seconds (24x5 seconds), or 2 minutes. To set a time of 20 minutes, enter 240 (240x5 seconds). If you specify a number above 240, the time units are increased to 30 minutes. In other words, a value of 241 will equate to 30 minutes, a value of 242 will equate to 60 minutes, and so on.

  6. When you've finished, save the file.

  7. Reboot for the settings to take effect.



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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!