13 Ways To Customize Ubuntu Netbook Remix For Better Usability

Ubuntu Netbook Remix (UNR) is a modified version of Ubuntu specially for the netbooks. The latest version of UNR runs Ubuntu Karmic in the backend, but the interface has been heavily customized to make it looks/functions good in small screen. Recently, I installed UNR on my netbook (as a replacement for WinXP). While I like the interface, I find that there are still many places that can be improved for better usability and performance. Here I will highlight several of my own customizations.

1. Complement Maximus with Namebar

Maximus is a desktop daemon used in UNR to automatically maximise the windows when they are opened and also hide the title bar to save space. While this is a good feature, it doesn’t give you any option to minimize/unmaximize the window. NameBar is an applet that puts the name list of the top-most maximized or the focused window in the gnome-panel so that it doesn’t take up precious space elsewhere. It also adds the minimize/unmaximize option to the namelist.

To install namebar, download the deb file.

Double click the deb file to install.

Once the installation is done, open a terminal and type:

killall gnome-panel

Now right click on the top panel and select “Add to Panel”. Scroll down until you see Namebar Applet. Add it to the panel.

unr-add-namebar

Before Namebar
unr-before-namebar

After installing namebar
unr-after-namebar
(You have to remove the window picker applet from the panel to achieve the full effect of the namebar)

2. Replace the window picker applet with DockbarX

The window picker applet is the default window management app that allows you to switch between windows. One bad thing about this applet is that it doesn’t group similar windows together and can take up a lot of space as you open more windows.

DockbarX is a better replacement for the window picker applet. It groups all the similar window together and only displays them all when you mouse over. In addition, you can also pin applications onto it.

To install DockBarX, add the following Ubuntu PPA to your UNR:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:dockbar-main/ppa

In the terminal, type

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install dockbarx

Remove the window picker applet from the top panel. Add the DockbarX applet onto the panel.

unr-dockbarx

3. Hide the date

The date/time applet in the top panel is taking up far too much space. Personally, I don’t need to keep myself reminded of the date all the time, so it is a redundant information for me. The best thing is to remove it.

Right click on the time/date applet and select Preferences. Uncheck the box “Show date

unr-hide-date

4. Make Top Panel autohide

If you value your screen real estate very much, you may want to autohide your top panel so that it does not take up any screen real estate when not in use.

Right click on the top panel and select Properties. Check Autohide.

unr-autohide-panel

5. Add CPU freq scaling applet to the panel

The CPU frequency scaling applet allows you to change the frequency of your CPU and save your battery life. Follow the usual method to the applet onto the panel.

6. Remove Game from the side pane

On the main screen, you will see the menu on the left and the respective applications on the right. I don’t play game on my netbook, so the Game section is kind of redundant. To remove it, scroll down to System section and select the Main Menu application. Uncheck the box “Game”. Free feel to uncheck any other categories that you have no use for.

unr-main-menu

7. Install swiftfox

Swiftfox is an optimized build of Firefox and it performs much faster than Firefox. To install swiftfox, open your terminal and enter

sudo gedit /etc/apt/sources.list

Add the following line to the end of the file

deb http://getswiftfox.com/builds/debian unstable non-free

Save and close the file. Back to your terminal:

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install swiftfox-i686

Note: In a standard Intel laptop configuration, you should install swiftfox-prescott. However I find that swiftfox-prescott does not work in Intel Atom netbook. Swiftfox-i686 works fine

8. Install meerkat extensions for Firefox

Meerkat is a Firefox extension that optimizes the Firefox interface to make it more netbook friendly. What it does is:

– Hides the status bar when there is no activity
– Removes the menu bar, rebuilt into a drop down button placed on the navigation bar
– Adds downloads and bookmarks buttons to the right of the location bar, followed by above mentioned menu bar button
– Reduces the navigation bar icon size to the small setting

unr-meerkat

9. Install Google Chrome

If you are willing to ditch Firefox, I would recommend installing Google Chrome. It runs much faster than Firefox/Swiftfox, especially when you have a lot of tabs opened.

10. Reduce the number of startup items

The number of startup applications determines how fast your netbook boots up. Also, the more background tasks you run, the faster your battery drains.

Go to System->Preferences -> Startup Applications

You can safely uncheck the following:
– Bluetooth Manager (optional. Leave it checked if you are using the bluetooth function)
– Check for new hardware driver (unless you change your hardware regularly)
– Evolution alarm notifier
– Gnome login sound
– Gnome setting daemon helper
– Print queue applet (if you use your netbook for printing, don’t remove this)
– User folders update
– Visual Assistance

11. Rearrange your Favorite items

The Favorite section, as its name implies, should contain all your favorites (and frequently accessed) applications. The default list of Favorites Items is not useful at all. What I have done is to remove all the items and manually add my own favorite items into the list.

To add item to your Favorites, simply navigate to your favorite apps and click the ‘+’ symbol at the top right of the icon.

12. Disable the touchpad when typing

If the touchpad always disturb your typing, you can use syndaemon to disable it while you are typing.

Syndaemon is pre-installed in UNR, so you need only to add the following to your startup entry:

Name: Synaptics Touchpad Syndaemon
Command: syndaemon -i 1 -d
Comment: Disable the touchpad when typing

13. Install powertop

Powertop enables you to find out the processes that are draining your battery away and provide you a simple method to remove them. You can follow the tutorial here to install PowerTop.

What other ways do you use to customize your netbook?