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.

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:

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

Note: You have to remove the window picker applet from the panel to achieve the full effect of the namebar

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:

In the terminal, type

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

unr-dockbarx

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

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

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.

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

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

Add the following line to the end of the file

Save and close the file. Back to your terminal:

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

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

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.

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

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.

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

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?

34 comments

  1. The 12. Disable the touchpad when typing does not actually work. Did you test this yourself, and if so, any ideas why it doesn’t work?

  2. Few points:
    1. It is now Netbook Edition, not Remix
    2. Powertop isn’t needed anymore. The power management tool in GNOME should be able to show you wakeups.

  3. Hey I REALLY screwed up my entire panel!!! How do I resort to normal? In the process of trying to lose the window picker I got rid of the email, sound, and the minimized applications (when running)..how do I fix?

  4. you can place the email, sound and all other icons back by right clicking the panel and select Add to Panel

  5. Installed some of these on a “normal laptop”, running Ubuntu 10.04 beta, found these quite useful:
    Maximus, NameBar and DockbarX.

  6. I installed the namebar from the deb but it doesnt show in the list of applets that can be added to the panel :S how can I manually add it to the gnome panel? or can i at least restore the window picker? the default window picker cannot be added from the list either (it doesnt appear). Help!

  7. It seems you cant add or remove applets from the panel in the 10.04 edition (i can't anyway) because the applets are “mandatory” in gconf. I've successfully replaced windowpicker with docbarX by changing the bonobo_id of applet_1 to “OAFIID:GNOME_DockBarXApplet” in /var/lib/gconf/une.mandatory/%gconf-tree.xml.

  8. Hey, does your webcam works? I can't get mine working on a eee900 and 10.04… everything else works

  9. Yes, my webcam is working on a Lenovo S10-2. I am not sure about other netbook models though.

  10. I can't get past the killall gnome-panel point. The panel reappears immediately and there's no way to customize the panel in UNR 10.04. Am I missing something? All the best

  11. Sorry about the previous comment, I didn't read enough first… But now that I'm in gnome session all the apps on the right are gone exept calendar and shutdown…

  12. I am not sure why your panel only left the calendar and shutdown, but you should be able to re-add all the applet to the panel. Simply right-click on the panel and select “Add to Panel”.

  13. I solved it, thanks. It was my mistake actually. I hadn't done the killall command step. After that, the applet appeared in the list. Also, the window picker IS available for restoration from the list, the thing is that in spanish it comes as 'Selector de ventanas', which is pretty much a direct translation but I hadn't seen it.

  14. My Ubuntu Remix does not let me remove any app on the top panel, what should I do to enable that option?

  15. I can't get ubuntu 10.4 to save any custom startup programs, such as the touchpad disable in #12. When I logout and check my startup programs, it's not saved. Any ideas? Thanks.

  16. Hi. is there a way to delete the Files & Folders entry in the left Side Panel in 10.04 netbook?
    Thank you!

  17. i removed the whole panel. It now only had files and folders. Any idea how to get back the previous panel?
    Also is it possible to remove the whole thing and have a menu like in normal ubuntu?
    please help.

    • First of all, this post is based on Ubuntu Karmic, so I assumed that you are still using UNR on Karmic.

      You can get it to restore to the default setting by removing the .gnome .gnome2 .gconf .gconfd .metacity folder in your Home directory. (beware, this will wipe all your app and display setting, but it won’t break your system)

      To use the default Ubuntu interface, logout and choose “Gnome” as the session in the login page.

  18. In 10.04 you can disable the touchpad when typing from the Mouse app in System -> Preferences.

    • Great Link! The Alt-Left Click drag for dialog boxes is one of the best tips I’ve read recently.

      Loved the “13 ways…” – didn’t use all of them, but many were useful

      SRWare Iron is a good alternative to Google’s Chrome

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