I want to give you all a little background so that you understand where this article comes from and where it is headed. I recently stepped into the world of Linux after hearing about it for a long time. Mostly I heard horror stories about command lines and having to memorize every possible command just so that you can run a program. I am here to tell you: it’s not true! Linux has changed dramatically over the years to provide a GUI so that even I can install and run programs. All of that aside, if you haven’t tried some form of Linux yet, it’s worth doing!
I am currently running Ubuntu 10.04 and loving it. This is the first Linux OS that I have gotten to spend time with. Once I got a little more familiar with it I noticed that I wanted something a little more. I figured that if this is the most configurable OS out there then let me start moulding this thing. I searched the OC Forums for help from the members to find the most useful and user-friendly add-ons. I was once again met with open arms and the list has started to pile up. My mission is now to sift through and give each add-on a thorough examination and let you know what I think. Keep in mind that I just started using Linux not long ago so I am looking for the add-ons that are easiest to install, the most simple to use, and those that work the best. If it looks difficult I will let you know. Most importantly however is that the add-on just works.
First up to the plate is an add-on that I stumbled across looking for a way to change the look and feel of my system. I had started out installing all the different distributions of Linux. This of course ended up being a little much so I settled with Ubuntu. I started looking around for a way to change the login screen. I liked it as it was but it felt as if it were lacking in some ways. As I searched the Internet looking for a suitable add-on, I stumbled across Ubuntu Tweak. It was easy to find and install from the Ubuntu Software Center under the name “config Ubuntu tool.” I simply searched for “ubuntu tweak” and I was led straight to it.
My first impressions after the install were great. You simply navigate to Applications > System Tools > Ubuntu Tweak. After a short time the program opens up. The menu on the left hand side of the window is clearly labeled and contains easy to understand configuration options. Click on the area that you wish to modify and it will do the rest of the work from there. First off on the list is the Application Center. Much like that of the Ubuntu Software Center this provides you with an easy way to install programs. There is a small list that is provided based on different categories.
If there is a program that is not in the list; check the top right hand side of the window to find that there is an extended online application center. A quick browse through will show many of the top known programs. If you can’t find it in the online center then you probably shouldn’t have it on your system.
Up next is the Package Cleaner. Reminiscent of Ccleaner from Windows, once again it is easy to use and understand. Not that you would be having issues with space and tidiness on your wonderful Linux system but, if you are extra tidy this provides you with the means to be so. For your safety the panel is locked so that you can not haphazardly start cleaning your system. You have the options to clean your packages, cache, config, and kernels. Along with showing you the name of the item it will either show you the amount of space that it is taking up or provide a small description. You can either delete the entire lot by clicking the Select All box at the lower left or you can pick and choose your individual files for deletion. After clicking Cleanup in the lower right you will be prompted for your password, just to be sure, then the deletion begins. One feature that would have been nice is a way to schedule this cleaning so that you could set it and forget it. Once again though a thumbs way up to the ease of this program.
If you happen to come across a program that you really like and it is not available through the Application Center you can always download it via a third party. Ubuntu Tweak features a Source Center to handle all of your other software needs. Once again it features a Source Center and an Online Source Center, both of which operate much like the Application Center. I do feel that this section is a little out of place as it appears after the Package Cleaner. No big deal though, it’s just ascetic really.
Here is where the new user to Linux takes a step back and lets the big dogs come in. I have not yet found a use for the Source Editor but it is available for your editing needs. It does also feature a Unlock button so that you can not accidentally change any values without meaning to do so. Here is a screen shot for good measure.
Moving right along we run into the Update Manager. Ah, yes, don’t we all like to have the latest and greatest? I know that I do. All of the basics are included with automatic update checking, disabling third-party PPA sources, refresh, and a way to choose which updates that you want. Simplicity is the name of the game with this program and I am loving it.
The next category is upon us! We move right into Start-up Processes. As you may know if you have ever been on a Windows system these are what take so long to load. Well good news Linux users! Gone are the days of start it and walk away. If you don’t sit close to your computer while it starts up it might start surfing the net without you. Joking aside, this panel includes the option to add, remove, or edit programs at start-up. Options at the bottom allow you to show comments that provide details about the program. The default are already set up with descriptions while if you decide to add a custom program you can create your own description.
As I mentioned above the entire reason that I stumbled across this program was so that I could edit the look and feel of my system: more specifically, the login screen. Once again we see easy to understand commands attached to check boxes and a way to change the background and icon of your login screen. The pictures will have to be a certain size but a quick search on Google can find you almost any picture that you want. As you can see I have changed mine to be a little more suiting to my taste. I do feel that the options here could have been a bit more in depth. A way to change the login box size, color, and texture would be a much welcome addition.
We now arrive at Session Control which, well, allows you to control your session. The biggest feature that I find on this page is the check box that will force an automatic save on programs when logging out. As a side thought I feel that a good addition to this section would be some sort of parental controls. If for no other reason than to beef this section up. Options such as time of operation and day(s) would be nice.
Next category that we come across is the Desktop. Within that category you have options for Compiz. I took a little time to play around with the settings provided here but ultimately turned some of them back off. The workspace edge settings are great for those that are mouse oriented and provide a truly different experience when changing from workstation to workstation. I ran into an issue playing Diablo II: as I moused to the edge of the screen the specified action would try to engage. For example, I had the bottom right set to show the workspaces. When in the middle of battle with the forces of darkness I am not to worried about what my other workplaces are doing. You can change what corner performs which action. All of the other options are interesting and have something unique to bring to the table. For this you are going to have to try them out. Under the Useful Extensions you see options for two more programs. Those I will save for another review. There are many options involved with each one of those programs.
A quick look at the next section gives us the ability to change what icons are on the desktop. This was a much welcomed ability for myself. I had already gotten used to the way that Ubuntu displayed external devices. Ease of access is what is provided here.
Moving farther down we have the GNOME Settings screen. This provides you with options about your panels and menus mostly. All check boxes with self explanatory meanings. One quick feature that I enjoyed was the ability to show icons on buttons. Just something about it that makes me feel like clicking it is the right choice.
If you remember me talking about the different distributions of Linux that I was installing, this section ended all of that. Windows Manager Settings provides you with options to change the look and feel of the windows. Everything from mouse click interactions to transparency is provided for you. If you are like myself you are always taking an extra second to find the close button on Ubuntu. Not anymore! It is on the right exactly where I like it to be. Who would have ever thought that you could have transparent title bars and not have to have 3GBs of RAM? Not Microsoft! The sliders provide you with the ability to change the transparency of the active and inactive window title bars.
Feeling like Ubuntu is giving you the cold shoulder? Get personal again with these next options. Change where you keep the good stuff and if you are wanting to cut to the chase, edit your shortcuts. First up you can change your folder locations to make them easier to remember or access. If you change the locations and decide that you want them back then there is good news! Ubuntu Tweak has a button for that.
Once again I arrive on some options that I am not completely sure about as I have not found a use for them yet. Best I can tell though I am diving into the Manage Scripts section. Automation of processes sounds like a wonderful idea. Fancy that: there is a reset button to rebuild the system scripts if I change something that I am not supposed to.
Yet another feature that I have not found a use for as a new user to Linux is the Manage Templates sections. Seems that there is a safety net here as well with a rebuild system templates button.
As you may have noticed by now I am a fan of anything that saves a step and there is hope for me yet as Linux provides me with the ability to do so. Coming from a Windows system I remember coming across the ability to set shortcut keys to programs. Such as that from my Logitech keyboard. Linux refuses to be left behind the curve and provides you with the same feature.
For those of us that demand total control over our system there is help. The System category will allow us the options to change how and what can be accessed. The first thing that we can start limiting is the amount of juice that our system is using. With the Advanced Power Manager Settings we can change if the computer locks after we walk away. The ability to change the brightness of the screen when plugged or unplugged is available here as well. For those of you that are on a desktop you really only have two options if you are plugged or un-plugged; bright or off.
When I first installed Ubuntu there was a feature that I missed instantly as I had needed to know the specs of my laptop for my signature on the forums. Once again Ubuntu Tweak has pulled through for me. Much like dxdiag, Computer Details are provided. I do feel that it is a little lacking on some of the information about the system. Dxdiag provided a much more informational experience.
If you need to edit what programs handle which extensions then the next options were made for you. Here we find the File Type Manager. This allows us to set the extensions that each program or programs are handling.
If it wasn’t enough that you could manage how your programs interacted with your files, you can also manage how the file manager interacts with the files. Natutilus Settings provides you with some basic options to change the look and feel of the manager. I personally have not touched the settings yet as I have not had the need. Some day though… some day.
For more security if the above settings just quite didn’t quench your thirst there is the Security Related section. It provides you with some options for security. Somewhat like the Computer Details section I feel that this section is slightly lacking in options. I am pretty sure that I would have renamed this section the Slightly Security Related section.
Well, these are all of the functions that Ubuntu Tweak has to offer. There is the About and Donate buttons which I highly recommend as this program has changed the way that I interact with Ubuntu. I feel that it has satisfied the three criteria that need be in every program: ease of install, simplicity, and getting the job done. As I mentioned throughout the article there are a few sections that I felt were lacking. Overall however that does not cripple the program. I give this program the thumbs up to anyone that uses Ubuntu, new or old. It may breathe life back into your install.
I hope that you had fun reading my first review. I will be looking forward to hearing from all of you about what you think of the program and review as well. If you have any suggestions or advice I always welcome it. Much like Mike Rowe, I look forward to your suggestions about future programs to review. I have to say thank you to Stratus_ss for extending me the offer of writing an article for this site. I have been a member for a year now and have received so much help in that short amount of time that I am not sure I will ever be able to repay all of it. I will try though.Thanks!
Application Information: Ubuntu Tweak 0.5.4.1 (http://ubuntu-tweak.com/)
Disclaimer: All information provided in this article is a product of my opinions. I fully encourage each and every person to form their own opinion about this application. Take my words as only a guideline from a new Linux user.
-Andrew Corey Grant (Coreyoliseffect)