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If you’re a Gnome 3 Classic (“Fallback“) desktop user, you may have noted that there’s no longer any visible way to get to your Startup Applications. This is made even more frustrating by the fact that after the upgrade to 12.04, Unity users get easy access to it via the system menu at the end of the panel.

While this oversight could do with correcting, you can still access Startup Applications by entering the following command in Run Application via Alt+F2, or in the terminal:

gnome-session-properties

While running this via the user menu would be ideal, you could make a desktop launcher for it, or even one for your panel which would mean one-click access.

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Ubuntu has moved on to “Unity“, and Gnome has evolved to version 3‘s “Gnome Shell“, but many people (like myself) still prefer to use the old “Classic” desktop – be it the old Gnome 2 version, or the “Fallback Mode” of Gnome 3 (users of 11.10 upwards have no choice but to use the Gnome 3 version).

While the 2 versions of the “Classic” interface do have some differences – no “System” menu in Gnome 3 (read this if this is your only concern), and having to hold Alt while right-clicking it to access options – both have panels that are much more customisable (and infinitely more useful) than what “Unity” and “Gnome Shell” currently offer.

But things can go awry, like after doing some tweaking, or installing a program, or having to do a hard reboot, and you can find your panel altered (particularly minus the menus), or even completely missing. So we’ll look at a few different scenarios, and how to rectify them, including how to force Gnome to reset your menus back to their defaults (which is probably the quickest and easiest method). Also, because I’ve seen a lot of newbies in forums say “My Applications menu is missing!” when they should be saying “My top panel has totally vanished!”, we’ll look at how to get your panel back as well.

Finally, because some will need to take a harder approach (or just prefer an easier one), we’ll look at how to totally reset your panels back to their defaults. This is by far the most drastic measure, but it’s quick and easy, and for most people there are no customisations to worry about losing. Besides, if your panel has totally died or vanished, and nothing else you’ve tried has worked, then it’s the only option left.

Try A Quick Panel Restart:

First off, it might be enough to simply refresh the panel by forcing it to close then re-open, which can be done by a reboot, or logging out, or simply entering the following command into the terminal or via Alt+F2:

killall gnome-panel

It pays to do that first, in case that’s all that’s really needed, but chances are you’ve already tried logging out or rebooting, so check out the following tips.

Restore Missing Menus to Panel:

If just your main menu (the “Applications” and “Places” menus, and the “System” menu in Gnome 2) is missing, then perhaps all you need to do is add the menu back to your panel. Right-click an empty area of your panel (holding Alt in Gnome 3) and choose “Add to Panel…“, then scroll down till you find “Menu Bar” (ignore “Main Menu“, as that is a small icon version), and drag it to the left area of your panel.

If it’s conceivable that you perhaps accidentally right-clicked the menu and hit “Remove From Panel“, then it might pay to do this, especially if you have panel customisations you don’t want to lose.

Force Reset of Main Menus:

If you can’t add the menus back to your panel, for example you can’t invoke “Add to Panel…” with a right-click, it’s time to reset the menus to their defaults, which is done by deleting some configuration files. Actually, technically you’re not deleting anything, as the 2 files in question are simply renamed with .bak extensions [so they’re still there if you really need them later], forcing Gnome to recreate those files with default values.

To force Gnome to rewrite its panel menus with default values, enter the following command into a terminal:

mv ~/.config/menus/applications.menu ~/.config/menus/applications.menu.bak && mv ~/.config/menus/settings.menu ~/.config/menus/settings.menu.bak

(That should work with either Gnome 2 or 3, though the settings menu part of it probably won’t do anything in Gnome 3).

All you have to do now is log out, then once you log back in again, your panel should be back with all its menus. Or you can simply enter killall gnome-panel into the terminal and it should successfully refresh your panels without having to log out.

Make a New Top Panel if Missing:

If your panel is absent, you could have even accidentally deleted it yourself, if you unwittingly right-clicked the panel and chose “Delete This Panel” (in Gnome 2 – in Gnome 3 that is harder to do, since you need to be holding Alt while right-clicking the panel). But don’t immediately blame yourself, as all sorts of mishaps can result in a missing panel.

Whatever the case, you should be able to recreate your top panel simply by right-clicking the bottom panel (while holding Alt in Gnome 3) and choosing “New Panel“. You’d then move it to the top, then right-click it (holding Alt in Gnome 3) and choose “Add to Panel…” to add back all the various bits and pieces you had before (the “default” panel is actually a blank panel with a bunch of plugins added).

Obviously, this would be the most time-consuming method, but if you plan to customise your panel anyway, you may as well start from scratch. However, the easiest method would be to totally reset your panels, so keep reading.

Force A Complete Panel Reset:

When all else fails, it’s time to force Gnome to completely reset your panels, which is done by deleting the configuration files. That might sound drastic, and in reality this really is the last resort, but if your panel is totally messed up, chances are your old settings are useless anyway, or rather that having to stick some launchers back on a clean panel will be a welcome alternative to having no panel, or one that is buggy, or missing the “Applications” menu or whatever.

To force Gnome to recreate its panels with default values, enter the following commands into a terminal:

gconftool --recursive-unset /apps/panel (This wipes the panel’s settings)

rm -rf ~/.gconf/apps/panel (This deletes the panel’s folders and files)

killall gnome-panel (This forces the panel to close and restart)

Your panel should now be back with all its menus (but of course minus any customisations). If for some reason they don’t appear immediately, a reboot should fix it.

Alternative Commands for Panel Reset:

ΔΔΔ Some guides have gconftool-2 --shutdown as the first command (this shuts down the current user’s gconfd), though gconftool --recursive-unset /apps/panel should work perfectly fine without it. However, if you aren’t having success, then run it first.

ΔΔΔ If you’re running the commands via the Alt+F2 Run Application box, chances are it won’t like the tilde (~) in the second command, so use rm -rf $HOME/.gconf/apps/panel instead.

ΔΔΔ Instead of killall gnome-panel, you can use pkill gnome-panel (which is basically the same thing), or nohup gnome-panel --replace &, or nohup gnome-panel --replace </dev/null &>/dev/null & (note that nohup specifies the command not halt when the terminal is closed, so is not needed if using Alt+F2).

ΔΔΔ If you’d rather make a backup of the panel’s files before deleting them, run mv ~/.gconf/apps/panel ~/Settings/PanelBackup (note the second path can be whatever you want; in this case, it’s a folder called PanelBackup inside a Settings folder within my home folder I have for storing various config files and settings backup). It actually moves the whole folder to a new location, which is basically the same as deleting it, so you shouldn’t need to run the second command (since there is nothing left there to delete, anyway).

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If you’re new to Ubuntu using 11.10 upwards, you might be scratching your head when you see people mention they’re using Gnome Shell instead of Unity, or even the “Classic Desktop“. Or if you’ve been using Ubuntu but decided to do a fresh install, you’ll find there is not only no “Ubuntu Classic” option at login, but no Gnome at all.

This is because the decision was made to drop Gnome as it moved from the familiar 2.x to Gnome 3, since Ubuntu and Unity are built on it anyway. The logic is that should people need a less resource-hungry environment for slower computers, they can log into Unity 2D instead. But while Unity is gaining fans, and most certainly will gain many more as development continues and we see a flood of plugins and customisation apps, some of us want to play with the new and shiny Gnome Shell, or just to get our old Gnome Classic desktop back.

Now, it’s actually easy to get either or both, but while I’ve seen in forums that installing Gnome Shell will also install the legacy “Classic” desktop, this isn’t true (though it makes sense people might assume that). That’s because while the meta-package gnome is installed, gnome-shell isn’t part of it, but a separate package. Likewise the “Classic” desktop doesn’t come in either gnome or gnome shell, but as exists as the package gnome-session-fallback (which also installs a 2D version).

So, you can pick either, or have both, and it’s as simple as pasting a command or two in the terminal. If planning to have both, you may as well install Gnome Shell first, though it shouldn’t really matter.

To install Gnome Shell: sudo apt-get install gnome-shell

To install Gnome Classic: sudo apt-get install gnome-session-fallback

Once installed, you should be able to just log out and log back in to one of your new desktops, but if not, then do a reboot. Then you can log into Gnome Shell at the login screen by choosing “GNOME“, or the more familiar legacy desktop by choosing “GNOME Classic” (or “GNOME Classic (No Effects)” for less powerful computers or graphics card issues).

If you can’t find where to log into other environments, it’s always a hidden menu you need to access, previously by the word Options at the bottom of the screen, but in 11.10 is a gear icon near the user name; in following versions, that will no doubt change, but just look for something to click on and you’ll find it. Obviously, if you’ve set your login option to be automatic, meaning you never see the login screen but end up straight at the desktop, then you’ll need to change that in order to be able to change between the different window managers.

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Related Tip: How to Log Into Ubuntu Classic Desktop or Gnome Shell Instead of Unity

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Whether you have a fresh Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal install or have upgraded, one thing you may have noticed is that the familiar Alt+Tab key combo for cycling between open programs and folder windows doesn’t work, which is even more of a pain if you’re using Unity.

 

Since there is no taskbar in the Unity desktop, and at this current early stage of development leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to accessing running applications, this can be a problem for those not wanting to waste a lot of time fiddling.

But you can actually rectify this, and that’s by enabling a Compiz-Fusion plugin. Go to System > Preferences > CompizConfig Settings Manager, and under Window Management enable Static Application Switcher (if prompted, click the Enable Compiz Library Toolbox button to proceed).

If that doesn’t work, click on that plugin, and set the desired binding (“Next window“) to Alt+Tab in the Bindings tab. Make sure you click the button opposite the “Next window” for keyboard, not mouse. After selecting to enable that combo you can click Grab key combination and hold Alt while you press Tab.

Alt+ Esc?

If you’re wondering whether the other related key combo can be restored, being Alt+Esc for cycling between windows without the popup, you’ll note further down in the Bindings tab that there is also “Next window (No popup)“. You can once again get it to grab the key combo, but after setting it to <Alt>Escape it unfortunately did not work. However, setting it to <Super>Tab did work, just not as it used to, in that it will only bring another window to the foreground once you’ve let go of the keys. Hitting the combo once just cycles between the last two windows repeatedly, but hitting more than once will bring others in the chain to the fore, so for now the Alt+Tab combo is preferable (unless you know the order of open windows).

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While Ubuntu‘s new Unity interface has been designed for less clutter, and generally makes getting to common tasks a breeze, many have found navigating through the rest a bit of a nightmare. While everything is supposed to be more simplified, some would argue having all your launchers accessible via categories in the old Applications menu was actually simpler and quicker.

But you can actually have the best of both worlds, so if you’re avoiding Unity and using the Classic Desktop simply for access to the Applications and System (or Wine) menus, read ahead.

While you can’t actually add the old menu system to the Unity panel, since it is not gnome-panel that is running, there is actually an “indicator” available for Unity that will do the same thing. So while this new (or old?) menu won’t replace Unity‘s “Dash“, you will see an Ubuntu icon in your system tray’s notification area. Click that, and you will see the old familiar Applications menu, with all the categories you’re used to.

To install Classic Menu Indicator, enter the following commands in sequence in a terminal:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:diesch/testing

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get install classicmenu-indicator

Once installed, hit Alt+F2 and enter classicmenu-indicator as the command to run.

Apart from easy access to all your launchers, you’ll find your old System menu is there too, split into the familiar Preferences and Administration sub-menus.

More importantly for many, you will also have your old Wine menu back for running Windows programs. Unity‘s Dash menu system does not currently show a Wine section, and finding those apps can be near-impossible, but classicmenu-indicator will rectify this.

If you find that this menu/indicator does not automatically run upon your next boot (which it should), simply add classicmenu-indicator to your Startup Applications, and it will be forced to load from then onwards (it should already be in there, so check it isn’t disabled).

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If you upgraded to Ubuntu 11.04, you might find that some of your familiar icons in the notification area of your panel’s system tray are missing. These will include such system apps as the Update Manager, but more importantly those programs you are running that usually put icons or indicators there.

Some of these might be used for bringing the related programs to the foreground (which is the only way to access those that disappear when minimised, like Firestarter and Vuze), while others are completely useless if not shown in the notification area. A good example of the latter is Parcellite, a clipboard manager which sits in the system tray, and which you can’t access any other way.

So, in Unity, you might not even be sure certain apps are running, without opening the System Monitor. They’re actually open and still trying to put their icons there, but are being prevented by a default Unity setting. But it’s easy to fix, either by the hands-on/visual approach, or the quicker command-line method.

Dconf Editor

First off, if you don’t have Dconf Editor installed, do so by entering the following into a terminal:

sudo apt-get install dconf-tools

To open it, hit Alt+F2 and enter dconf-editor. Navigate to desktop > unity > panel, where the value for the systray-whitelist entry should look something like: [‘JavaEmbeddedFrame’, ‘Mumble’, ‘Wine’, ‘Skype’, ‘hp-systray’, ‘scp-dbus-service’]

You can manually add programs and indicators to it (eg: [‘JavaEmbeddedFrame’, ‘Mumble’, ‘Wine’, ‘Skype’, ‘hp-systray’, ‘scp-dbus-service’, ‘your-indicator-here’]), or you can just get it to show all notifications (which would be preferable, since any programs you install in the future would be included there).

Simply click the systray-whitelist entry and type ['all'] over what is there. That should restore all your usual system tray icons, which were always running, just not visible. To complete this, you will need to run (via Alt+F2) unity --replace to refresh Unity.

Terminal Command

It’s even easier to do this via the terminal (or Alt+F2):

gsettings set com.canonical.Unity.Panel systray-whitelist "['all']"

Once again, you’ll need to refresh Unity to see your changes.

Extra Notes

No Notifications: If you actually want no notifications showing up, leave the value empty. Actually, it will need to be [”] (that’s two single-quotes inside the box bracket), which you can do manually, or by the following command:

gsettings set com.canonical.Unity.Panel systray-whitelist "['']"

Don’t Refresh Unity in Terminal: Use Alt+F2 to refresh Unity, as while running unity --replace in the terminal is fine, if you halt that process, or close the terminal window, Unity will crash. While that isn’t a major deal, it will however leave you without a way to rectify this, as Alt+F2 will not produce the Run dialogue (since the panel isn’t running – which also means no way to log out or restart). You may also find that if you manage to get a terminal up (like if you have a launcher for it on your desktop), you won’t be able to type anything into it.

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